Imme Arce Huttmann
from Costa Rica
I came to the University of Tsukuba as are search student in 2011. I was going to enter the World Heritage Studies Course, and honestly I did not really know what it was all about and how I would manage to survive. That was four years ago. Now I am in the second year of my Ph.D. and I will happily stay two more years. I grew in so many levels and learned so many things that I can hardly recognize myself. Let me tell you a bit about the place, the study course and my personal experiences.
Angkor Wat, field trip
Tsukuba is a research city characterized by its peace, quiet, and safety (when things get a bit too quiet and safe,students opt to go to Tokyo for the weekend, which is only an hour away). I thas many wide, green areas, and there are several research institutions such as JAXA, AIST, and NIMS (google them up, they do some pretty cool research). And,of course, there is the University of Tsukuba, with its over 15000 students and its campus so wide it need its own in-campus bus. About one tenth of the students come from abroad, so that foreigners can make Japanese friends while having fellow countrymen with whom to discuss and consult the cultural differences, the customs, and the issues that will inevitably arise.
Personally, I enjoy this city very much.I like the fact that I can go for a run or a treat at midnight. Whenever I forget something somewhere (which is more often than I care to admit), I know that I can probably get it back. People are very keen to meet foreigners and they show a real interest in learning about other countries. I have had to talk about Costa Rica so many times (and in so many bizarre situations) that I already know the facts of my country by heart.
A leisure day in Mount Tsukuba with my classmates
The master’s program in World Heritage Studies is two years long. Usually,students take lectures the first year and focus on their thesis the second year.
The first year is hectic, with huge piles of information to absorb. Students learn about a wide variety of topics,not only about the World Heritage Convention and system, but also about conservation sciences, management, nature conservation, etc. We had many lectures from people involved in this field, which was especially inspiring.Also, we did many field visits not only in Japan, but in other parts of Asia as well. I went to places I would have never gone to alone: Hiraizumi, Cambodia,Myanmar… While visiting, taking classes, and participating in seminars, students ideally develop their research topic.Although the second year students take almost no classes, the research is so intense that there is little time to do anything else.
Looking back at my two master course years, I can only wonder at how much I learned in so little time. It was a very busy, sometimes exhausting time but definitely worth it.
Field trip with the master’s students to the Tohokuarea
In general, my experience as a foreign student in the World Heritage Studies course of the University of Tsukuba has been great. So great, in fact, that I decided to stay for my Ph.D. I think any one with an open mind and ready for an adventure would enjoy this experience as I did.
I want to finish with some advice for foreigners that are thinking about coming here:
As in any country, knowing the local language will help you open doors that would normally be shut. But with Japan it is especially so (I like to think it is exponential). People are very shy about their English skills, and they are incredibly grateful even when you only know a few basic phrases. There are many places here where you can learn Japanese,but it is best to prepare before you come. You don’t want to spend months here learning hiragana and katakana (which you can do at home), when you could have spent them learning grammar and practicing your talking skills.
-Bring things from your country
It is incredible how many times I have been asked to talk about my country, not only personally but in formal presentations as well. It is very useful to have things to show: pictures,traditional garments, objects, maps…Don’t forget to bring some of these when you come over! Also, definitely bring food! Japanese love food and will appreciate it very much.
-Give your Japanese friends an opportunity to practice their English
If you are into learning Japanese, you might find yourself upset at having Japanese people talking to you in English.That does not (necessarily) mean your Japanese skills are bad. Maybe they also want to practice a little bit? Aim for a good balance and grow together.
-A seminar-based system
The academic lifestyle may be very different from what you are used to at home. Here, seminars are the backbone of the whole academic system. A seminar is when students and their advisor gather all together a couple of times a month to discuss their research status, their problems, etc. The advisor is a very important figure that has the administrative and academic authority over their students. If you have to choose your own advisor, be careful about choosing someone close to your field and try to make contact as soon as possible.
-Prepare to work on your own
Here, at least in my study course,post graduate students are expected to do their research on their own. You won’t be told what to do (although this might change depending on your advisor) - you will have to work on your own: the topic, the methodology, the solutions. Your advisor is there only to guide you, and in the seminars youwill have a chance to consult and discuss. The rest of the time is yours tomanage.
-People are shy
Some people might be fooled at the stern faces and the quiet, serious ambience. They might feel frustrated at the beginning when trying to make friends, but don’t be discouraged! Be yourself and talk to people - many times the distance you feel only turns out to be shyness. I have made some of my bestfriends ever here.