Meet Tim. Tim is an undergraduate student currently studying at the Univerity of Tokyo’s English-degree program, PEAK. He is from Jakarta, Indonesia, and attended high school in Singapore. Hear from Tim about what studying in Japan as an undergraduate student is like!
Why did you decide to study in Japan?
I have always been fascinated with all aspects of the Japanese culture — from its food, literature, to art —so coming here felt like a natural decision to me. I knew I wanted a university experience that goes beyond the academics, and studying in Japan offers many opportunities to do just that – there are just so many places to travel to and things to experience here. Comparing Japan to other study destinations, I find that this place offers quality education at an affordable price, which is another reason why I ended up coming here. Going by tuition fees alone, Japan is easily 6-7 times cheaper than what I would have to pay had I chosen to stay in Singapore, for example. But on top of that, as someone interested in international relations, I realized that Asia, and particularly East Asia, is becoming more and more important in the global political landscape. So, I guess the main reason I decided to study here is because I wanted to be at the epicenter of this political shift, and Japan allows me to do that.
What has been the favorite part of being an undergraduate student in Japan so far?
My favorite part must be exploring the Japanese culture. The PEAK program has a really flexible schedule, so I actually have a lot of free time to go to different places and experience different things. I like the diversity of the Japanese experience: One day I can visit a serene shrine while the next day I will be at a rowdy izakaya. My friends and I especially love to go sing karaoke. You don’t really have to be a good singer (just a confident one!) in karaoke, so it’s super fun to just let loose while jamming to your favorite songs. We also already have things planned out for when the virus settles down, like traveling to a different city, watching art performances and sport matches, and going to festivals. I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of the culture here, but I like how I can never run out of things to do and discover in Japan.
How do you think student life differs between your home country and Japan?
Singapore isn’t my home country, but since I spent my most recent five years studying there, I’m going to compare Japan to there. I guess the experience has largely been similar, but it’s mainly because in both occasions, I’ve been in an international program. That means everyone comes from a different background and has stayed in so many different countries, so I find it interesting to be able to hear everyone’s stories. I also stayed at the dorms in high school, so I’m used to having frequent personal interactions with my friends even outside of school hours. I guess that’s why adjusting to life in Japan seemed seamless to me – It felt like an extension of what I’ve been experiencing before. I wouldn’t say I lead a typical student life in Japan, though.
Why did you decide to study at UTokyo and in the PEAK program in particular?
Well, I would be lying if I said the UTokyo brand didn’t appeal to me. It’s certainly one of the most prestigious universities in this part of the world. Also, UTokyo and especially PEAK is very generous when it comes to scholarships, so the financial ease is also another reason why I chose to study here. But more essentially, I think what appealed to me the most is PEAK’s unique take on the liberal arts formula. I knew I wanted a more Asian perspective on my education, while at the same time I also wanted the freedom to explore my interests and learn various things. I think PEAK offers just that. Its liberal arts program (especially the JEA stream) is scoped in a sense that I am learning things in the context of Japan and East Asia, while at the same time it’s also flexible enough that I can choose what I study and tinker my course along the way. This doesn’t mean that I’m only learning the Japanese perspective too. A lot of the PEAK classes invite the students to reflect on both the Western and Eastern schools of thought, which I think makes the program even more wholesome. I don’t think I can get this kind of diverse yet still rooted education elsewhere, and that’s why I chose PEAK.
Any interests in clubs, circles, or part-time jobs?
This semester, I took on multiple part-time jobs, but I’m actually in it less for the money and more for enjoyment. A mainstream part-time job for an international student like me would usually be to tutor, but I’ll have to revise materials for that, and I just didn’t want to revolve my life around studying. I opted for more fun jobs like being a nursery attendant instead. I love interacting with young kids, and I find it nice that my job is to basically just play with them for a few hours. Another of my part-time jobs is to teach soccer, which really allows me to take my mind off of school, be active, and simply have fun. Best thing is that I get paid to do all this stuff! For clubs, I’m currently active in the PEAK student council, which means I get to organize events like school festivals. The whole extra-curricular activity scene in Japan is really robust, and it’s definitely one way to make life here even more colorful.
Can you walk us through your typical day?
My typical day would start with classes in the morning, starting from either around 8 or 10 am. I mostly load up on morning classes, so I can have my afternoons free for other things. In the afternoon, I would get ready for my part-time job if I have work that day, or simply work on my assignments in my room or at the library. I also do this thing where I designate Tuesdays for only classes – I’d have 4 classes and be finished with school at 6 pm that day. This allows me to have only 1-2 or even no classes on other days. I managed to not have any classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays now, which means that there’s basically another weekend in the middle of my week. The flexibility to plan out break days makes school feel not stressful at all, and gives me time to do my part-time jobs and explore my interests. In the evening, my friends and I would usually go out, but because of the virus now, we mostly just hang out in the dorms.
Final words of advice for students who are contemplating whether or not to pursue their undergraduate degree in Japan?
Japan may not seem like a traditional study destination, but it’s definitely a fun and exciting place to study. Don’t worry too much about not speaking the language – I didn’t speak a word of Japanese when I got here, and I’ve been able to survive just fine! I never regretted coming to Japan to study, so if you’re someone like me who wants a colorful university experience, I’m sure you won’t regret it either.
END OF INTERVIEW
Thanks Tim! I hope his interview helps anyone who is on the edge of thinking about studying in Japan as an undergraduate student to apply!
Many students seem to agree that the Japanese undergraduate experince is extremely flexible, allowing students to maintain a good balance of academics, extra-curricular activities, part-time jobs, and leisure time. Furthermore, tuition fees are low and many scholarship opportunities are also available to further offset costs. Although the language barrier may seem intimidating at first, there are many communities of international students who are in the same shoes that will be able to help. I hope this article has provided a little bit of insight into what your life may be like if you decide to pursue your undergraduate studies in Japan!