by Lexa Brieck
Just about 2 months ago, I was a bundle of nerves as I boarded a flight from Memphis, Tennessee to Narita Airport. With the generous financial support of Friends of UTokyo, Inc., I was on my way to the University of Tokyo to become a member of the PEAK (Programs in English at Komaba) Class of 2020. Having been born to a Japanese mother and American father, I had been fortunate enough to experience Japanese culture and language from a young age. Even as a child, I knew that I wanted to experience life in Japan but never imagined that I would have a chance to attend one of the world’s leading universities located in Tokyo for my undergraduate degree. PEAK at UTokyo consists of two programs: Environmental Sciences (ES) in the sciences division and Japan in East Asia (JEA) in the humanities and social sciences division. I chose to apply for JEA because of my interest in Japanese and East Asian history, language, politics, literature, and culture.
The first few weeks in Japan were a learning period. All the PEAK students were settling in, getting used to dorm life, and planning out our class schedules. Yes, I was one of the ones nervous about starting school. I believe that many of my worries were shared by other students as well. Would I be taking interesting courses? Would I be able to get A’s in classes? Would my teachers be nice? Was my Japanese good enough for my language classes? Even though I was worried and nervous about school, I was also extremely excited. I made many friends in my dorm and explored Tokyo. I met some of my teachers early on and really appreciated their passion for the English-taught programs and their enthusiasm when welcoming my classmates and me.
The first two weeks of classes were a trial period. Students could take any number of courses and decide whether or not to officially enroll in them at the end of the two weeks. I now take classes in Japanese literature, language, history, politics, law, philosophy, and many others. I’ve read short stories such as “Rashomon” and “Abe Ichizoku,” learned about democracy in East Asia, compared Buddhism to Ancient Greek philosophy, and made presentations completely in Japanese. These opportunities have allowed me to explore my interests in these various fields before moving on to senior division in my third year when I will be narrowing down my options and focusing on my specific field of interest.
Not only are the classes really interesting, but my classmates are as well. I love the fact that even though we are from all over the world (India, China, America, Germany, Taiwan, England, and Slovenia just to name a few countries), we all have our interest in Tokyo and Japan that ties us together. The dorm life is very lively. Oftentimes, my friends and I will cook meals from our home countries and share with each other. We watch Bollywood movies, Japanese dramas, and even German musicals; sing in a multitude of languages at karaoke; and share stories about our countries, childhoods, and experiences.
As I got more used to life at the university, I also decided to explore clubs and circles. My background in flute performance led me to join the flute ensemble circle (TFC) at my university. There are almost 80 members and the students come from all over Tokyo, not just the University of Tokyo. Through my circle, I was able to interact with more Japanese students and hear their thoughts on current events, international relations, and pop culture.
I am really thankful that I am able to have this opportunity. I believe that I have not only learned more about Japan and the world from my studies but also more about myself through living independently and having more responsibility. As the year winds on, I know that class exams and final papers will be difficult, but I will persevere because I truly believe that this educational opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime chance that will impact my life even after my undergraduate degree is completed.
Yasuo Okamoto（岡本康夫）is a partner at the international law firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP, resident in its New York office. He is also responsible for its Tokyo office and the firm’s Pacific Basin Practice. He is a corporate attorney concentrating on cross border transactions and has counseled Japanese and other foreign clients in M&A, Bankruptcy workouts, Corporate finance and other transactional and regulatory work. He is a graduate of the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Law (Hogakushi 1972) and Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto, Canada (LLB 1976). He has been admitted to practice in the New York State and Federal courts since 1977 and is also registered as a registered foreign lawyer（外国法事務弁護士）with the First Tokyo Bar Association in Japan. Prior to Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP, he was a member of the firm of Hill, Betts & Nash in New York until 1980. He has spoken and lectured extensively on corporate and finance related topics and has served as a lecturer at the Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law at Boston University.