Clash of Two Worlds: From a Professor's Perspective
By CHIWU I. KIM
We PEAK students are able to take many classes at the University of Tokyo, but we often forget who make it all possible: the professors who teach us. As PEAK is a program that started just three years ago, many professors teaching PEAK students usually have taught at the University of Tokyo prior to the start of the program. PEAK students often like to compare ourselves to the regular, so-called “domestic” students, but is there really a difference? Do we live in separate worlds? I interviewed Professor Gregory Noble, who specializes in comparative political economy in East Asia and teaches both domestic students in the Hongo campus as well as PEAK students, to find out more about what professors think about their new students, as well as their old.
Professor Noble started off by saying that he wanted to dispel a common misconception that people may have of the domestic students. The domestic students at the University of Tokyo have a reputation of being passive, but Professor Noble argues that reality is far from the case. He says that once the professor gives them the signal that he or she is open to opinions, the domestic students tend to be very active, and eager to have a discussion. While their writing and speaking skills in English fall just short of their PEAK counterparts, Professor Noble has said that he was pleasantly surprised by their high levels of reading and listening comprehension.
According to Professor Noble PEAK students tend to be more diverse. In his class of political science, many PEAK students come from different countries with different government systems. Unlike the domestic students, there is no one set of knowledge that he can expect from the PEAK students. He was also surprised by the level of English in PEAK as well; although English is indeed a requirement in getting into the PEAK program, he says that the students have surpassed his initial expectations with their English proficiency.
Pop quiz: which one is the PEAK student? Photo by Kamiyu Hijikata (1st year PEAK student).
Professor Noble also noted that a key feature of domestic students is that they are never overbearing. Having taught in two other universities, the University of California and Australian National University, Professor Noble says with confidence that the domestic students at the University of Tokyo are distinctively polite. A key feature of PEAK students, on the other hand, is once again the diversity in this respect. Professors teaching at PEAK must not only overcome the challenge of switching their language of instruction, but also must expect to be met with students who may have had an education that is completely different from what he has seen before, where challenging the professor may be more valued than politeness. This, he argues, creates an unique and exciting challenge as to whether he can “shatter assumptions” that the students have.
In the end, while PEAK students may be sometimes intimidated by the domestic students’ native Japanese language, high intellect and reputation, we may have more in common than we think. Professor Noble feels the same; while PEAK students and domestic students do have their differences, there seems to be something universal about the behavior of students at this University. Perhaps PEAK students and the domestic students can learn a thing or two from each other about what they could bring to the classroom, both in terms of behavior and ideas.
Originally posted on Feb. 2, 2015