Andrew Hill: Graduate Language Studies in Yokohama
One of the more frustrating facets of language study for graduate students at most universities is that language classes tend to be designed for undergraduate students. While these courses can certainly be effective, as my own Japanese classes at Columbia have been, older students often feel that the course material, including the readings, the conversations, and the assigned essays rarely reflect our more specialized academic interests. It can be fun to read about Japanese fairy tales for instance, but they do not really contribute to my ability to discuss trilateral military cooperation among the U.S., Japan, and South Korea.
So this summer I applied to attend the Inter-University Center (IUC) for Japanese Language Studies, a graduate level language institute in Yokohama, Japan. The program has been around for decades and boasts several well-revered scholars among their alumni, including Columbia’s own Dr. Gerald Curtis.
It was a taxing time for me, to say the least. Our readings and class discussions centered around contemporary Japanese political and economic trends, and we often read articles from Japanese newspapers or academic journals. We learned how to discuss both contemporary and historical events in Japanese and present our own independent research as well. On the last day of classes, I gave a fifteen minute presentation on my recent trip with fellow SIPA students to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and was able to successfully field questions from both my instructors and my fellow students, many of whom are in the process of obtaining more advanced degrees than my own.
While I was rarely able to devote time to non-academic pursuits during my eight weeks in Yokohama, I was able to experience several unique aspects of Japanese culture through the center, including zen meditation at a temple in Kamakura, a visit to the national museums in Tokyo, and a guided tour of the National Diet building, home to Japan’s parliament. Each experience was something new for me despite my studies in Japan during my undergraduate years, and my two years of residency in the country as an English teacher.
Without the generous contributions from my FLAS fellowship, I would not have been able to experience any of this, and would probably be relying on independent language study to be able to learn the necessary vocabulary and grammar to speak about my academic discipline. Furthermore, Yokohama is not cheap, and while I was able to gain admission to the IUC’s summer program on my own merits, I would not have been able to afford it without the generous tuition grant and stipend from my fellowship.
For more information on the Summer Foreign Language Area Studies (Summer FLAS) fellowship, please contact Kim Palumbarit at firstname.lastname@example.org.