The first steps
By Kazuya Muto
It was Orientation Day — the first day of my life at an Australian university. I was excited, and I went full of expectation. When I arrived, I was surprised to hear a very familiar sound: Japanese. The orientation was for students from Japanese universities. There were about 20 of them overall, from all over Japan. I was disappointed. I had expected to meet students from all over the world.
There were a number of staff on hand. One guy was particularly funny because he talked like a rapper. Another explained to me how to enroll in classes. It was very simple. You could do it all over the Internet, unlike at my university in Japan where we had to fill in an enrollment form and hand it in.
I had wanted to choose subjects related to my course in Japan, which is to do with IT and management. But the man said, "I recommend you take some Japan-related classes or classes for improving your English in Semester 1. Then in Semester 2 you can choose whatever you want to do." My first thoughts were: "I'm Japanese. Why do I have to study Japan in Australia? It's ridiculous." But the man made it sound compulsory, so I unwillingly signed up for "Survey of Japanese Culture," "Japanese Economic Development" and "Academic English."
Classes began the following week. My first class was "Survey of Japanese Culture." I was nervous. The lecturer and most of the students would be speaking in English, and I didn't have confidence in my listening ability. Also, I thought it would be boring. But I was pleasantly surprised.
My classmates were a mixture of all sorts of people. The majority came from an Asian background, and around a third were Caucasian. But they were all interested in Japan and they asked the Japanese students so many questions. They asked us about everything: from Japanese discipline and cram schools to Gundam and whether Japanese wives always give in to their husbands. At first, it was stressful. It was difficult to express myself in English. I knew the answers to the questions but I couldn't put them into English. But as we talked, I grew more comfortable, and I think we all came to have a better understanding of each other's culture.
I soon became friends with a Chinese guy who sat next to me. His name was Thomas and he was Chinese Australian. He was a real Yukio Mishima enthusiast. I also liked Mishima so we hit it off straight away. We talked about Mishima's world view and the beauty of his prose and whether his books could be translated adequately into English. We went to lunch, and we continued to chat as though we were old friends, about our countries, our interests and girls. I was so happy, because this was the first time I'd been able to freely chat with foreign people since I had come to Sydney. Of course, I'd chatted with the family I'd first stayed with, but the conversation wasn't as casual, mostly because of the generation gap.
You may have heard people say you have to study harder at universities overseas, compared to universities in Japan. It's true. Students are required to read a lot of books. In my "Survey of Japanese Culture" class, we have to sit for a small test at the end of each week, and the results of these tests amount to 30 percent of your final grade. We also have to write a 1,500-word essay this semester, prepare a presentation and sit for an end-of-term exam. How am I going to manage?
Shukan ST: May 26, 2006
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