"!" and KU-SGU

As Kanazawa University responds to globalization, it introduces a wide range of surprises (!),
unrestricted by existing boundaries.

International Student Center, Organization of Global Affairs
Assistant Professor

Daisuke ITO

KU Top Global University Project aims to increase the number of international students as well as the number of KU students studying abroad. We had an interview with Assistant Professor, Daisuke Ito, who is a new addition to the International Student Center under Organization of Global Affairs as of 2015. The International Student Center offers Japanese language education for international students and short-term inbound programs.

– Originally, you are from Aichi prefecture.

Yes. I studied at the Department of British and American Studies at Nanzan University in Aichi Prefecture. As about half of the students in the department study abroad, I vaguely wished I would study abroad, too. When I was in my third year, I studied at St. Lawrence University in New York for 2 semesters as an exchange student. In Nanzan, I studied English for communication and minored in intercultural communication. While studying abroad, I took a course on intercultural communication taught by Prof. Kathryn Poethig. Her lecture was really interesting and impressed me so much that I decided to pursue a graduate degree in sociology in the United States.

– One-year experience as an exchange student had a big impact on the direction of your life. Did you go to graduate school right after you graduated from Nanzan University?

No. To prepare myself for a graduate school, I studied sociology at Nanzan University as a research student for a year while working as a part-time English teacher at a high school. I applied for several graduate schools with a concentration on gender and sexuality. I enrolled in the graduate school at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. At first, I was thinking about moving to another institution after I get my master’s degree. However, after all, I stayed in Georgia State University for 10 years. It took me long because I was studying and working as an instructor and a research assistant at the same time to make money for living. I liked the atmosphere and collegiality of the department. The doors of professors’ offices were always open, and I was welcome to talk with them anytime. Graduate students were treated like their colleagues, and we called each other by our first names. I was invited to their home on Thanksgiving Day.

After I finished graduate school, I obtained OPT (Optional Practical Training) Visa, which allows the visa holders to work in the institutions relating to their major for a year. I was engaged in research work at an NPO in Atlanta which supported immigrants mainly from Asia. When the time came to renew my visa, I thought about going back to Japan. I applied to a few universities in Japan, and fortunately I got hired at Kanazawa University.

– You mean, you returned to Japan after 10 years of absence.

I received the letter of acceptance in the end of February, 2015. In the next two weeks, I vacated my apartment, sold my car, and sent all the packages back to Japan. The last days in America passed like the wind.

In America, it’s usual to check and sign all the documents sent from the employer before one starts to work. However, Kanazawa University sent me only a paper of acceptance letter. So I was worried if my position was really secured until the first day at Kanazawa University.

– You are mainly engaged in Japanese courses for international students and a few courses of the Program for the Studies on Japanese Culture and Society at the International Student Center. From this April, “Quarter System” was implemented to general education courses. Most of the courses offered by the ISC are still conducted according to semester system.

I think the International Student Center should adopt the quarter system fully because we can be more flexible to accept short-term international students according to their academic year. To take advantage of the quarter system, every department and every teacher should implement it.

– Kanazawa University aims to increase the number of courses offered in English to 50% in undergraduate courses and 100% in graduate courses by 2023. Do you offer your courses for international students in English?

Yes, basically in English. I offered one course in Japanese because students said they wanted to take the course in Japanese. Although students understood basic Japanese used in daily lives, they had difficulty in understanding the lectures and expressing their opinions in Japanese. The same could happen to Japanese students. If the new English curriculum works, Japanese students would be able to acquire practical English skills in their 1st and 2nd years and would be able to understand the lectures in English by the latter half of their 2nd year.

Faculty members should keep in mind that when they conduct lectures in English, it’s not enough to just translate the lectures they do in Japanese into English. They need to reconsider the teaching method, for example, adopting active learning and incorporating critical thinking in class.

– KU Top Global University Project encourages our Japanese students to study abroad. Do you have any advice for them?

I recommend that they study abroad for a longer period, if possible. After I studied for a year as an exchange student, I boasted that I got much experience in America. However, what I experienced in 10 years in graduate school was much bigger and much deeper. Through living on my own, I acquired the ability to deal with many difficult circumstances. Also, I developed a better relationship with American friends. I think I was treated more or less like a guest when I was an exchange student.

However, not all the students are able to study abroad for a longer period. Also, I heard from students that they are interested in traveling abroad or joining short-term study abroad programs for one to two weeks, but many of them are hesitant to study abroad for half a year or more. Frankly speaking, it’s difficult to improve one’s English ability rapidly within a short period of time. If the students join a short-term program, I recommend the programs include unique activities which you can’t experience in Japan such as exchanges with local students. They can study foreign languages in Japan, but they cannot experience such unique activities in Japan. Also, the program should have a clear objective, and the participants should try to reach the objective through the pre-departure meetings/lectures and post-trip meetings/lectures. We have to bear those things in mind when developing a new program.

We can say the same for inbound programs for international students. With regard to location, universities in big cities are more attractive to international students in general. So, we need to offer the programs with activities students cannot experience elsewhere.

– Lastly, what do you think is necessary for the students to lead the global society in the future?

To play an active role in the global society, not only do you need to speak English fluently, you also need to understand how people do in that country. What I needed in America was the ability to negotiate. To negotiate on an equal footing, you need to say what you want to say without hesitation. Otherwise, you won’t be treated like other Americans. It took me some time to acquire such ability.

I understand that not all students will be able to speak English perfectly even if they study hard, and not all students will have a chance to study abroad to acquire global experiences. However, these cannot be the reasons why you do not step out of your comfort zone. The important thing is to think out of the box and challenge with a help from others (e.g., an interpreter), if necessary.

– It means that those who can speak English should acquire the skills needed in the global society other than English, and those who are not good at English should seek other means to send messages to people from all over the world. Thank you very much for talking with me today!


(Interviewed in August 2016)

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