I’m doing pretty well with this blog thing. For someone with a weak understanding of time and schedules, I’ve been updating regularly. You lucky sods.
On September 1st I moved into the dormitories of ICLA – International College of the Liberal Arts, a new university branch of Yamanashi Gakuin University. YGU is one of the top sports universities in the country and ICLA is its foray into academic excellence or whatever. It’s all shiny and new and has conceptual architecture and expensive weird furniture.
The main building is hexagonal and all the classrooms and offices have glass walls and doors. There’s a lot of grey cement mixed with minimalist flourishes of colour and some bad canvas paintings, although there are some gems. The cafeteria has a huge glass wall that peers out onto the YGU campus, acting as a viewing window for curious students. I like the main building, the geometrical design is conducive to learning and has a welcoming feel, you don’t feel isolated in your classrooms or that there is a place in which you aren’t welcome.
It’s only been around since April this year, so as an educational establishment it’s still finding its footing. A lot has been invested in the project. The building costs a staggering amount which has left some aspects of the college underfunded. However the teaching staff are passionate about their subjects and classes are small and intimate. It’s a completely different experience from my home university. The student body is equally divided between Japanese and International students and most of the teachers are foreign born. As an exchange student I get a lot more choices in what I want to study whilst degree seeking students aren’t open to the Liberal Arts programme until their second year which is why I don’t have any classes with any Japanese students at the moment.
I take Creative Writing, Introduction to Music Technology, Sculpture I & II, Art Appreciation, Japanese Art, Judo and Elementary Japanese. Never had I had the opportunity to work with so many intelligent and supportive teachers allowing me to explore my creativity for credits. I usually study History, which is great but can be boring if you’re just reading graphs and statistics. In contrast, here I get to write or build things or play around on music software.
Another benefit is how small the classes are – my largest being Elementary Japanese in which there are maybe 16 of us. The rest are usually between three and six people including myself. It benefits having a small class in which informal dialogue can be expressed and no one can really shy away from contributing. Having tutors remember your name and have enough time to get to know you is great. Usually tutors in Sussex are overworked and teaching 60 students a day so they don’t really have the time to remember your face. The difference in my home institution and ICLA is most starkly their approaches to education – Sussex is a research university whilst ICLA focuses more on teaching. It’s supposedly about creating a rounded individual who can do maths equations and then build a guitar.
Everyone is required in their first year to live in the dormitories and eat at the ICLA cafeteria. It forces you to interact with others I suppose.They call it, “creating a global village”, although it’s more like a hamlet with 60 students. This fails in that my floor is composed of international and exchange students so I rarely interact with Japanese students, having to engage in free time when I can and they’re will (Sam you desperate beg-friend). This might change when the new batch of students arrive in April. Additionally, whilst the dorms aren’t particularly strict, the two buildings are separated by genders. The two dormitories are attached to the main building so you never feel far away from classes or anyone really.
More than anything, I think ICLA students are pretty isolated from YGU as we have all our lessons in the main building and all our meals in the cafeteria. It’s easy to never feel like leaving the building which can feel a bit claustrophobic at times. Studying such a large range of subjects and having 18 classes a week, I feel a bit overwhelmed with assignments and work, the most I’ve had to do since my A levels. It’s an interesting experience and I’m trying to take advantage of the opportunities available regardless of how exhausting it can be. Additionally, I wish I could interact with Japanese students a bit more but I think that’s more to do with me putting in the effort to join a YGU club or be more sociable. Both are hard when you want to just lie in bed and procrastinate from homework.
I remember arriving on my coach from Shinjuku station. I had fallen asleep as we departed the bus terminal and I woke up surrounded by mountains. It’s beautiful, the horizon at least, and Fuji-san is always in view – now snow has started to cover its summit. The downside is that these mountains aren’t really close to campus, or I haven’t walked in the right direction anyway.
Sakaori, the area I am in, is a pretty built up place. All the shops are a good parking lot away from each other but it’s not countryside or rustic haven. Kofu city is a stop away on the train and huge shops are always a 15-40 minute walk away. Most students cycle and I’ve been tempted to get a bicycle too but I’m not sure what I’ll do with it over January, February and March. I miss parks and public spaces you can hang around in, at times I feel cooped up on campus, but last week a few of us went up to Shosenkyo Gorge.
As a university experience it has been pretty positive. It’s so small that it’s hard to imagine what it will be like when 80 new students arrive in April. Language has certainly been a barrier for engaging with Japanese natives. Yet this barrier has also been a good way to motivate me towards learning as much as I can as quickly as possible. I probably spend a lot more effort trying to improve my Japanese than studying for my other classes. So far I’ve come a long way. Hopefully I will have reached some basic ability at communicating by the end of the term and when classes aren’t running between January and April I want to spend that time travelling around and volunteering so that I can improve my language ability and see more of the country.