Is Waseda SILS Right for Me?

O. Intro

My name is Laura Melfi, Waseda graduate Class of 2010 Fall. I originally wrote this article back in 2007, during my second semester in Waseda Universityfs School of International Liberal Studies SP2 program. Since then I have found a job in Japan, graduated college, and moved to the Kansai area for work. I have revised this article to reflect these changes.

Much has changed since my time at SILS: the admissions process is competitive and the curriculum is noticeably tastier, the school has earned itself a new spot on campus and the position of Dean has changed hands. There are many aspects of the experience that I did not take part in. If you would like to learn more about study abroad, the transition to graduate school, or more recent information about student life, then I suggest checking out their Facebook page or revamped Admissions page, developments both postdating my tenure.

So is Waseda SILS right for you? Good question. Let me start off by saying congratulations for researching more about Wasedafs fledgling International program. After very little due diligence it becomes clear that the decision does not seem wise, the school may come off as anything but collegiate to the western eye. My friends and I struggled with our decision all throughout college, and it is not until now that I have formed a solid opinion on the issue. Although the experience is actively changing, and will be different for everyone, I hope to clear up many misconceptions and answer a variety of concerns. Please refer to the outline below for quick navigation:

O. Intro
I. Synopsis; "Is SILS too easy?"
II. Analysis; "What SILS a good school for?"
III. Survey; "Are SILS classes too easy?"
IV. To Consider; "I heard first semester sucks really bad"
V. Prospects; "Will I be able to get a job after I graduate?"

VI. Reflection; gWas I happy with my experience?h
VII. Conclusion

I. Synopsis; "Is SILS too easy?"

What prospective students (and most certainly their parents) mull over the most when considering SILS is whether or not classes are too easy for native speakers of English. After all, it is an almost exclusively English-taught department. This article will attempt to answer this question. To answer in short: In all honesty, it is a mixed bag. In its essence, SILS is a school juggling with the difficulties of teaching to both natives and students of the English language. The department is considered the most difficult undergraduate school in the whole university for its Japanese Students, and I a firm believer that the program is an outstanding opportunity for students of English as a second language. At the same time, native speakers of English may find a majority of classes at SILS to be unbelievably tame. For these people, SILS is (and I know this is cliché) as hard as you make it; the freedom to study as much as you want to. Though to be fair, the difficulty of the school changes depending on your personal goals.


II. First; What is SILS a good school for?

First off, whether or not SILS is a good school for you truly depends on what your desired focus of study is.

I came to Waseda to become fluent in Japanese, and in that aspect it was the perfect school for me. I am a white American girl who studied Japanese through high school, and originally planned to major in Japanese at an American university. When I found out about the SILS SP2 program, I realized it would give me the opportunity to study a variety of other subjects while studying Japanese in a fully immersed environment. Over the next four years I took 32 Japanese language classes via Wasedafs Center for Japanese Language. At my busiest I was learning 80 kanji, studying 20 different grammatical expressions, and cranking Japanese language academic reports each week. Through a combination of dedicated study and the extracurricular opportunities that a life in Japan offers, I became fluent enough to take Open Course classes in the greater University, attend a Zemi course dominated by Japanese speakers, and apply for (and find) a job at a major Japanese company. What difficulty SILS classes might have lacked for me was made up for by the rigor and demand of my Japanese language classes. It was a recipe that worked for me, and many other students dedicated to becoming fluent in the language.

..But the truth is that most people don't come to SILS to learn Japanese. Students who study abroad one year to SILS (gSP3 studentsh) are often the most impassioned to study Japanese, but just as many come never having studied before, picking Waseda for the metropolitan excitement Tokyo has to offer. SP1 students, making up half the population of the department, are Japanese-speaking Japanese citizens. And even though SP2 students may study Japanese as per requirement, the relationship between the desire to matriculate and the desire to study the Japanese language isn't always there as it was with me. For one, lots of people are Japanese-American, or hybrid Japanese students. Another type of student is one who wants to study "overseas" or to study in an "international community." Many people come from Korea, Taiwan, or China to study at one of Asia's well known universities. Though just a few examples, they serve to illustrate that my personal experience is not to be taken as the blueprint reason for why students choose SILS. Every student has their own reason for ending up here.

I know people who tried to major in very specific fields like Cultural Anthropology, Life Science, or Microeconomics. For them, SILS was a puzzling choice because it's a Liberal Arts school, which, by definition, offers a variety of studies without the particular clarity and sharpness of a specialist program. If you have a very specific interest, you should really try to go to a school that specializes in that interest. I would strongly suggest college-bound students to consider what your academic interests and goals are before deciding on going to any liberal arts school.

III. Survey; Are SILS classes too easy?

On the topic of lecture quality, you really have to be smart about your class choices to maintain a high quality level of education at SILS. This is coming from a native speaker of the English language. If you are a native or fluent speaker of English, then I do have to break the news to you that classes will definitely vary in terms of challenge and enjoyment. Please take in the following points, and then consider how they apply to you.

Talk to one of many SILS students and you'll quickly uncover the biggest generalized impression of SILS professors: the quality of the class is connected directly to the English language ability of the teacher. This is very, very, very true. I cannot draw broad conclusions about non-Japanese, non-native English speaking professors as I never had one (I hear they are all really great), but I found during my experience that SILS's Japanese professors are... for the most part... works in progress. Their English is pretty weak and the classes are easy to skate through. I found many classes during the early years where the Japanese professor would supplement their lectures with Japanese translations at the end of classes. This is great for advanced speakers of Japanese, but very unfair to one year study abroad students and Japanese students alike, neither learn anything they signed up to learn. That said, I have had many great, dynamic, memorable Japanese professors. You will benefit from asking around about the class before signing up.

In contrast, the British, Australian, and American professors are all really great. I never had a bad one. They definitely expect more from and give more to you, though at times I felt they were jaded by the lack of effort from students, and that many of my good grades were undeserved. English-ready students have complained classes feel dumbed down, and the pace of learning is slow. It is true that in order to accommodate those of intermediate English language ability, teachers tend to speak more methodically, though in my experience I have never felt talked down to. On average, their lectures are much more engaging, and you are much less likely to fall asleep in their class, unless you get stuck in Building 22 room 201, famous for its pleasantly warm climate.


IV. To Consider; I heard first semester sucks really bad

If you have heard this, then I applaud the student who graciously drew a distinction between SILS being a drag, and first semester being a drag. I will admit without refrain, my first semester at SILS was grossly easy. In nearly all of my classes, I had the best English out of everyone. I was forced to take compulsory English writing, wherein I had to write three measly 800-word-peaking essays on prompts, me being fresh off of a High School Senior Year 25-page research paper. Compulsory Mathematical Statistics was like pouring onion powder in my eyes. Yes, first semester is pretty disconcerting. But, please do consider the following:

One, Introductory and Compulsory courses are, and this is true of all colleges, very elementary in content and demands.

Two, the hearsay is likely coming from students who have only been here one semester. Right from semester two all of my teachers and lectures became interesting, and the Advanced courses, Japanese language courses, and Open courses along the way will keep you plenty busy for four years.

Three, having a lighter workload first semester makes adjusting to life in Japan much easier; who wants to work through the kinks of signing up a with a cell phone carrier and opening a bank account when you have two essays and three books due on Monday, and two circle nomikai's over the weekend? Having a light schedule is the perfect way to launch your new social life. Trust me, you're going to want the extra time because the hard part about college in a foreign country is not about what goes on at school, itfs about what you have to deal with when schoolfs out.

Four, when life gives you lemons in the form of an easy semester, you can either make lemonade by self-motivated study, or you could have the bartender line up the tequila shots and party in Roppongi all weekend. The choice is yours.

V. Prospects; Will I be able to get a job in school? After I graduate?

Part-time jobs in school are very attainable. Depending on age and level of language ability, gigs that students often find include: English tutor, bartender, convenience store cashier, waiter, event staffer, translator, and tour guide. Many people find themselves modeling or appearing on television!  I never applied for an internship while at school, but have many acquaintances who secured opportunities with banks, MNCs, domestically-based trade companies, and even journalism apprenticeships. The SILS office aids its students in obtaining work permits, eliminating a lot of walking to different places in Tokyo Midtown or Shinagawa.

With 2010 seeing one in five Japanese students unable to find employment, the current Japanese job market is especially dismal for foreign students. This has little to do with xenophobia and everything to do with foreign students being grossly unprepared for Job Hunting. In Japan, college students traditionally search for post-graduation employment during their third year, many spilling the search into their fourth. It is a culturally-specific process with procedures, paperwork, and self-presentation expectations unlike any other country; jobs will not be found by foreigners who casually decide they want to find work because even the hardest worker will come out empty-handed. That said, as I was able to secure a job, I can say that post-graduation employment is possible. Job Hunting in Japan takes dedication, preparation, monetary resources, and a strong constitution. For more information on my thought on Job Hunting in Japan, check out the rest of my website!


VI. Reflection; Was I happy with my experience?

Yes, I was so happy with my experience. Yes, I took many hair-splittingly easy classes, and yes, I was never worried about failing a SILS class once. That said, I am a self-motivated individual, and I filled up any free time with tougher language classes, self-guided research, and reading beyond requirements. I found my own group of tough and inspiring teachers and stuck with them until the end. I pushed myself in my struggle with the language and moved from Japanese language level 3 to max level 8 in three years, and then kept going, taking language classes beyond the graduation requirement in preparation for Job Hunting. I found myself part-time work outside of school, made a whole new circle of Japanese friends, and incorporated my eclectic experiences into a series of essays that culminated with my Graduation Thesis. It was hell, but I pulled through Job Hunting, successfully finding post-graduation employment before Golden Week. I now live in Kyoto, and have secured a 3 year work visa. I applied to Wasedafs SILS program with the specific goals of becoming fluent in Japanese, and finding a means of functioning as a part of Japanese society. I have fulfilled these goals, and thus I am fulfilled.


VII. Conclusion

The question of whether or not SILS is too easy depends not only on your level English ability, but also on your interests and personal motivation. Therefore, whether or not SILS is right for you deserves a much tailored answer. My experience should only be taken as a snapshot from a specific place in time and space. I implore all of you to sit down in a nice comfy chair for fifteen minutes and sort out your goals and priorities, and then decide for yourself whether or not Waseda SILS is right for you. It will be the same process as when considering any other college. On another note, I have seen this school grow leaps and bounds since I entered in 2006, and I strongly feel as if I was apart of something that grows stronger and more influential by the year. Keep doing your research, and take advantage of the newly helpful SILS website, which paints a much more dynamic portrait of the school than it did for my year.

Whatever your decision, do know there will an empty cushion here at Watami with your name on it, should you decide to join the party.


Originally written by Laura Melfi 2007.4.29.

Full rewrite 2011.1.30