From time to time, I get requests to post this and that or link my site to someone else’s. Recently, I received such a request from a professor at Tsukuba University in Japan. Since I had visited Tsukuba right after the 2010 World Championships in Tokyo, I was already familiar with its Judo program and campus. It also helps that Kae Takei, a former player of mine, is currently training at the university. Since it isn’t often that judoplayers get offers for academic assistance as well as training opportunities abroad, I was sure that our national organizations would be willing to distribute the information. Much to my surprise, it turns out I was wrong. Thus, I volunteered to spread the word. Here is the initial letter of introduction I received.
My name is Louis Irving, and I am Assistant Professor at Tsukuba University in Japan. I was given your contact details by one of our students, Nadine Encarnacion. As I am sure you are aware, Nadine is currently undertaking her undergraduate degree program at Tsukuba. I am sure you know Tsukuba’s Judo reputation better than I. You may be less aware of Tsukuba’s academic reputation. Currently, Tsukuba is one of Japan’s top 10 ranked universities, ranked in the top 25 in Asia.
In 2009, Tsukuba was selected as one of thirteen elite Japanese universities for internationalization under the government’s Global 30 plan. This provided the universities some core funding to develop undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs taught entirely in English. Currently Tsukuba offers programs in Life and Environmental Science (Biology, agrobiology, geosciences, environmental science) and in International and Social Studies (law, political science, economics, sociology, international relations, etc). Unfortunately, we do not have a sports science degree in English yet. Our program gives young Judoka, who were planning to go to university to study one of these subjects, the opportunity to earn a world-class degree while training in a world-class judo environment in their spare time.
Our tuition fees are competitive, approximately $6,000 per year, with the first year free. We waive our normal entrance fee (half a year’s tuition), and have scholarships available for bright, motivated students. A suitably motivated and bright student should be fairly successful in gaining scholarships, and may graduate with very little debt.
Our website is available at www.global.tsukuba.ac.jp
Even though she’s a Californian like me, I only met Nadine Encarnation for the first time at the 2010 World Championships. She tagged along with my former student, Kae Takei, who was there to see me in addition to cheering on her Tsukuba teammates. Kae, who speaks English, was kind enough to befriend Nadine when she arrived at Tsukuba. I’ve interviewed Nadine to provide additional information to prospective Tsukuba University student-athletes.
What prompted you to study in Japan?
I knew at the time that I was applying for colleges that I wanted to go to the University of Tsukuba. I’ve been going to the University of Tsukuba every summer for judo training since I was a freshman in high school and I loved the environment, campus, training, and people in Tsukuba. Studying in the U.S. didn’t appeal to me and I’ve heard a great deal about Tsukuba. Since Tsukuba was considered a “science city” and I was looking to major in science, I thought that the University of Tsukuba would fit perfectly. Not only would I be able to study biology but I would also be able to practice judo at an elite level. Another aspect which prompted me to study in Japan was that I received a scholarship from the university, not only waiving my tuition fee and admissions fee, but also giving me a monthly stipend. Money was a little tight and my father was worried about how he could pay for college. The scholarship relieved my father’s worries and so far it has helped covered almost all of my expenses in Japan. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.
Before you headed to Tsukuba, did you know that Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, had been the president of Tokyo Higher Normal School, which was the predecessor of Tsukuba University?
No, I did not.
Academically, although your coursework is in English, what has been the hardest thing to adjust to at Tsukuba?
Academically, the hardest thing to adjust to at Tsukuba would simply be some of the professor’s teaching styles or their exams. Of course it would be different from my high school and so it took a little time for me to adjust. One thing to note is that not all of my teachers were Japanese, some were foreigners.The only other difficulty I had was being able to understand the teachers. Because I am a native English speaker I can usually understand the teachers easily, even if they may have an accent. There are some times though that I simply cannot understand their accent or even what they are talking about, but that is understandable because English is usually not the teacher’s first language.
Could you give us your typical daily schedule?
On school days every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday there is running training at 7 AM which means I have to get up at about 6:30 AM or earlier. Then school starts at 8:40 AM. I would then have 1st and 2nd period from 8:40-11:25. From 11:25-12:15 PM there is a lunch break. After that, depending on which day, I would have classes from 12:15-4:30 PM or 12:15-3:00 PM. Practice starts at 4:45 PM so sometimes I would be going straight from my classes to the dojo. Other times I would have to miss part of the practice because the class would sometimes run longer than usual. Practice is usually from 4:45-7:00 PM on the weekdays, unless it is a Wednesday then practice would be at 3:00 PM. After practice I usually get home around 8:00-8:30 (after showering and doing some more uchikomi and what not), do some homework, go to sleep, and the cycle would start over. On Saturdays, practice would be from 9:30-11:30 AM or so. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there is weight training after practice for an hour. This schedule probably wouldn’t apply to the first years’ but more of the second years’
I was fortunate to complete my secondary studies in France, where tests are of the more demanding essay type. What is usually the format in Japan?
Depending on the teacher it was either a test full of short answer questions, an essay, or no test at all. For the Japanese teachers attendance usually accounted for about 60% or more for the class.
When we met at the World Championships, you told me you were learning Japanese. How is your Japanese coming along?
My Japanese is much better than when we met. I understand more and am usually able to communicate to the Japanese what I want. Depending on the contents I can understand about 30-100% of conversations. Being with the judo players helps a lot because I am forced to practice and speak Japanese since most of them cannot really speak/understand English.
Now that you’ve completed your first year at Tsukuba, what would you recommend that a prospective student do to prepare him/herself for studying abroad?
Culture shock. Academically it was easy to adjust, but it was much more difficult to adjust to the culture, even up until now. The student has to be prepared that there are some things the the Japanese may do that people of his/her own culture may not. I had many Southeast Asian classmates but still there were some aspects of the Japanese culture that took time for them to adjust to as well. It can be frustrating but just remember that we come from different cultures and it is inevitable that there will be some conflicting customs and/or opinions. The students should prepare for those and the possible heavy workload the first year students will have.
What has been the best part of your year in Japan?
It’s difficult for me to say exactly what has been the best part of my experience so far. I love almost everything. I love learning about other cultures and overcoming the challenges of living in a foreign country, whether it be something such as the language, the Japanese educational system, or the social scene. My eyes have really been opened by my experiences here in Tsukuba and you learn something new about the Japanese culture or other cultures everyday. Not only do I get to learn about other countries and their customs but I also get to do judo everyday with some of the best which is definitely a plus. I don’t have any regrets about studying at the University of Tsukuba. I know if I had studied in the U.S. I would have a completely different experience, but I don’t think I’m missing much. Even if I am missing out on something I am perfectly content with where I am.