My name is Vibol Heng, and I am a senior majoring in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University. In the summer of 2013, I participated in a Global Summer Program (GSP) in the University of Tokyo organized by the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU). The program took place in Tokyo from 1st to 25th of July, during which I took introduction to Japanese Language during the first half of the program and Nanoscience during the second half of the program.
I arrived in Tokyo on June 30th. I lived together with other students in program in Kizankan hotel, which is a 5 minutes’ walk from the University of Tokyo campus. During orientation, I was introduced to all the staffs in the University of Tokyo who helped organizing the program and to all students participating in the program. After the orientation, we were given a campus tour by students at the University of Tokyo. My introduction to Japanese language class started the next day. As part of the introduction to Japanese language course, my classmates and I were required to familiarize ourselves with Hiragana (a Japanese phonetic character system consisting of 46 characters) and numbers up to hundred before coming to Japan. An intensive introduction to Japanese language, the class met every day from 9 am to 12 pm for two weeks.
The course was taught by 5 different Japanese lecturers who have many years of experience teaching Japanese to non-native speakers. The main purpose of the class was to introduce students to Japanese writing system, elementary grammar, and communication patterns. Taking an intensive Japanese language in the University of Tokyo was such a great learning experience. Being one of the best universities in Japan, University of Tokyo provided me with an inviting and well-equipped center to facilitate my Japanese learning process. Living in Tokyo also provided me with wealth of opportunity to practice Japanese with native speakers. I believe that learning Japanese language was the best way to familiarize myself with Japanese culture. Not only the course taught me about Japanese language, it also gave me an overview of Japanese culture.
During the second half of the program, I took a course in Nanoscience. This lecture series provided overall aspect of Nanoscience which has grown very rapidly in the last few years. The course was divided into three sub-courses of lecture: Biotechnology, Biomedicine and Nanobiotechnology, and Nanotechnlogy. The class met every day for two weeks from 2 pm to 5 pm followed by the visit to active laboratory in the University of Tokyo from 5:30 pm to 7 pm. In the Biotechnology section, I was introduced to advanced biomedical science and technology bound to drug discovery, to advanced bio-imaging technology, the synthesis of natural products, and the three dimensional structure of macromolecules at atomic level.
In addition, the section on Biomedicine and Nanobiotechnology exposed me to the structure and functions of the living systems at the nano level as a basis for the development of bioinspired structures and functions as well as for the establishment of methodologies to integrate living components into nanodevices. This sub-course focuses on 4 main topics: Nanotechnology and Materials Science for Nanoscale Cell Therapy, Biodevice Technology, Nano Bioelectronics and Mechano-bioengineering. Finally in the Nanotechnology section, I was introduced to fundamentals and applications of nanotechnology mainly established in a field of semiconductors, including Nanostructures for advanced photonics, Silicon-based integrated nanoelectronics, Physics and technology of semiconductor nanostructures, and Spintronics. At the end of each lecture, I was also given opportunity to visit some active laboratories in the respective field both in the University of Tokyo and in other biotechnology industries around Tokyo. Overall, the course in Nanoscience provided me with an in-depth knowledge of the field of Nanoscience together with its vast applications in biotechnology, biomedicine, and nanotechnology. As I plan to pursue a double MD/PhD degree after college, this course gave me a strong background in the field and contributed greatly to my future professional study and career development.
In addition to Japanese cultural immersion and rigorous academic curriculum, this program also offered me a unique opportunity to interact with a rich mix of highly qualified students from around the world. As an international student attending university in the United States, I have always valued the interaction with people of diverse background and culture. Not only does it strengthen my self-identity, but this interaction also widens my perspectives and views in general. Though all students participating in the program were mainly selected from one of the ten universities in IARU, this diverse group of highly educated people represented many different cultures and areas of study. Overall, there were people with 29 nationalities majoring in 20 different disciplines. As all people in the program lived together, I had an opportunity to interact with everyone on a daily basis. Every morning, I would have breakfast with them while having conversations about life in our respective countries. In the afternoon after class, we would explore different parts of Tokyo along with a few students from the University of Tokyo. We went to museums, visited famous Shinto temples, joined Japanese festivals, sang in Japanese-style karaoke, tried different local cuisines, etc…We also spent the weekend visiting towns outside of Tokyo such as historic sites and temples in an old-town of Kamakura. These trips exposed me to Japanese history, their traditional and modern culture, their ways of life, and their world perspective.
Though the language barrier prevented me from having an extensive conversation with Japanese people, I managed to get insights into Japanese society through my daily interaction with Japanese students in the University of Tokyo. Life in Japan in general can be very stressful, yet Japanese people are one of the friendliest and the most polite people I have ever met. They are very responsible people with a strong work ethic, and always give their all to complete their work. Getting to know people in the program was the best part of my summer experience. Not only did they expose me to their respective areas of study and cultural upbringings, they also provided me with different perspectives and ideas in thinking about problems. They are some of the most brilliant people I have known. In sum, in bringing people with different culture together, this program provided me with an opportunity to come together with other participants of diverse background to explore and discuss challenges of the 21st century that most often require multi-disciplinary approaches; therefore, nurtured me to be a good citizen of the world and prepared me to become a much better leader.
At the end, I would like to thank Friends of UTokyo for offering me scholarship to attend this wonderful summer program in the University of Tokyo. Without your generosity and support, I would not be able to participate in this life-changing opportunity.