An interview for high schools students with Professor Hiroyuki Kokawa
We interviewed three students, Munehito Kagaya (This Year's Leader, 4th year student, Oyama Laboratory), Jun Takagi (4th Year Student, Nitta Laboratory), Kazumi Saito (4th Year Student, Koike Laboratory), about the exchange with POSTECH.
Everyone, how did the chance for you to take part in the exchange come about?
Kagaya: Although we were all connected from being in the same department, the biggest factor in taking part of the exchange was how I wanted to give it a proper go at studying English. At the time, my English was a little lower than the level of the university's entrance exam and I didn't have sufficient experience at English Conversation. Although I had sung English songs with my school club, I had never properly paid attention to things like pronunciation. From around the time I became a second year student, I thought, "I've got to get on this," and decided to participate.
Takagi: At the first year presentation seminar, one of the senior students introduced me to the POSTECH exchange. I heard that "you get to go to Korea and the university pays for it!" (Laughs). And so I decided that it'd be fun to participate with my friends.
Saito: I also joined from my first year. I was introduced to the exchange by a senior student after class.
Kagaya: Every year there are invitations given at the presentation seminars and student get-togethers about POSTECH, not to mention orientation seminars for new students.
Please tells us about the specific activities of the POSTECH program.
Kagaya: Basically, every year, students from Tohoku University and POSTECH university visit each others' campus for a cultural exchange. Five or six 1st-year to 4th-year students from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering take part. About two to three of the students are girls - quite a high number. The main focus of the exchange is a presentation of research based on three themes. This year the three themes were: The Introduction of the Laboratory, Student Experiments, and The Mutual Introduction of Your Nation's Culture... and the content is not purely academic, but mixed with a lot of laughs and fun things, too. About two students are assigned to each theme, therefore everyone gets the chance to take part in creating a presentation. First and second year students are usually in charge of the overall presentation.
Saito: First and second year students start by learning Power Point and it can be difficult. On top this, the contents of the presentation are in English. Plus, the English you need to conduct the presentation in differs from the grammar and vocabulary you've studied up to that point. For example, where you wrote "but", the senior student will point out that, "it should be 'however'". The beginning can be rough.
Kagaya: And we started a friendly bout of sorts. This year, we decided to bombard them with questions. So, in advance, we got our hands on the abstract from the Korean students and begun preparing. We decided who was to be each interrogator, and told them they had to ask questions about certain presentations. And as a result, everyone got really into it and it was a total success!
What others things happen besides the research presentations?
Kagaya: This year, on the first day we got to go to the Kakuda JAXA Space Center, and on the third day we took the Korean students sightseeing around Yamagata.
Takagi: There were also get-togethers every day of the exchange. First of all, on the first day, after they arrived at Tohoku University, we had a welcoming party for them at the Aoba Memorial Hall. Then on the second day, we had an exchange party, and on the third, we headed to Karaoke.
Kagaya: Although things lag a bit because even though you try to communicate in English you often can't get your words right, at these kind of events, your shyness disappears and you just start talking.
Takagi: It's because us Japanese people are so shy (laughs).
What kind of activities do you do when students from Tohoku University visit Korea?
Kagaya: It's the same with making and giving the presentations. And the Korean students coordinate things like the sightseeing schedule for us. Last year, two out of the four days was spent moving around so there were actually two days of actual activities. On the first day, first of all, we did the presentations, then we moved to the gymnasium and did all kinds of recreation. Using math, we had to figure out what formula to use to find the correct answer - games like arranging figures and numbers and Korean Suguroku "Naganawa" [a traditional child's dice game]. Then after that they showed us around their campus.
Takagi: The Library was amazing. It has five to six floors with an atrium. It gave the sense of some planetary defense force.
Kagaya: After that they had a welcoming party for us at a log-style pub at the university.
Saito: And there we mixed with people who were not connected to the exchange, and it was really fun. General speaking, Korean people enjoy hanging out with others. They are also really energetic.
Kagaya: The next day we went sightseeing; they showed us places like world heritage sites and museums.
Mr. Kagaya, you said you wanted to improve your English, how did that go?
Kagaya: The best thing about the exchange is that you have the opportunity to speak in English - which usually isn't the case, is it? And so, as I began to speak in English I was like, "wow, my level is this low" and began to sweat things a little. But, I couldn't even communicate about the usual things you do with your native friends - and I wish I could. As the exchange program is quite short, you cannot expect to improve radically, but it does become a catalyst for other things.
Saito: The English of POSTECH University Students is really good.
Kagaya: It's because the students are at the top of their class in the entire country of Korea. Things like their lessons are all done in English.
Saito: They're students who can even speak Japanese.
Are there any activities that fall outside of the exchange program?
Takagi: People are talking about what to do even after the exchange finishes.
Kagaya: We're thinking about traveling to Hokkaido together, or choose various times throughout the year to have drinking parties. What's more, is we're thinking about beginning scheduled English study sessions.
Do you plan to do any other exchanges with the Korean students that fall out of the official exchange program?
Kagaya: Although we don't have a plan to do more exchanges as a whole group, there are people who exchange e-mail addresses with Korean students who they have become close with, and begin getting in touch with another. For example, when a POSTECH student came to Japan last Christmas, we showed the student around Sendai City and Matsushima. It sounds as though the student is going to come again in August, and we are planning to take the student to some Tohoku festivals. It is a little tough to make friends during your first year of the program, but in your second and third years, as you gain experience, you will get used to things little by little and it's possible to make a lot of friends.
Is anything different now that all of you are fourth years students and things are coming to an end ?
Kagaya: It's totally different. We were designated to be on the receiving end of things until our third year, but now as fourth-year students we have to do everything for the program - the amount of work we have to do is full-on. But since I became a leader I've had the chance to talk with all the other students in the exchange, and I'm thankful for that.
Saito: Until last year, we worked behind the scenes not being able to touch the real work. This year we had to think about sightseeing, about the budget - and it was tough. The sense of responsibility between third and fourth year is different. But, as for gaining the experience, I'm happy.
Takagi: Until now, we were on the side that had to correct this and that with the presentations when a senior student would say "you should change this." But this year we had to get others to put together the work that we needed to get done - and if we were going to do the work we wanted it done well. I now understand what it means to bear responsibility.
For the last question, what was the best thing for each of you having participated in the exchange program with POSTECH University?
Kagaya: If you compare this program to a usual club... a club generally has the atmosphere of "play", but this exchange program is a lot of work starting from the very first year. You don't come around a club every day that is this much work. But, from the simple fact we had such experiences, you gain a lot out of it.
Saito: Becoming aware of how I learn and take-in English was the best thing for me. It was really hard to swallow that fact that my English was not necessarily only worse than students in the same grade as me, but worse than junior students and students in Korea. It was also really great to get so much presentation experience. Once you become a fourth year student there is something called a Magazine Assembly, where you have to put together a presentation, and everyone there has a lot of trouble with it because they don't have experience in making presentations. But because I was a member of the POSTECH program it was relatively easy. Besides the fact that I managed to take another good look at my English through developing my presentation ability..... another great thing was that I got to see the difference between people in Japan and Korea. As I said before, although Korean people are really social, last year, when we were shown some of Korea's World Heritage Sites, the Korean students also gave spot-on explanations of the site. I don't think Japanese people could do the same, because we just don't know such things.
Kagaya: They are totally knowledgeable. They are interested in history and ask us about what Japan was like during this period, and tell us what that time was like in Korea. It's really amazing. Totally different.
It is different than when you go traveling - you engaged in a cultural exchange overseas, and with it you gained precious hands-on experience of the difference between cultures and character traits of a nation's people.
Kagaya: Yes, we were really dazzled by mass communication (laughs). Also, I believe we gained so much by the simple fact that it was a science exchange.
(Conducted 2007, July)