College students get global outlook in dorm life

by Tomoko Arima

Kyodo

With calls growing for universities in Japan to generate graduates well-prepared for the era of globalization, an increasing number of them are establishing “international dormitories” where Japanese students live together with foreign students.

Kenichi Tasai, a 20-year-old sophomore at International Christian University in Mitaka, Tokyo, shares a dorm unit with two American students and one Japanese student.

While each student has his own room, the doors are open most of the time. “We usually stay in the (shared) living room,” eating, chatting and so on, Tasai said.

Students living in the dormitory are about evenly divided between Japanese and non-Japanese, while both Japanese and English are used for information aired within the dormitory and at student assemblies.

When Tasai started living in the dormitory, he was baffled by other boarding students’ fluency in English. But as he decided to “try to communicate (in English) even if incorrectly,” he has improved his English and now uses the language for 30 percent of conversations in the dormitory.

An international dormitory is “a place of education where students recognize cultural differences and study troubleshooting measures,” said Takashi Kibe, deputy dean of students at ICU, noting that there are foreign boarding students who refuse to tidy up their rooms on the grounds that the work should be done by servants.

Reitaku University will open a global dormitory on its campus in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, in the 2013 school year. Since its founding in 1935, the university had adopted a boarding-school system to teach foreign languages to students until 1989, producing many graduates assigned to overseas work by their employers.

Reitaku graduates are “actively working overseas as dormitory life has enabled students to get along with various types of people,” Osamu Nakayama, president of the university, said. “We’d like to incorporate the good tradition into the global dormitory.”

Waseda University plans to build an 11-story dormitory in Tokyo for 870 students, half of whom will be from abroad, next spring and provide them with educational programs in English, such as exchanging opinions on cultural differences.

Among other universities, Shibaura Institute of Technology will open an international dormitory in the city of Saitama this spring.

Employers are clamoring for university graduates who are fluent in foreign languages and able to work smoothly overseas as they promote global business operations.

“Chinese and other Asians don’t care about national borders for doing business,” said Tadashi Yanai, chairman and president of Fast Retailing Co., which operates the Uniqlo casual clothing store chain and uses English as its in-house official language. “I hope young Japanese will learn from them.”

But the number of Japanese students studying abroad peaked at about 83,000 in 2004 and fell below 60,000 in 2009, according to the education ministry.

The largest portion of high school students in a Recruit Co. survey mentioned “high costs” for their reluctance to study at universities abroad.

Tuitions and living expenses for studying at universities in the United States and Europe often total more than ¥2.5 million per student per year.

According to the Japan Students Services Organization, tuition and living expenses for students living in dormitories in Japan averaged ¥1.3 million for national universities and ¥2 million for private universities in the 2010 school year.

Japanese students wishing to live in international dormitories will keep increasing as they can “acquire a cosmopolitan outlook at lower cost while living in Japan,” said Hiroshi Kobayashi, head of an education-related research and publishing company belonging to Recruit.