Summer School at Yale University

by Ayako Sakamoto

My name is Ayako Sakamoto, a senior from the University of Tokyo. My major is ecology and biology. I attended the summer course “Sustainability and Institutions” of GSR from 2nd July to 10th August. I had three goals to attend this course at Yale University. The first one was to study environmental management such as skills and theories to change institutions into sustainability. I studied science such as ecology and biology related with environmental issues, so learning environmental management seemed to be very helpful to deepen my insights and understandings about environmental problems. The second one was to experience a life as a student at Yale University, because I was planning to go studying at a graduate school in US and Yale University is one of universities I was applying for. The third goal was to learn about American culture and history through real experiences. Japan has a strong relationship with U.S. and U.S. has the most powerful economic and political influence in the world, so I thought it would be very important to experience and understand its culture and life.


I had classes from 1:00 pm to 4:15 pm every Tuesday and Thursday with Ms. Julie Newman. She assigned us to read about 100 pages of books or articles for every class and those books and articles she assigned were all so interesting and worthwhile that I learned a lot from these readings. For example, I learned the notion of sustainability and the methods to measure it from “Our Common Journey: A transition toward sustainability. (1999),” the necessary skills and theories to change institutions such as companies and public organizations into institutions that contribute to sustainability with real examples from “A necessary revolution: How individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world. (2008)” and the theory of system thinking from “Thinking in Systems. (2008).” In our classes, we discussed what we thought of these readings and Ms.Newman gave us new information through her presentations. I also learned about the activities at Columbia University as well as Yale University to make their campus greener. Ms.Newman took us to Columbia University and introduced us to its staff who explained about those activities. For the last 4 classes, she invited guest speakers such as staff in charge of procurement, facilities, waste management, and buildings at Yale University. I could figure out the situations and activities of Yale University for sustainability through these lectures. We were divided into groups of two and Ms.Newman assigned a final paper of at least 20 pages plus a presentation to be given to the class. I worked with a student from Beijing University and chose the lighting system in the Yale buildings as the theme. In this final report, we analyzed the current situation and problems of the lighting system at Yale University in terms of design and human behaviors and made recommendations about those. I was in charge of researching human behaviors, so through reading a lot of articles and books related with this, I could learn behavioral psychology to encourage people to change their behaviors into environmentally friendly ones. This was the first time for me to write a paper with another person, but I found this team work was very worthwhile because I could get new insights from her which I didn’t come up with by myself and also we compensated each others’ weakness.

Group photo on the steps

During this summer course, I stayed at Berkeley College and had a single room with a common room shared with a Danish classmate. I ate buffet style meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day at any of three dining halls at Yale University. I liked those meals so much that I didn’t have any dissatisfaction with food at Yale University. All classmates ate at one of these dining halls, so I always met and had a meal with some of my classmates. That helped us to nurture our friendship. Sometimes I went to have dinner outside such as pizza with my friends. I often studied at libraries of residential colleges such as Saybrook, Berkeley and Calhoun as well as at the central library. Libraries of residential colleges are open 24 hours, so I could study until late for my classes. Yale University offered us many activities on weekday evenings and on weekends and I tried to attend them as much as possible, so I enjoyed playing with other classmates so much as well as studying hard. Through these activities I could get to know about my classmates better and foster our friendship. I was surprised that Yale University support students so much for not only studying hard, but also enjoying extracurricular activities. On weekends I traveled to Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and New York with some of my classmates. Through these trips, I could learn American history and culture such as jazz, musicals, dancing, fashion and food. I prefer Japanese food, but I enjoyed much better American jazz, musicals, dance, fashion than Japanese ones.

Group with certificates

I accomplished my three goals through the above experiences, but I’m sure I got more than those during the summer school. I learned about not only the U.S., but also other countries which my classmates come from through talking with them. My classmates were from Australia, China, Denmark, Switzerland, Singapore, U.S., India, and U.K. I can say that I got to know about those countries better and more interested in those countries. Moreover, I also got new perspectives towards Japan through listening to other students mentioning it and comparing other countries with Japan. I found the big differences between the relationship of ex-wife, ex-husband and their children between Japan and Denmark. In Japan, usually their children live with their mother and don’t stay with or meet rarely their father after their parents get divorced, but it’s normal that children live with and often meet their father in Denmark. It was shocking when one of my Danish friends criticized Japanese culture of a pecking order depending on age because I realized that I had felt it somehow natural to all countries without thinking well.
After attending the summer school at Yale University, I changed my career plan. Before I had thought it’s better to enter graduate school as soon as I graduate from my university, but now I think it’s better have working experience or at least one year of internship experience before entering it. I thought it would be hard to have a discussion in a class of graduate students without any working experience. Moreover I had planned to just work for an environmental consultant company and U.N. after getting masters at a graduate school in the U.S., but now I’m thinking of running a company in environmental business if I get a creative idea for it after working for a consultant company, think tank or U.N. I changed my mind because I learned the strong relationship between business and environmental issues through the summer course and also heard about valuable experiences of my Danish friends during a gap year before entering their university and in addition to that I got to be able to imagine how a life will be as a student at a graduate school in the U.S.
I really appreciate Friends of UTokyo to offer me scholarship to attend this wonderful and exciting summer school at Yale University.