GIGA Program in Keio University, SFC

In Keio’s SFC campus, the number of international students has been growing. With the GIGA community the program is marking towards the eighth first year since it was established in 2011, it is one of Keio’s first undergraduate program to be conducted in English.  GIGA, or the Global Information and Governance Academic program covers two faculties: Faculty of Policy Management and the Faculty of Environmental and Information studies.  It boasts a curriculum that is highly interdisciplinary and very much similar to liberal arts, but with an emphasis on real-life problem solving through hands on projects.  As students in the GIGA program can freely take classes in Japanese, similarly to how Japanese students can take GIGA classes, SFC is trying it’s best to provide opportunities for cross-cultural communications and integrating international students into its Japanese community.

What is the Association for International Students (AIS)

Being a relatively new English program, establishing a community and an environment where International students and Japanese students can freely communicate can be difficult. There are various barriers: language, cultural differences, or the labelling of being a GIGA student or a Japanese student.  With the belief that there can be solutions to these barriers, AIS, or the Association for International Students was established by a group of GIGA students to act as a bridge between international students and the Japanese students, as well as acting as the student voice for international students in how the GIGA program can be improved by working closely with the academic office.  In this article, I will reflect on some experiences being involved in AIS and the opportunities that came up through this involvement.

In another article, I have recounted on some of my experiences in my involvement with Japanese circles, where activities have been hobby-driven and the language was mainly in Japanese. Through involving oneself in Japanese circles, I have learned to adjust to the Japanese student life as well as improve on my Japanese language ability.  However, for many others who may come to Japan without any knowledge in Japanese, it might seem very intimidating to dive in head first, unless there is a member who can support them with the English language.  Having this sort of problem in mind, AIS was established as a circle to improve on these problems.

Introducing Association for International Students (AIS) at Keio University SFCRepresenting my seminar at the Seminar Orientation for Fall entry students. Photo taken by AIS member

Activities and Involvement

In AIS, there are two main activities that have not changed throughout the years, which is to create events for the GIGA program, and incoming students, and to hold regular meetings with the academic office to update our progress and present any activities reported by any international students. Members can freely participate in any of the activities, from the more serious and official meetings to creating surveys and planning events.  Meetings are fairly relaxed, once every two weeks, with some occasional online meetings too. AIS provides flexibility in participation, which may be different from other circles where the level of involvement can be tailored to your responsibilities.

For new incoming students, we hold presentations alongside the office and professors to help the students feel more comfortable in their navigation around campuses, as well as providing them with tips on how to make use of the resources that are available to them in SFC.  Along with the initial orientation, we also hold Circle and Seminar Orientations to introduce circles and seminars that offer language support.  The events are not only held for “GIGA students” per say, but to all students who may have missed the opportunities during the Spring Semester.  This requires a lot of communication with the professors and students alike.  Seeing the events come into shape and receiving good feedback has always been a rewarding experience for all of the members.

Many of our activities involve bonding through food.  Through cooking and eating together, food as a passage for communication and meeting new people are more on the lighthearted side of AIS’s activities.  We tend to hold cultural food nights in time with various festivals around the world, introducing different cuisines, such as Thai food for Loy Krathong Festival (flower lantern festival in Thailand normally held in October and November), or simple gather-up events such as Taco nights and Christmas dinners. Through event promotion on facebook and spreading the word across the GIGA community itself, we have a small gather-up event once every few months where new friends are made.  These events are sometimes held in collaboration with other circles and seminars who show interest in increasing their exposure to GIGA students.  Through these cross-cultural events, we hope to erase the labels of being “international”, or “Japanese”, or “AO admitted”, and move to a mindset where everyone is a student at SFC.  For me, I was involved in the designing process for many of the events, such as pamphlets and posters.  I was also in charge of cooking Thai food for the food night.  These events have given me the opportunity to improve on my skills in Adobe Illustrator, as well as reconnecting with my roots and sharing my own culture to many different people through other medium that transcend simple verbal communications.

Kenkyukai seminar orientation poster
Seminar Orientation poster, designed by me

Event banner for Circle Orientation
Event banner for Circle Orientation, designed by me

Reaching out to other International Students in your school

While entering the same program, with the level of freedom in choosing classes, I had found it difficult to meet the same people and establish a friendship group where everyone meets on a regular basis.  This gets more difficult as I progress through university, as everyone slowly discovers their own field on interest.  This can sometimes make me feel very isolated and lonely from the international community or friends that were made upon entry.  Reaching out to circles like AIS, it can be a good starting point in finding the group of people who are willing to support as well as become a base for me to look for people who may be like-minded and are interested in intercultural communication.

As an international student, I enjoyed sharing my own cultural experiences and to see events come into shape.  Another interesting thing about this circle is that it is compromised of students from both the GIGA program as well as Japanese students who may not be able to speak English at all – even the meetings are held in both English and Japanese!  With the diverse environment of the circle itself, one can learn different perspectives and gain a clearer image of SFC.  By just interacting with my circle members, I gain insight from a diverse pool of people and had a very interesting multicultural experience.  It is an intriguing experience where everyone’s labels are erased as we are working towards the same goal.

Finding the right environment for you

As seen through my experiences, circles can vary a lot in terms of their style and level of involvement: even within the Japanese circles itself, the culture and how members interact are highly dependent on how they have been created.  AIS, which is a circle established by international students, can be an example of how international students take on the Japanese culture of a student club.  There are infinite possibilities in what a circle can be.  If none suits your interest, why not create one?

Take a look at AIS’s activities here!