• Chunichi Shimbun

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At many universities overseas, fall is when the new academic year begins. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, universities in Aichi Prefecture have been unable to send students on exchange programs to the institutions overseas with which they have ties.

Among those affected is Aichi Shukutoku University, which dispatched 299 students to eight countries in fiscal 2019, which ran through March 2020. The university has decided not to send students overseas in fiscal 2020 and the current fiscal year due to the health crisis.

Instead, it conducted a class via videoconferencing, using the Zoom platform, for those who had intended to go to universities in the United States and South Korea for a short-term program of two to three weeks, connecting teachers in those countries and Japanese students at home. There was also a debate session among the students.

Ai Goto, 18, a freshman at Aichi Shukutoku University, took two-week online courses on business English and American culture run by a university in the U.S, paying ¥50,000. Unlike physical classes, there were times when there was a slight time lag in the conversation, and some classes were canceled due to communication difficulties.

“I wasn’t able to form a bond that I can call friendship,” said Goto, noting that she didn’t get the chance to become acquainted with students offline. But the experience still motivated her to study English. “It made me want to study there (in the U.S.) even more,” she said.

The university plans to hold an online class with universities in China in the coming months.

Shoko Iwase, an official at the university’s international exchange division, said many students had to take the classes late at night because of time differences. But with no cost for flights or accommodation, exchange programs also became more accessible for students, Iwase said.

At Aichi Gakuin University in the city of Nisshin, exchange programs accepting foreign students and sending Japanese students abroad were both canceled two years in a row.

Other universities, however, are gradually resuming their programs after the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO), which offers scholarships for exchange students, started offering scholarships again in June for students studying abroad for nine months or longer.

Aichi Prefectural University is one of them, dispatching students to Spain and France this year after seeing the JASSO decision and that vaccination rates have increased in many countries. As of the end of September, 29 of its students have gone to study at foreign universities after becoming fully vaccinated. For fiscal 2020, which ran through March this year, the university had canceled the arrangement almost entirely — except for a two-year exchange program to Taiwan, where the pandemic has been relatively subdued.

“With fears over discrimination against Asians, it could be a challenging experience for exchange students. But the program would also be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I hope they would make the best of it,” said Hisashi Morita, 48, a professor who heads the exchange program at the university.

Nagoya University of Foreign Studies had sent 70 students to universities abroad as of Sept. 14. It also plans to accept foreign students who are currently studying online, depending on the central government’s policy.

And Nagoya University of Commerce and Business has resumed its exchange program for this year, sending two students to Hong Kong and France. It also plans to allow students to work as interns at companies overseas. Meanwhile, 101 foreign students are currently taking classes online at the university from their home countries.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Oct. 3.

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