Monthly Archives: November 2005

Life in the Glasshouse

The whizzy, modern architecture at Kansai Gaidai’s Centre for International Education and its Seminar House accomodation has one rather startling feature. The ground floor of Seminar House 4 is divided into different rooms, but looks open plan, as the walls are made of glass. Likewise the ground floor of the CIE, where everyone walking down the corridor can see through the glass walls into the student lounge, and vice versa.

So, I was sitting in the student lounge, looking out through the glass walls and trying to fill in the assessment form for this semester. (Yep, this semester’s almost over; I’m surprised at how fast it’s gone.) This is actually the first time I’ve paid real attention to these things. Back in school we used to get self-assessment forms every year, which every pupil dutifully filled out with the standard boilerplate about how they’d ‘progressed’ and their ‘targets’ for next year – the kind of bureaucratic, box-ticking mentality that has pretty much ruined the British education system. Assessing the actual courses was new to me when I started at university. Presumably it’s on the grounds that as you’re paying for it, you should be allowed your opinion as a customer. But I didn’t really think about what the first-year courses at Leeds actually meant. If I had, maybe I’d have worried less about the year abroad before I went. Maybe not.

Anyway, it suddenly occured to me that it really didn’t matter what I put in – at least, not in terms of the university. I was here for a year. Kansai Gaidai would be here long after I’d gone, and would treat the next lot of gaijin exactly as it saw fit. This isn’t bitterness, this is just a comment on a well-organised, successful private university that doesn’t make its money from pandering to its students’ every wish. This may be the Japanese mentality or it may be the private-sector mentality, but despite the motivated teachers and well-equipped facilities, I get the feeling that the students aren’t the highest priority here.

Not that the private-sector mentality is automatically a bad thing. In fact, I kind of admire Kansai Gaidai for at least being single-minded and honest about it. Higher education in Britain is as dependant on income from both business and its own students, but still view themselves as independant from grubby commercial concerns. Leeds University Union is so filled with retail opportunities it looks like a shopping mall (a glossy brochure I was given for registration week portrayed it as just that), enormous corporate firms hold recruitment fairs on campus for graduates, and research investment depends on big business (see this shocking story from Lancaster University for an example of its influence), and yet universities always speak of themselves as if they exist in a vacuum where money has no value or import. Sad to say, but I’d prefer my educators to be mercenary rather than disingenuous.

Of course, I give Leeds too rough a ride. Compared to this place (the one other unviersity I have experience of learning at) the amount of support and care given to students at Leeds, both inside and outside academic departments, is astounding. So, does this post mean anything? Of course it does (if I was into meaningless posts, I’d devote myself exclusively to political blogging of the extreme right or left. I kid, I kid). Because I really made an effort over that assessment report, it doesn’t matter what the CIE thinks of it, because at least I looked at this place critically, and found out the good and bad. And isn’t teaching yourself to think more independantly and effectively what this year abroad is all about?

No, it’s about passing your damn degree!
Oh yeah, I forgot that. More on that later.

In the news: a Japanese government panel on imperial succesion has ruled that women be allowed to “ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne.” Reports from the Japan Times and the Asahi Shimbun.
An Arab journalist alleges that “the US knows it will have to talk to the Iraqi resistance”. Apparently several other governments, including Britain, have entered into negociations with insurgent groups in Iraq, usually over hostage situations. It will be interesting to see if pragmatism or war-on-terror ideology wins out within the US government.
Licensing laws have changed over in Britain, allowing longer hours for pubs, bars and off-licenses. Gosh, is that a pang of homesickness I feel? It’s not that I can’t get drunk in Japan, it’s just that I miss having a quiet drink in a pub.

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Was that too much? I never know

This email landed in my inbox last week, from somone at the Leeds Student newspaper:

Subject: controversial Hallowe’en costumes

Following several reports recieved by the Leeds Student paper concerning a group of four white, male students who chose to celebrate Halloween dressed as suicide bombers complete with rucksacks with wires hanging out, we will be writing an article this week on controversial Halloween costumes.

Ah yes, I thought, that’s my university. I knew I’d been living with political correctness way too long.

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Fun for all the university

Last week was Kansai Gaidai’s Cultural Festival. There were no lessons Thursday (so I went out to do some karaoke on Wednesday night with my much-loved Japanese class, and had a great time too), but the international part of the festival is on Sunday, so there’s one less day off. Actually, I was on campus every day except Friday, as without the university there is nowt to do in Hirakata. It was pretty fun. The student clubs and circles put up stalls selling food to raise money, do performances, that kind of thing. I saw some amateur rock bands, a terrifyingly well-organised cheerleading display, and more hip-hop dancing than I could ever want or need. Walking around campus, I saw groups of dancers in different costumes practicing in their carefully defined bits of territory. To my sleep-deprived brain, it looked like a Run DMC music video, or possibly some East Asian remake of The Warriors.

Saturday I went to Osaka with some friends to see the castle. It was a lovely warm evening, and we walked around it as the sun set and bathed the walls in soft light. I hadn’t brought my camera, so only have a few pictures on my mobile phone as souvenirs of that beautiful evening. Sunday was pretty fun, as I went to the CIE to see the international students’ country booths. I volunteered to help out at the UK stall, and spent an hour or so talking to Japanese visitors about where to go in Britain (Cambridge, of course. When you live in a tourist destination, you gots to represent – although Leeds isn’t half bad either). Sitting across from the amazingly well-equipped Colombia booth put me in the mood to go there. Ah well, there’s always next year.

I met up with Yukari, the Kansai Gaidai graduate who did her year abroad at Leeds who I met helping out at the British Council Education Fair a month or so ago. She’s very nice, friendly and mature, but she works long hours at a hotel so she doesn’t have a lot of free time. At the moment, I’m trying to make plans for the winter holiday. As this is only the second time I’ve travelled outside Europe, and I don’t know when I’ll be back in this part of the world, it makes sense to see as much as I can.

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