With social media, it’s easy to forget all about the “study” in “study abroad”! As a student on exchange, you’ll much sooner find me Instagramming a museum or a lunch out than my latest homework assignment. I’m sure other students on exchange would agree! But in spite of appearances, academics have been my main focus in Tokyo this year. However, rather than put a hamper on my enjoyment, learning from a new perspective has been one of my favourite parts of being abroad. Today, I’m going to talk about how my academic experiences compare at the University of Tokyo (UTokyo) and U of T.
One major difference between UTokyo and U of T are the class sizes. During my second year at U of T, I had to take a lot of core social sciences courses, meaning my class sizes were generally around 100 people. This year at UTokyo, the small number of students who take classes in English meant that my largest class had just 30 people. Meanwhile, my smallest class was only six people! I was definitely shocked by these numbers at the beginning of the year. Being in these seminars has been a great opportunity to really get to know my professors and classmates. The only drawback is that there’s definitely no way you can skip out on the readings without it being painfully obvious to everyone around you!
Another unique aspect of being on exchange is the multinational environment. In my classes, there are seldom two students from the same country. This results in a diversity of perspective that enriches conversations on topics I study, like politics. This makes for lively debate, and insight not only into Japan, but the countries where other exchange students are from.
The attitude most students have toward their academics while on exchange also surprised me. While U of T can be quite competitive, many people I’ve met this year are very relaxed towards their studies. Often, they are prioritizing enjoying their time in Tokyo over studying, preferring to spend time exploring or going out. Other students I’ve encountered are only taking electives while abroad, or don’t need to worry about their grades. This makes the environment much more relaxed than what I’m used to in international relations courses at U of T, where it feels like almost everyone has grad school aspirations!
Although I’ve been putting my academics first, there are many ways that you can customize your exchange experience in whatever way suits your needs. For example, one of my friends from U of T is taking fewer than 5.0 FCEs this year so that he can spend more time having fun! I have another friend who made sure that he left Fridays open so that he could travel on the weekends, going to Seoul and even climbing Mount Fuji. For me, I didn’t schedule any classes on Monday so that I could have time to pursue my internship.
There’s definitely no right or wrong way to do exchange! Whether or not you want to be studying, or you’re trying to see more of the world, there’s ways to customize your time abroad to make sure that you get exactly what you want out of the experience!