Conditions for a global education

I read with interest Masaaki Kameda’s May 29 article, “Education panel touts more global approach.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s exhortation that Japanese universities establish super-global universities by recruiting faculty staff from overseas, establishing partnerships with overseas universities and offering English undergraduate programs is a step in the right direction.

But as someone who has taught foreign students at an international university in Japan, I would like to urge local universities to make every effort to implement a system that can accommodate a linguistically and culturally diverse international university community. In this regard, I would draw attention to two crucial issues in helping foreign staff and students adapt to working and studying in Japan: accommodations and language training.

First of all, local universities must provide comprehensive accommodations for foreign staff and students. Local universities should bear in mind that foreign staff and students usually experience a great deal of pressure trying to adapt to a monolingual and mono-ethnic Japan. One of the nightmares experienced by newly arrived international staff and students is the discrimination against them when they seek accommodations.

The story is all too familiar. They are unable to rent a flat because they don’t speak English, don’t have a Japanese guarantor and are not aware of the need to pay the mandatory one-off reikin and shikikin in addition to the monthly rental payment. This can put a financial burden on newly arrived foreign staff and students.

Some discrimination against foreigners seeking accommodations may be due to landlords’ fear of dealing with foreigners or with the English language itself. Yet, the landlord may be the first point of contact for many foreign staff and students. Failure to address accommodations may cause anxiety or frustration, and deter talented staff or students from coming to Japan.

Second, there is a need to revisit or expand Japanese-language instruction at the university level to help foreign faculty staff and students integrate with the local culture.

At present, Japanese is taught in the nation’s schools as part of a package that includes history, morality and the arts to cultivate a true-blue nihonjin. Most foreign staff and overseas students with little or no knowledge of Japanese will find it difficult to adapt to Japanese lifestyles if Japanese programs provided by the university are inadequate.

Japanese-language programs that cater to foreigners living in Japan are clearly lacking. It is not merely sufficient to teach the Japanese language; it is equally important to provide training and orientation courses to help foreign staff and students appreciate the differences between Japanese culture and their own. Unfortunately such courses are not well developed yet and are often conducted only in Japanese. There must be bilingual Japanese-English teachers at the university who can not only cultivate interest in learning Japanese but also provide cultural content that is context-sensitive and applicable to the local community.

Most people who move overseas expect some form of culture shock in their new environment. Some may experience depression, homesicknesses and other problems with acculturation.

I urge the education ministry to look into ways for resolving these two issues, which I believe are crucial for the internationalization of Japan’s higher education.

patrick ng

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.