On Wednesday during my 2nd of 4 lectures, I organized a panel discussion by non-Japanese students for the 2nd year class that I am coordinator of. 7 foreign students were chosen to be panelists and we held meetings every Wednesday during lunch for 5 weeks prior to the main event. During our meetings, these students discussed about their disappointment with Japanese students and foreign students; disappointment in everybody’s passiveness in their intercultural interaction. This is something that I also observe in my classes, so I decided to make this the topic of discussion. As each week went by, the chosen panelists became more and more active in sharing their ideas, which was good to see.
At the main event, 2nd year students (total 250 students), professors from our department who did not have another lecture, and the head of the International Affairs office were present. My job as the MC was to keep the 7 panelists calm and reiterate their comments, continuously grasp the attention of the 250 students, and also create a forum where students, both Japanese and foreign, and professors could share their ideas without fear of being belittled. Especially the students. Students are always self-conscious of their ideas being shot down by professors. Thus, for students to feel comfortable at the panel discussion, I prohibited professors from giving comments until 40 minutes into the discussion.
During the first 40 minutes, panelists raised questions about the current situation in our department and students in the audience gave their response regarding these questions and raised more questions. Here are a few examples:
- Foreign students mentioned that Japanese students are extremely passive
- In a rebuttal, Japanese students said that foreign students often communicate with people of the same country in their native language; therefore, it is difficult to start a conversation with them.
- Students pointed out that there are few events to promote intercultural interaction.
- Students gave ideas for the kind of events they want to have.
- Students emphasized that language barriers were the main reason for limited interaction (Personally, I disagree)
During last 30 minutes, I opened the floor for professors and I realized that professors do not (are not able) to see what the students REALLY want. As the MC, I also had to stay neutral even though I personally disagreed with a few comments from both students and professors.
- Professors pointed out that the barrier separating students is not a language barrier but a psychological barrier.
- The head of the International Affairs Office informed students of activities, well-coordinated activities, that they can take part in to promote interaction.
- A professor mentioned how and why certain events were coordinated and problems that occur when trying to organize events.
- A student came back and criticized professors for not understanding the importance of looking at students not by their nationality, but as humans. (I wish this student had spoken up earlier in the discussion, but he said that he wanted to see if other students would recognize this).
After the end of the 90 minute lecture, I told everybody that the ultimate goalーmy reason for holding this panel discussionーwas to bridge the gaps that exist between all students, students and professors, and students and the university.
To my knowledge, this was the first time our department held such an event at such a large scale.
Also, during my last lecture of the day (one of my English classes), I decided to show my students a few TED talks and many of my students said they wanted to watch Steve Jobs’ commencement speech, so I showed it to them. My lectures are student-centered, so they have a lot of work to do in-class. However, I decided to let them sit back in their seats and I gave a talk about the trials and tribulations that I went through and am still going through to this day.
I told them about my unfulfilled dreams as a soccer player, my breakdown and failure as a company employee, and the struggle I go through everyday as an educator. Then, one of my students asked me, “So, what’s your vision for the future?”
I told everybody, like I told my students last year, my vision is, “Change society through educating bright, motivated individuals to realize and reach their potential.” I also told them when my words do not reach my students’ hearts, when my efforts stop changing students’ lives for the better, I will quit and move on because they (students) deserve only the best.