Exchange program at Princeton University

by Shiho Sugiyama

>What this is

I participated in the exchange program at Princeton University from September to May 2023. Here what I did in the spring semester is reported.

>Who I am

I am a female junior year student majoring in engineering. My major at my home university, the University of Tokyo, is Information and Communication Engineering, and that at Princeton was electrical and computer engineering. I’m interested in robotics and information engineering.

>Academic life

I took four courses in the spring semester.

1. Car lab

This is one of the most popular courses for electrical and computer engineering majors. This class focuses on the application of circuits and PID control. Students are required to build a rover, wire up circuits, and control the car. The common tasks assigned to everyone were speed control and navigation. As for the final independent project, I built a new car for picking up garbage with my partner. It was so fun to integrate our knowledge and make it work!!

2. Computer Vision

In this class, we learned the theory of methods of image processing, object recognition, machine learning, neural network, and camera geometry. As for the final independent project, my partner and I trained a neural network model to automatically classify garbage into several categories, such as cardboard, glass, and so on. The most difficult part was to collect enough dataset of garbage from around campus.

3. Computer Networks

We learned about the multiple aspects of computer networks including switching, cache, path determination, wireless communication and so on.

4. Algorithms for Computational Biology

We learned how to apply computer science knowledge and technology to the analysis of biology. We learned how to extract patterns of DNA sequence, how to estimate the evolutionary tree, and so on.

> Extra Curricular Activities

I participated in the Princeton Hackathon and created a YouTUBE thumbnail creator website as a team. I joined a team where everyone had just met each other on the day of the Hackathon. We made friends with each other, discussed the idea about what to create, split up the workload, concentrated on work for 48 hours almost without any sleep with the help of sips of redbull or monster, and made it!

I have been a member of Princeton University Robotics Club.We joined the Pacbot Competition held at Harvard University in Boston and marked the highest score. We made a Pacman Robot which tries to run away from enemy ghosts, to eat certain ghosts and to eat pellets in the maze. I worked as a Communication subteam member!!

I participated in a program about the environment during spring break which was jointly held by Princeton University and the University of Tokyo. We learned about environmental problems in the ocean, demographic problems. We also visited Rutgers University together, where Japanese people first studied in the United States. We had a lecture about how the very first students affected the westernization of Japan in the Meiji Era.

>Cultural Exchange

Continuing from last semester, I went to the Japanese Language Table every week, where students taking the Japanese course join and chat in Japanese over dinner. Each time, some Japanese person living close to campus was invited. Every guest was interesting.

Once, a Japanese Haiku Professor joined us for dinner and invited me to a haiku workshop. In the Haiku workshop, students present two haiku of their own creation and the professor corrects and makes a comment. I was so struck by how people from other countries learn to appreciate Japanese culture.

I went to see the dance recital of an Indian dance club. When I see a friend from a certain country, it is simply just that, but when I see several of them from the same country together, it makes me realize the power of culture. The same thing happened at the recital, too. The majority of the club members were with Indian roots, and when I saw them dance in a group at the stage, I was moved by how powerful the cohesion can be.

I also went to the recital of the French Theatre Club. All the people including performers and guests spoke French there, except for me and the other exchange student from China. I’m re-motivated to learn French again!!

> Fun activities

NY shopping trip with a friend of mine :)

Yale University Visit in New Haven to re encounter a friend from junior and senior high school :)

Dinner at an American diner with friends from circuit lab, on the day of Saint Patrick’s Day. We had traditional Irish food, such as potatoes and beef.

> What I like about Princeton
The favorite thing about Princeton University is the beauty of the campus. The buildings are magnificent and pretty.

Plants also decorate the campus. As spring approaches, flowers start to bloom, and the meadow becomes green.

>What I learned


The important part is the same in the United States as in Japan. Greet in a friendly manner and ask to chat over meals.

・State your state.

Do not be afraid to say you cannot do something or you’re not interested in something. This is a lesson I learned in the exchange program. I took a stride to do a research project under a machine learning professor, and he suggested a topic which has a lot to do with mathematical theory behind it. I read through related papers but I could not understand everything about the mathematical theoretical part. I did not have the courage to confess, and when I started to seek a new topic, it was too late to complete research. It takes courage to confess your incompetence about something, but it pays in the long run, so you should.

・Career path building

I had never had a clear-cut idea about what is the best thing to do at the current moment. I had just chosen to do what seemed to be interesting or rewarding at that time. From the students around me during the exchange program, I learned a simple common methodology. Focus on assignments and extracurricular activities such as club activities during school days. Apply what you learn during vacations while working for a tech company or for a research organization. Almost all my friends in the program say they do an internship at a company or do a research project during vacations, when they are asked about their plan for the next vacation. Since that methodology makes sense to me, I’ve decided to follow it, and now I’m doing an internship at a robotics company after coming back to Japan.

・Countries are close to you

Before studying abroad, news on TV was just stories behind screens. During the exchange program, I felt a connection with various countries around the world. A Ukrainian engineer gave a presentation in a hackathon. My lab partner was Russian. A friend I met at the Japanese language table was Turkish. Since then, the war between Ukraine and Russia, and the earthquake in Turkey have no longer sounded distant.

> My Possible Career Path

One of my goals of studying abroad was to find a female role model for me in the engineering track. I was worried about how to combine maternal life, such as marriage, childbirth,and childcare, with work life, no matter whether it would be in the academic track or in the industry track. I would like to get a PhD degree in the U.S. if the research experience in the coming year strikes me as attractive. I’d also cherish life with my partner in Japan. In my home university, there is a severe gap in the gender ratio, so I could not easily find a female role model.

In the exchange program in Princeton University, I met several PhD students who had their family. I met a sociology PhD student from Australia during the environmental program. She worked for an apparel shop to earn money, then got accepted to Princeton University, and has been doing research while raising children. There also was a postdoc who came back to the academy after working for an integrated circuit company. From this experience, I learned that you do not have to directly go on to graduate school to do research after graduation.

As a person who has a partner in Japan and wants to have maternal life in an earlier stage of life, this idea is like a dawn. I’ll get a job in Japan after getting a master’s degree, raise children, and if I have certain things to research then, I’ll go take a PhD degree.

> What I have done after coming back

After the exchange program, I have a growing interest in cultural exchange. Now I actively seek a chance to interact with international students and friends. The other day, I participated in a Zen workshop with international students at the University of Tokyo.

I also volunteered to be a UT campus tour guide for students and researchers from Ukraine. I realize that there appear to be a lot of opportunities for cultural interaction even in Japan if I try to find one.

In order to support my career path, I’m doing an internship at a robotics company right now, making full use of my extended summer vacation. I owe a lot to Princeton friends who had shared with me the internship experience and plans. Without them, I would not have taken this step ahead.

> What I will do

I’ll do another internship on the information side this summer. I’ll definitely join international events if there are no time conflicts :)

> Summary

Make use of vacations and try to apply what you have learned. Honestly state your state. Insist on what you want to do. The world is not a distant place.