Hello from Tokyo

What do hip hop dance and materials science have in common? For Jessica, a junior in Course 3, both interests led her to Tokyo.

Jessica is spending the spring 2017 semester studying in Japan through MIT’s new departmental exchange program with the University of Tokyo. The exchange is open to students in Courses 2, 3, and 22 who completed core subjects by the end of their sophomore year and have had at least a semester of Japanese language study.

The first three students from the University of Tokyo came to MIT for the fall semester of 2016, and in turn MIT sent the first two students to Japan for this spring semester. Jessica and her Course 3 classmate Erick arrived at the University of Tokyo at the beginning of February. After a month of classes on campus for the first intensive University of Tokyo term, they have independent time in March to explore the country, region, and personal interests before returning to their classrooms for the second University of Tokyo term (from April to the end of May).

The Global Education team asked Jessica about her adventures in Japan. Here's what she had to say.

Jessica smiles while sitting at a table covered in Japanese food
Jessica in Tokyo

What made you interested in this exchange program?

I have a strong interest in hip hop dance, and Tokyo happens to be one of the best places in the world to learn. I was looking into summer programs in Japan at the time and applying to the exchange program was a natural choice. 

What level of Japanese did you have before going? How have your Japanese language skills improved?

I did not know any Japanese when I first heard about this program. I took Japanese I before going as part of the requirement for the exchange. My listening skills have gotten noticeably better since my dance classes are taught in Japanese. The friends I’ve made here also help me with my Japanese homework sometimes.

What were your first impressions when arrived in Japan and began the program?

Japan is very clean and orderly. There are convenience stores everywhere and many have package pickup, printing services, and groceries. The food here is good. Aside from Japanese restaurants, there are also a bunch of Chinese, Indian and Thai places nearby.

What have been the biggest surprises?

Our classes have been very small — under fifteen people each. Since classes are taught in English, it can get slow at times but the material is interesting. Students spend the majority of their time in the classroom as opposed to doing homework or studying independently.

Students are generally shy, and you have to be the first to introduce yourself. However, they warm up quickly after. Erick and I have already made a couple of good friends.

Have you had any challenges navigating the campus and city?

The campus and city are both very navigable. Transportation is very convenient and efficient. The only issue I’ve had is getting lost within the station — it’s important to realize that stations are very large and you need to have an idea of which exit to take.

What are you looking forward to doing this semester? 

I hope to eat, travel and dance a lot. I’m working hard on improving my Japanese; my goal is to be able to talk with my friends in Japanese before I leave.

Where will you be traveling in March?

I’m thinking about going to Osaka or visiting relatives in China. I also might stay in Tokyo since a student group I’m joining has practices in March.