Attending the University of Tokyo for my Bachelor’s Degree

谷口 アレクサンダー禅 // Alexander Zen WIEGMAN
Department of Integrated Sciences, The University of Tokyo
Undergraduate, 4th-year student

Program: PEAK (Programs in English at Komaba)

Major: (International Program on) Environmental Sciences, B.A.

Taking a photo with the airplane that would whisk me away.

As I’m awaiting the boarding call, I take a picture with my cowboy hat. The plane that will take me to Narita Airport is sitting at the gate, ready behind a glass wall. It was the last wall of many that I would have to face before making the big move, courtesy the support of Friends of UTokyo, Inc (FUTI). While I have a Japanese background, it never crossed my mind that I might have the opportunity to attend Japan’s most prestigious University. While PEAK also has a Japan in East Asia (JEA) major in the humanities and social sciences, I knew my strengths were in the math and sciences. Hence, I applied to the Environmental Sciences (ES) program of the interdisciplinary sciences.

Komaba Welcome Ceremony Group Photo

My first year at the University was a learning period to catch up for all the basics. In the first month, I had to set up my bedding, unpack clothes, buy books for courses, and find out directions of how to get from one place to another in a city 50x more populated than the one in which I was raised. In the first year, most of my time was spent studying – mathematics, sciences, or Japanese language. This year was also when I began participating in the Winter Biology lab, where Japanese and International students were paired to conduct cell biology experiments. It was a busy year of studies and not much else. Within that, the Biology Lab was an excellent opportunity to start hobby activities outside of my mandatory studies.

Asking a new friend for advice on items necessary for daily life in Japan.

As I began my second year, I asked myself what I wanted to do in my life, and for the rest of my University life. I left my dorm room after school, and for the first time, I looked for friends. Between some karaoke nights and major-division courses, my second and third years introduced me to questions most University students ask – what to cook, clubs to join, hobbies to maintain. I ended up joining ECHO (Environmental Club), the Arts Circle (美) and continued playing my clarinet. I also met with master’s degree and Ph.D. students to decide which lab to do my thesis research within.

Group photo from ECHO club trip

The education system at the University is divided into two years of liberal arts general education (so-called ‘zenki katei’) and two years of major-division studies (so-called ‘koki katei’). In our ‘general education’, we took courses in physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and some social science courses in government, psychology, and economics. Also, I took classes ranging from introductory medical science to energy engineering, and even mass media communications to find my interests. This interest-searching led to pursuing minor concentrations for major-division courses in Computer Engineering/Informatics and Science and Technology Studies while taking the mandatory courses in measurement, policy, health and safety, energy infrastructure, and core domains.

The people I meet here are from the most varied of backgrounds. The professors are a mix of Japanese and International faculty, all with a notable dedication and enthusiasm in making our young, English-speaking program noteworthy. A shared interest in Tokyo, hobbies, and mutual respect that exists somewhere behind the traditionally dreaded ‘icy veil’ allowed me not only movie nights or shared cooking with other students but also opportunities to meet with students from other faculties (including graduate levels) and adults of the community from all around Tokyo.

Starting last year and again this year, I have been given the opportunity to guide underclassmen and the direction of this program. Thus far, I have been employed as a Residential Assistant, Globalization Office Faculty Development Assistant, Lab Assistant, On-Campus Speaking Tutor, and am an active member in student government. Each position comes with a slightly nuanced job description, but I accepted each to accomplish the same two principles – to make University life comfortable for my classmates and to contribute to the future generations.

Guiding students as a lab assistant, Winter Biology Lab 2018

I started my fourth year this autumn. Most of my major’s necessary coursework is complete, leaving time for undergraduate research, activities with friends, and job-hunting activities. I want to thank my sponsor in FUTI for believing in my ability and giving me this opportunity to experience my heritage while learning to live responsibly and independently. Whether it be in the professional world, or post-Baccalaureate educational options, my undergraduate education will likely follow with impact, so I will be making the best of my last year and hope to pass on an excellent legacy for my underclassmen.

Holidays lab party at my research lab.