A Summer in Japan with the UTSIP Program

by Keloni Laws

This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to research at the University of Tokyo as a student of the University of Tokyo Summer Internship Program (UTSIP) at the Kashiwa campus. During this time I worked under Professor Tomochika Tokunaga in the Geosphere Environment Systems Laboratory studying seawater intrusion into groundwater. My lab had options for ongoing projects that I was welcome to build from while I was there. I indicated my interest in one of the topics that a postdoc, Dr. Tsai, was working on, and pursued this research under the lab’s guidance. I worked on researching groundwater salinity around the Nabaki River, which is a tidal river in the Chiba prefecture.

My first assignment was to get familiar with what I was researching. I borrowed books to read, attended lab meetings, and asked my seniors questions all in an effort to learn more about what I was dealing with in my research. After setting this solid foundation, I started creating several resistivity survey graphs from previously collected data, and with that created cross sections that I then analyzed and drew conclusions. This was all new data that I was dealing with, as well as a completely new software, but I was able to get it done with the support of my seniors and my perseverance. I was finished with this step in time for my mid-program presentation, where I presented my results after getting comments on my presentation from the assistant professor of my lab.

During my time studying at the University of Tokyo, I also got the chance to travel to the field site, the Nabaki River in Shirako Town, with some members of the lab. While I was there I helped to collect groundwater samples, take the temperature of our water, and conduct electrical conductivity surveys. Once back at the lab, I was responsible for preparing many of the required standard solutions and samples for the machines used to obtain isotope, cation, and anion concentration. From these results I created a deuterium vs. delta oxygen 18 graph, stiff diagrams, and a piper diagram. It was hard work, where I had to learn more about what was being measured and how, graphing and re-graphing over and over again, and how to interpret these results. However, the time I put into this was very well worth it. I was able to create a story with my conclusions, and the work I did will help Dr. Tsai with her own research.

The advice I gained from those mentoring me during my time in Japan was invaluable, and I wouldn’t have been able to make these achievements without them. As the youngest person in the program coming out of my freshman year of college, I was very worried about my ability to keep up with my peers, but the support from my seniors definitely contributed to making that possible. My final presentation was tough to put together, but their critiques and suggestions on my run throughs helped me to create something that I’m very proud of. This program gave me the chance to refine my analytical, graphing, and questioning skills, and taking advantage of that has set me up to achieve much more in my college life and beyond.

Another very important part of this program was, of course, being in Japan. My first journey into Tokyo was with the other UTSIP students the day after I arrived, and it hardly felt real. That day we went to Asakusa, and thus began my exploration of Japan, as well as fast friendships with other members of UTSIP. I’m so glad that I was able to meet so many new people from all across the world, and I feel like this program was a catalyst for me to make lifelong friends while studying in Japan. I loved being able to travel all around Tokyo with other members of the program; we had dinner in Shibuya, shopped and walked around in Harajuku, visited Hie-jinja Shrine and Hibiya Park, and much, much more. As someone who loves shopping, finding other people willing to go to Harajuku multiple times was a dream come true– and I highly recommend the store Nadia! I saw things I didn’t imagine I’d get to see, like a monkey performance in Ueno Park, eat things I had been dying to try, like strawberry daifuku during a summer festival, and have countless unforgettable experiences, from a baseball game at Tokyo Dome to falling asleep on the first train back to Kashiwanoha. Every meal, karaoke night, all nighter in Shinjuku, or impromptu train ride to Kashiwa offered something new and exciting, right up to the moment I had to leave for home. Moreover, all throughout my time in Japan I was able to practice Japanese. Since I’m minoring in Japanese language, this opportunity to be able to speak in Japanese, day after day with Japanese people was an incredible learning experience. Even if it was a simple interaction, I was able to keep my mind fresh and pick up on things to absorb.

I am so grateful and glad that I was able to live in Japan for seven weeks this summer. Fulfilling this dream I’ve had since middle school gave me an experience in this pocket of the world that was everything I wanted and more. Having the opportunity to research at such a prestigious institution with amazing peers and mentors was simply unforgettable, and has further convinced me that I need to come back!