Report: IARU Global Summer Program 2011

Kristin Low
UC Berkeley

GSP –Yale
Report: IARU Global Summer Program 2011
From June 20 – July 5, I had the opportunity to attend the University of Tokyo for their Sustainable Urban Management course.  It was the first time I had ever been to Japan or studied abroad.  Even though the program was only sixteen days, I learned a lot and have many great memories.
In class, we learned about sustainability from multiple disciplines including civil engineering, architecture, city planning, and urban management.  My background being more in engineering and environmental science, I really enjoyed this unique chance to learn about issues from the point of view of other majors.  I have always thought about sustainability from an environmental stance.  However, after taking this course, I realize that achieving sustainability means integrating global, social, and human systems, including politics, economy, lifestyle, technology, as well as the environment.  In addition, I found it especially interesting learning how the topics in the course have been applied in Japan.  From the Tokyo subway system enabling social mobility to the Japanese style buildings strategically designed to naturally combat the heat, this information was something I would not have learned in classes back at home.  Hearing and seeing one of my professor’s personal videos of the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami was very sobering.  The study visits that the faculty of UTokyo brought my class on was a fascinating look into Tokyo, going to both historical, touristy areas and residential places involved in increasing sustainability.
Beyond class, what made my time at UTokyo especially memorable and special was the people I met.  Embarrassingly, I managed to become lost multiple times after landing at Narita Airport.  Fortunately, complete strangers came to my aid to help me find my way.  There were also incidences when eating at restaurants with the other GSP students, other customers would help us translate the menus and teach us how to properly eat/mix our food.  The people in Japan were incredibly courteous, patient, and helpful.  Also, the students taking class with me, from both the GSP and UTokyo, were an amazing, fun, intelligent group of people.  I learned a lot from them as well.  Discussing cultural differences, working together on a group presentation, exploring Tokyo with them, and becoming friends are some of the best memories I have.  After meeting people from Japan, Singapore, China, Australia, and Italy, I think I have gained a broader appreciation of the world.  Even though we come from different backgrounds, countries, religions, we are not really that different.  There is a lot we can learn from each other and accomplish from working together.
The GSP students and I were able to experience much of Tokyo and even a little beyond, including visits to Ueno, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Odaiba, Roppongi, Akihabara, Hakone, and Asakusa.  Japan has such a rich history and culture, which I am glad I was able to experience.  Seeing places of worship so prominent and well preserved gives a much different city feel than I am use to in the U.S.  I also liked noting the little cultural or customary differences that usually go overlooked in everyday life, from which side you stand on when riding an escalator, to using SI units, to a lack of talking on cell phones when in public.
The time I spent in Japan and at the University of Tokyo passed by so quickly.  I feel like there is still so much to learn and experience there.  One day, I would definitely like to go back to Japan.

The last day of class for the Sustainable Urban Management. Kristin Low is on the bottom left.