It is almost impossible to avoid mentioning Keio when you talk about universities to study in Japan for international students. With its long history and high-quality education, getting into this prestigious university is what many people dream of (there has even been a film created about it!). Keio has as many as six major campuses spread around the Tokyo area and over 33,400 students. There are over a thousand classes offered in English and 23 degree programs offered fully in English. As for the undergraduate programs, there are currently two undergraduate degree programs offered by Keio University: PEARL and GIGA.

English Programs at Keio University

1. Programme in Economics for Alliances, Research and Leadership (PEARL)

The official logo of the PEARL Program

PEARL is a program offered by the Faculty of Economics where students can earn a BA degree in economics through courses conducted in English. PEARL accepts only 100 students per year, making the admission process quite selective. Students in PEARL will get a chance to learn deeply about various aspects of Economics, while also strengthening their skills in other liberal arts subjects. Students spend their first two years at Hiyoshi Campus and the last two years at Mita Campus. For students who wish to get ahead in their careers by pursuing a Master in Management degree, PEARL also offers a five-year BA/MA degree in collaboration with HEC, one of the leading business schools in Paris.

2. Global Information and Governance Academic Program (GIGA)

Keio University’s GIGA Program

GIGA is an English-taught undergraduate degree program provided jointly by the Faculty of Policy Management and the Faculty of Environment and Information. The program focuses on technology, science, design, and governance. Students who graduate from GIGA will receive either Bachelor of Arts in Policy Management or Environment and Information Studies, depending on their majors.

For those in the Faculty of Policy Management, education in “humanities integrated with science” can be expected. They will be able to learn about various fields such as Policy Design, International Strategy, Social Innovation, Business and Administration, and Urban and Regional Strategy. The Faculty of Environment and Information is meant for those who wish to learn about “the sciences integrated with humanities” in various fields such as Novel Computing and Communication Systems, Design Engineering and Media Art, Advanced Biosciences, Environmental Design, or Human Environment. Students in GIGA will get an opportunity to engage in research projects from early on. Typically, students start participating in research projects in their second year.

To get real perspectives on what it’s like to be in PEARL and GIGA, let’s hear from Sam and Nuey, current students from PEARL and GIGA.

Interview with Keio University Students Studying in Japan

Sam (Shanghai, China): 4th-year student in PEARL

Sam decided to study economics in Japan due to its cultural advantages

Hi Sam! Can you introduce yourself a little?

Okay! I’m Sam from the PEARL program. I’m PEARL’s first-generation, currently in the 4th year. I’m Chinese, spent 18 years living in Shanghai, but I enrolled in an international high school for 3 years. Japan is my first overseas study experience.

Wow, you’re the first generation. What made you decide to choose PEARL?

I chose PEARL because it is a program taught in English for students who want to major in Economics in Japan. By the end of my senior year in high school, I decided to do Econ(omics) for undergraduate, then I noticed Keio was offering this PEARL program. Compared with other more conventional choices in Britain and America, I believed Japan does have its merits. For example, it’s easier to adapt to the Asian culture, and the quality of education is also adequate. I chose PEARL rather than other English-taught programs offered by other universities in Japan because it allows me to major in Economics, unlike, for example, the PEAK program at the University of Tokyo, which focuses on environmental studies and Japanese cultural studies.

There were definitely some uncertainties about PEARL, but by the time I was just a high school student, to be honest, I didn’t think about this too much. I guess you may call my decision rash back then. I was just trusting Keio as one of the most established educational institutions in Japan.

That’s true. How do you feel about the classes?

About the classes, hmm, it’s a tricky question. I would say the current classes taught in English in PEARL have rooms for improvements. In general, I personally feel they are a bit too simple. This is based on my observation and conversation with my friends in the Japanese divisions of the Faculty of Economics. We compared our syllabi and realized that my classes were easier than theirs. I understand that some Japanese professors may not be that good at English, but they should nonetheless give their best effort on preparing the course contents. I really wonder if this is a general phenomenon across programs taught in English in Japan, though.

Are you enjoying PEARL so far? What’s the best part?

Yes, I am enjoying the program in general. Despite some aspects I mentioned earlier, I believe PEARL still has something that sets apart it from the programs in western universities. I would call that as the opportunity of close interaction with the professors. For example, in my seminar, I’m pretty close with my professor, and I definitely learned a lot from him. I’m also close with several other amazing professors, who actually wrote recommendation letters for my graduate school application. I think if I’m in America or the UK, this kind of bonding would be rare. 

Aww, that’s really sweet! What classes are you taking this semester? Which one is your favourite so far?

I’m taking several classes, mainly about economics and research projects. However, my favourite class is an AI class taught by a professor specialized in AI. I’m actually in the research team of this class, which basically tackles a research project in the field of AI. I’m really lucky to have an opportunity to work with this professor; we schedule research meetings almost every Sunday. He’s a genius, and I definitely learned a lot from him as well.

This kind of proves my previous point. My AI professor has a PhD from both Cambridge and UChicago and he’s only around 30. I don’t think I can get the chance to work with a professor like him if I was in America.

Seems like you’re learning a lot! Will you pursue your master’s degree in Data Science?

Yes, I’ve almost finished my graduate school applications to the Data Science programs in North America.

Good luck with that!

Thank you!

Let’s get back to PEARL, how is the diversity? Are there lots of international students?

In my generation (class of 2020), I think 60% are returnees so around 40% would be international students.

Oh, so almost all Japanese students in your generation are returnees?

Yes, only very few are from Keio high school, but even for those people, they all have some international backgrounds. For example, my best friend in PEARL is from Keio boy’s high school, but he lived in California for around 3 years when he was little.

Having almost graduated, what is the thing that you found surprising about PEARL?

Maybe, I would say it’s that I found out that only very few people are applying to graduate school. The rest just opted to look for jobs in Japan. I believe there are only two or three people, including me, who are applying to graduate school overseas. I was expecting more.

What kind of person would you recommend coming to PEARL?

I would recommend this program to those who at least satisfies one of the conditions below:

  1. Wants to bond with a professor from the undergraduate program (The quality of the professors could vary.)
  2. Wants to have a career in Japan and want to be confident about his/her Japanese proficiency
  3. Wants to make friends with people with international backgrounds

Describe PEARL in three words.

Cosmopolitan; dynamic; experimental

Nuey (Bangkok, Thailand): 4th-year student in GIGA

Nuey studies at the Shonan Fujisawa Campus (SFC), famous for its modern architecture

Before we start, can you tell the readers a bit about yourself?

I’m Pitcha Suphantarida, but I go by Nuey (ヌイ). I’m a fourth-year studying in the Faculty of Policy Management in SFC, Keio Japan. So I’ll be graduating next summer!

Aww, you’re almost there!

Yeah!! I’m majoring in communication and media studies. I’m learning about the concept of place-making. (場つくり)

You were born and grew up in Thailand, right?

Yes, I went to an international school right until the end of high school.

Why did you decide to come to Japan, and why did you choose GIGA, in particular?

I was initially going to go to the UK for a joint degree in Geography and Economics, but at that time I was also taking up Japanese. I felt the need to choose a different path than what was conventional. It was common for everyone to go to the UK or the US. 

GIGA felt like the right place because you can explore so many things, and I have always had an interest in Japanese culture, especially in their arts and design, so I thought it might be a good challenge to take on. It’s also a great way to learn a new language.

How do you like it so far? Do you think you made the right decision?

It was definitely tough in the first 2 years. Hahaha.

Hahaha really? Do you mind telling more about that?

Sure. Although it was an English program, the seminar I wanted to attend (the one that I’m attending now!) was all in Japanese and it was really difficult to understand what was going on and also to understand how things work at the beginning. 

It was also hard to keep up with friends because everyone was already so independent, so there were many things I struggled with internally. But I kept pushing through, and by the beginning of the 3rd year, it felt like the light bulb suddenly switched on and I finally started to understand what I’ve been doing. Hahaha.

Gosh, that must be tough! Is it your first time living by yourself?

Yeah, it is! But I would say living alone here is one of the best things I like about Japan because you get so much freedom. It feels like you can go anywhere you want.

It is definitely tough living alone for the first time though.

Yeah, it was kinda stressful at first, like you said.

What helped you through the difficult times?

I found really good friends, and I also tried many different things like going out to different events and workshops, but I think finding the right group of people was definitely something that really helped me. Even though I was going through a lot of confusion and stress, I think I found a sense of belonging with these people. They’re my GIGA friends, and also some people I met and got close to in my seminar.

I learned to ask people out to eat and treat them Thai food, learned to ask for help, and also tried stuff in my seminar classes, like giving presentations, as broken as my Japanese was, in Japanese.

What kind of classes do you guys take? I heard it’s a mix between public policy and science, right?

Yep, but it’s also more than that! We only have compulsory classes in our first year: data science and programming. The rest is completely up to us, so there are also architecture, design, AI (interaction design), urban planning, politics and economics, marketing and business, and also biology-related stuff. Classes are ok, but the important thing where most of your growth takes place is in the seminar, which you can enter or change anytime throughout the four years.

That sounds interesting! Can you tell me more about the seminars you are taking, and also your favorite one?

I’ve only been in one because I have a clear interest, but I know some friends that take many! I’m in one that explores the power of place and how “places” can be formed through interacting with people and our environment, so I do a lot of fieldwork. Others can be about business and the IT industry, looking at how businesses use IT and how it impacts society.  Another one focuses on Behavioural Science and how it can be applied to our everyday actions. There’s a fun one which is about music and the brain, and another one focusing on the five senses, concentrating on haptics (sense of touch).

Correct me if I’m wrong. These are seminars in communication and media studies, right?

Nope! They’re all under either the Faculty of Policy Management or Environment and Information Studies. Only my seminar is concentrated in communication and media studies, while others are different.

Gotcha! How is the diversity in GIGA? Are most students Japanese or international students?

It’s generally a 50/50 between Japanese returnees and international students. Among international students, it’s pretty diverse! It’s been growing more diverse recently, as I hear a lot more English around campus nowadays. There are many third culture kids as well.

Are you satisfied with the quality of the classes? Anything that needs a bit of improvement?

Classes are getting better but it still needs a lot of work. I took a Japanese-taught class once and was blown away by the differences. Hahahaha.

First, professors need to know proper English. Classes conducted in Japanese are so much better and much more challenging. GIGA’s English-taught classes are not that great yet. 

In your opinion, GIGA courses could have been more challenging, and the main problem was that the professors are not proficient enough in English. Is that correct?

Yep, and the number of courses offered is still quite small.

Are there lots of students per class? Do you think the classes are too big or too small?

It depends! We have a screening process, so some classes have limited spots. For some, however, there are so many students that the hall is full.

Do you feel comfortable with the size of most classes?

Yeah, I don’t have problems with it.

What’s the most surprising thing you discovered about GIGA?

Thinking back, I didn’t think GIGA would take me on a completely different path in terms of what I would be doing in the future. I saw it happening a lot with my friends, too. We started off with one interest and then ended up with another.

That’s actually a good thing, right?  I think it’s like discovering your true passion

Yeah, I think so!

Last question: can you describe GIGA in three words?

Fluid, Ambitious, Unique

Final thoughts

Want to read more about what Keio has to offer? Check out Keio’s official site here. If you’re still not sure, take a look at our articles on Sophia and Waseda. Up next we have Study in Japan#4: Toyo University. Stay tuned!

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