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Hi Blog. Continuing the summertime mode of posting without much comment from me, here’s another report on life in Japan from a student perspective. This time, how a Japanese university treats its international students. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
TOKYO INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY SEGREGATES AND EXPLOITS ITS FOREIGN STUDENTS
By “John Doe”, former student
Exclusive to Debito.org, published August 22, 2020
Tokyo International University (TIU), located in Kawagoe, Saitama, was founded in 1965. In 2014, they launched the new English Track (E-Track) program, where major courses would be taught entirely in English. The program catered to foreign students who did not speak Japanese, mostly from developing countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, or Thailand. This allowed them to study a supposedly rigorous curriculum for a cheaper price compared to those in English-speaking countries such as the U.S. or Australia. Foreign students can also apply for a scholarship which reduces their tuition in full or in part, making the program even more attractive to them. On paper, the E-Track program at TIU sounds good, and to me, it seemed so when I applied to it in 2017. But, starting from 2018, things changed suddenly and it is no longer what it used to be now. I will explain:
Before the E-Track program was established, foreign students could still apply to TIU, but they had to take courses entirely in Japanese, with Japanese students. The E-Track program attracted more of them, but foreign students in this program are separated from Japanese students and cannot take classes with them unless the lecturer consents to it. This resembles apartheid already, but there is more.
When I first came to TIU in late 2017, TIU held a lot of events that encouraged Japanese and foreign students to get together. On one occasion, Japanese and foreign students were taken to an overnight camp near Mount Fuji, where we played team sports and then had BBQ together. Off-campus events, in addition to on-campus ones, were occasional, and open to both Japanese and foreign students. There would be at least one event a month, and a semester there usually lasts around four months. Starting from 2018, however, they cut back on the events, and off-campus trips were no longer on the agenda. As for the on-campus events, there is now only one per semester, and the effort put into organizing them is minimal and half-hearted. This is only the tip of the iceberg, however.
In addition to the events, TIU had two common spaces that encouraged interaction between Japanese and foreign students. One was the English Plaza (E-Plaza), where only English was allowed. Student interns would work as staff on-site, and they would greet visitors at the reception desk, practice English conversation with them, and serve drinks at a bar area inside the Plaza. The E-Plaza also contained a mini-library, with books in English to borrow and read. The content of the books ranged from novels to textbooks and English study materials. This gave students a “homey” and casual atmosphere to relax in. The other was the Japanese Plaza (J-Plaza), which had the same system as the E-Plaza, but in Japanese. Like the E-Plaza, it also contained a reception desk, a bar that served drinks, and a mini-library with books (for studying Japanese). Both Plazas would also hold on-campus events to encourage cross-cultural interaction. I had wanted to improve on my Japanese and make meaningful relationships with Japanese people, so I frequented the J-Plaza. I believe you can also speak from your own experience studying Japanese, but to me, textbook Japanese tended to over-emphasize being polite. Talking to a friend around your age, meanwhile, does not require you to be so polite, and the language you use is a lot more casual. Since I had already been studying polite textbook Japanese in class, I talked to student staff at the J-Plaza to improve on my casual Japanese speech.
Then, when 2018 came, the J-Plaza suddenly closed down without warning or explanation, and I lost the only place where I could practice my casual Japanese. When they reopened the J-Plaza in November that year, they revamped it with a new atmosphere that is not beginner-friendly at all. The reception desk and the bar were no longer there, and the former was replaced with a wall decorated with traditional Japanese art. The purpose of the wall was, in fact, to serve as cover for what was hidden behind it. The mini-library was removed, and all of its books were put into cardboard boxes and hidden behind that wall. The cardboard boxes had “haiki” written on them, meaning that the books were to be disposed of. Student interns are once again working there, but they are now working under a new system. Under this new system, a foreign student would book a reservation for a 15-minute conversation session with a Japanese student intern, who is now called a Conversation Partner. A maximum number of two sessions could be booked per day.
Let me go into a few side details. A typical day at TIU has five periods, beginning at 9:10 a.m. every morning, with each period lasting 90 minutes. Between each period is a 10-minute break. After the second period ends at 12:20 p.m., lunch break begins and lasts until 1:10 p.m., when class resumes and goes on until fifth period ends at 6:00 p.m. When I was at TIU, Conversation Partners were available between third and fifth period. Here is where it hits the fan, however.
Before Fall 2019, new students at TIU were required to take two basic level Japanese courses, which were offered on periods 1 and 2. In Fall 2019, the basic level Japanese courses were moved to periods 4 and 5. And then starting from 2020, only one basic level Japanese course is mandatory. The thing is, most E-Track students come to TIU with virtually no knowledge of Japanese, and the number of students in basic Japanese classes was always significantly higher than in higher-level classes.
Obviously, this meant that there needed to be an environment that would encourage beginner students to acquire motivation to study Japanese, which is what the J-Plaza used to be. Except now, it seems that TIU changed its ways, and no longer wants E-Track students to study Japanese.
Maybe the people at TIU want their foreign students to only speak English to Japanese students, since the J-Plaza was obliterated while the E-Plaza remained intact with no changes. They are even seemingly trying to prevent beginner students from improving on their spoken Japanese by moving the timeframe of the beginner Japanese classes.
Sadly, without knowledge of Japanese, life in Japan will be very hard if not outright impossible. TIU does have a team of student interns who help foreign students adjust to life in Japan by helping them with signing rent contracts or opening bank accounts, but even so, you cannot rely on them all the time.
Apparently, the real reason why TIU started attracting foreign students aggressively is because it was not getting enough Japanese students, and they just wanted to save themselves from going bankrupt. Once they have recruited foreign students however, they leave them to rot in the dust. Not to mention, there is supposedly a high turnover rate among TIU staff. A lecturer at TIU told me that he knew several administrative staff members for the E-Track program who left TIU during my time there, because the work environment appeared to be too stressful and discriminatory.
TIU offers the following majors to Japanese students: Business, Economics, English Communication, International Relations, and Human Sociology. In 2018, they announced plans to build a new international campus in Ikebukuro and open it in 2023. The E-Track program and the English Communication major for Japanese students will be moved there, while the other Japanese majors will remain in Saitama. This seems to be even more evidence of TIU’s segregation and exploitation of their foreign students as tools to teach English to Japanese people. To further rub salt in the wound, TIU uploaded a video detailing how the eventual Ikebukuro campus would look like. As detailed in the video, the master plan for the campus included an English Plaza, but no Japanese Plaza. Looks like they are denying their foreign students an opportunity to study Japanese just to be able to survive there.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities have banned their students from getting onto campus for fear of cluster infections and moved their classes online. TIU was also one of them. However, it appears that TIU continues to discriminate against its foreign students. The move to online classes means that students are rendered unable to use any facilities on campus. However, E-Track students still have to pay the same amount of tuition that they usually would every semester. Of course, many E-Track students receive a tuition reduction scholarship, but there are also those who do not. Meanwhile, Japanese students affected financially by the pandemic are guaranteed a scholarship that will grant a 50 percent reduction on their tuition for the semester. [Related link] Is this discrimination? Is TIU trying to dig even deeper into the pockets of its foreign students? Does this count as scamming?
For these reasons, I do not recommend TIU as a place for foreign students coming to Japan to learn Japanese skills to study. You will only be used as a means to teach their Japanese students English. Not only that, if you are a foreign student at TIU, then it is possible that you are being scammed out of your hard-earned money. It appears that they are trying to exploit their foreign students not only academically but also financially. Sincerely, John Doe
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