The University of Tokyo (Todai). The top university in Japan. Many international students like you might wonder how’s it like studying there and what happens after graduation. So this week, to start off our Senpai Series, we have Dionne Ng from Singapore, who just graduated from the University of Tokyo’s PEAK program, and is now working at Frost & Sullivan Japan, a global research and consulting firm.
The University of Tokyo’s PEAK (Programs in English at Komaba) is a Bachelor of Arts program based on a liberal arts curriculum. It offers two majors: Japan in East Asia and Environmental Sciences. Majoring in Japan in East Asia, Dionne has written a book about her experiences in Japan (in Japanese!) but let’s hear it from her directly!
So tell us, how was your experience in PEAK? For example, the classes in English and the course from your perspective as a foreign student.
The PEAK program was in its 2nd year running when I enrolled, so there were many things still under development. I would say that having an undergraduate program with all classes in English was pretty novel, especially at the University of Tokyo. In my first year, it was still in its nascent stage so I won’t really comment much on that. Having said that, it’s a pretty good initiative, and the university was trying hard, investing quite a bit of resources to make the program better. By the time I graduated, we were having a wider variety of courses and we also had Japanese students joining our classes so that was interesting.
Did you take any classes in Japanese, or Japanese language classes?
Yes, we had compulsory Japanese language classes, so we were split into different levels based on our abilities but apart from that, if you had sufficient Japanese language proficiency, you’re allowed to take classes in Japanese together with the rest of the university. I won’t say it’s very flexible but there was a degree of freedom.
During the PEAK program, did you consider your choice to be suitable to your interests?
To be honest, I think most of us went to PEAK because we didn’t know what we wanted to do *laughs*. But for me, sometime around my 2nd year I realized I wanted to do sociolinguistics and again, to be very frank, PEAK doesn’t really offer many courses on that. We had one applied linguistics professor and she was amazing. She ended up being my thesis supervisor so that was great. But the variety of courses available was limited…
How did you decide on coming to Japan, and to Todai?
It’s a very simple and maybe not-so-exciting answer. I wanted to come to Japan simply because I already spent 6 years of my life studying the language and I liked it. And through the process of studying Japanese in Singapore I had the opportunity of meeting many Japanese people and interacting with them both in Singapore and Japan, and that influenced my decision to come here.
As for why I chose Todai, my initial impression of the university was that the level of academia and research here would be ideal for me if I were to come to Japan. I had actually considered coming via the MEXT scholarship, but because of parental reasons, I gave up that scholarship offer and eventually applied for PEAK.
So in comparison to the MEXT program which is 5 years (1 language year + 4 undergraduate years), the PEAK program is a 4 year program.
Yes, and I think many foreigners appreciate the fact that you get to study in English while learning the Japanese language. It’s sort of a double-edged sword.
How was your preparation before coming to Japan?
For PEAK applications, it was pretty interesting. It was a typical application form where applicants submit their grades alongside a few short essay responses. This is followed by an interview for about 45 minutes, where applicants talk about themselves, their career/academic vision, and case studies related to their major in high school. There were questions, graphs, diagrams and we were asked to analyze those on the spot.
In terms of scholarships, I was offered the University of Tokyo scholarship, which covers living expenses for the whole 4 years, including the admission fee, tuition fees, and a monthly stipend.
*For scholarships, there are a few scholarships you can check out here: https://peak.c.u-tokyo.ac.jp/fees_scholarships/index.html
Could you share the prospects for students after graduating from PEAK?
So let’s start with the first batch, the senpai (senior) batch. In that year, I think most people went on to graduate school, some stayed on in Todai and went to GPEAK, which is the graduate program of PEAK, and some went to other English language graduate programs in Todai and the rest went to America and the UK. Very few people started working, about 3 or 4 out of 25. And I’m not going to lie – it’s mainly due to the language problem.
Even though you’re a Todai graduate, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get a job here in Japan, contrary to popular belief. Proficiency in the Japanese language is still a problem for many foreigners here when it comes to job hunting. Those people who actually got jobs struggled quite a bit with the job hunting process, and so did I (as did many of those in my year too). In my year, we had about 6 people who started working, and the rest went on to graduate school or went back to their countries or language schools to further their Japanese.