Chris is a first-year undergraduate student at the University of Tokyo’s English-degree Program, PEAK.
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 tracks: Japan in East Asia and Environmental Sciences.
Originally from the Gold Coast, Australia, Chris is part of the Japan in East Asia program. Hear what he has to say about his reasons for joining PEAK, and how his studies in Japan are going so far!
Start of interview
Why did you choose to study at PEAK?
“PEAK appealed to me for a few core reasons. I was honestly debating whether or not to even go to university for many months— I didn’t fancy the idea of being ‘boxed’ into a single field of study (especially if I end up not liking it), and I was unsure if I could find a program that offered both diversity in content and freedom to explore. I think that’s the biggest reason I chose PEAK – at its core it’s an interdisciplinary program that invites you to be at the intersection of many different subjects. There’s a high degree of freedom to try new things, specialize if you want to, or change your course of study if you choose. I think the problems facing the world require interdisciplinary solutions, so I knew I wanted to be at this intersection, and PEAK seemed like a great program for that. Of course, the possibility of a full scholarship, and chance to live and study in Japan were also huge factors in my decision – I knew I wanted to study Japanese, but I also wanted to pursue academics in English, and PEAK gives the perfect chance for this.”
What has been your favorite part of the PEAK program so far?
“I like that it’s a relatively small program compared to many other courses. It’s got a sort of extended-summer-camp vibe, in the sense that you feel like you’re on this crazy adventure with a small group of friends. I feel constantly inspired and motivated by my peers and Senpai, and I already feel like I have friends that I can open up to about anything – I wouldn’t have even considered that possible before I started. The small, intimate class sizes also mean that we have much closer, and often friendlier, relationships with many professors. This is a huge (and underrated) advantage in my opinion, because I don’t think you can get the same level of 1-on-1 feedback and interaction with teachers in many other places.”
Can you walk us through your typical class-day?
“Last semester, a regular (non-Covid19) day usually began with an early morning class. If you’re living in the dormitory, the commute is a mere 5-minute walk to campus, so it’s really easy to get to class (…and you can skip the rush-hour train shenanigans!) I had 2-3 classes per day, and so between lectures I would typically have lunch, and either go back to the dormitory or library to study or prepare for my next class. Depending on the course, it can be relatively easy to plan your schedule such that you have some days totally free, or with only a single class – I decided to opt for that, and managed to have my Monday totally free. I recommend this for anyone that feels they need extra days for study or part-time work outside of university. After classes, I usually went home to revise the day’s lectures, do some self-study for Japanese, and then relax/hang out with friends! Of course, due to the covid-19 virus right now, all classes are being conducted online, so my day is spent mainly inside, like many others in the world.”
Any interests in clubs or circles?
“In my first semester, I got heavily involved with a few different circles, most of which were environment or sustainability-oriented. Though they might not be for everyone, I think circle culture is definitely an important element of university life in Japan– they’re fantastic for making new, like-minded friends from not only different year levels in the PEAK program, but also April-entry students from other departments. Not to mention, there’s a circle for basically everything, so unless you’ve got a really obscure or esoteric hobby, you can be guaranteed to find something you’ll enjoy. Circles are generally considered to be more casual than clubs – many circles are all in English, and offer a lot more freedom in terms of how much you need to commit and dedicate. I haven’t personally joined any clubs yet, but I’ve heard from friends that joining one is one of the fastest ways to improve your Japanese! However, I also found myself burning out a bit after joining a few too many circles, so I think it’s important to strike a balance.”
What was the most difficult part of starting a life in Japan?
“For me, the transition wasn’t too steep, because I’d already been living and working here for a year. However, when I first came, the biggest challenge was adjusting to certain elements of Japanese culture, especially cultural nuances that come up all the time in conversations and interactions. There were times where I was being rude to another person without even realizing it, and other times where I had literally no clue how to express myself without being culturally insensitive in some way. Outside of cultural differences though, the language barrier was also huge.”
How did you overcome these difficulties?
“I think this adjustment is a totally natural part of starting a life in any foreign culture to one’s own, which means that coming in with an open mindset, embracing mistakes, and having a willingness to let go of your own cultural assumptions, are all crucial. Luckily, Japanese people are incredibly kind and patient, and are usually happy to help you identify your cultural blind spots. I would often just ask the people I hung out with how to conduct myself/what to say in certain situations, and little by little I started building a kind of cultural vocabulary so I could feel less worried about being insensitive. It’s all trial and error though, and the only way to pick up nuances is through experience, so I mainly overcame these difficulties by just accepting that I’m a naïve foreigner with a lot more to learn!”
Favorite part of student life in Japan?
“I love the freedom! We have a lot of choice within our studies, but also outside too. Part-time work and internship opportunities are in abundance, and Japan is also a beautiful place to travel around. I appreciate having the financial independence due to the scholarship, as it gives me a chance to pursue my own hobbies, spend lots of times with friends, develop connections for the future.”
A final word of advice for students who are contemplating whether or not to study at PEAK?
“I honestly think PEAK is one of the best programs in Japan if you’re looking for an intimate, interdisciplinary, and action-packed university experience. There’re just so many opportunities available for students here, and being a relatively new and not-fully-established program, you can play a part in shaping and co-creating this unfolding PEAK experiment. If this sounds like you, then I say follow your heart and intuition! You won’t regret it.”
End of interview
Thank you Chris for the interview! If you are looking for more information about PEAK, check out some of our other articles below:
And don’t miss this interview with a PEAK senpai now working in Japan!
University and Working Life in Japan, as Told by Dionne (Part 1)
University and Working Life in Japan, as Told by Dionne (Part 2)