As an international student from China studying in Japan, I try to experience as much as I can by getting involved in campus activities and doing an internship. This is what I get up to on a typical day as a chemistry student at Tohoku University in Sendai.
Breakfast – the beginning of a new day
I live in a large dormitory complex called University House, which hosts both Japanese and international students. In my unit, most of my roommates are night owls, so I’m usually the only one awake in the early morning.
I’m always up an hour before my first lecture so I have time for breakfast. While eating, I like to watch the morning news on TV to catch up on what’s going on in the world and to improve my Japanese. After breakfast, I hop on to my bicycle for the 15-minute ride to Kawauchi campus.
Lectures in the morning
Kawauchi campus is where you will find most of the university’s undergraduates because it is where the general education courses take place. It is a vibrant campus with lots of people. I schedule all my general education lectures in the morning, and then head to the chemistry department at Aobayama campus in the afternoon for experiments and specialised lectures.
I love calculus and linear algebra the best because I find them easy. Thermodynamics, however, always makes me sleepy.
Lunch – choices, choices, choices
As I am not good at cooking and the food at the cafeteria is not expensive, I prefer to eat lunch there with my classmates. The cafeteria serves a wide range of Japanese food such as gyudon (beef on rice) and ramen (noodles). The menu changes seasonally, and sometimes we get curry made from vegetables grown by the agriculture department.
When we tire of the cafeteria, we go to convenience stores such as 7-Eleven for their bento (boxed lunches). Many of my female Japanese classmates bring homemade bento for lunch. Bento culture is very popular in Japan, and a lot of students clearly have the skills to make their own cute and colourful bento meals. Unfortunately, this is a skill I lack.
After lunch, I head to Aobayama campus, which is up a very steep hill. The campus shuttle bus is convenient, but I cycle for the exercise.
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Experiments and internship in the afternoon
Chemistry students at Tohoku University spend a year conducting basic experiments before we are assigned to a laboratory to begin real research. In experiments, everything is unpredictable. The real lessons seem to be about patience, perseverance and having a sense of humour.
I am doing an internship at the university’s Frontier Research Institute for Interdisciplinary Sciences (FRIS). I am working for a group focusing on the gene expression and metabolic functions of proteins. Tohoku University's institutes are among the best in the world, and one advantage of working at one is the top-of-the range, advanced equipment and machines available. Of course, to me, learning from excellent researchers, and being able to discuss their work with them, is the best reward of all.
Dinner – feeding the body and soul
Several times a week, I play soccer or go to the gym after I am done with classes. Soccer is very popular here, so it’s always easy to find a game to join.
I usually cook dinner because it is nice to be home after a full day. Dinnertime is also when I can talk with my roommates. We always eat together in the living room and share anecdotes from our day. I have roommates from Thailand, Indonesia and Japan, and luckily, they are all excellent cooks. So not only is the company great, but the food is often delicious and interesting.
After dinner, I write in my diary and watch some TV before working on my class assignments and other campus commitments. As a student adviser at University House, I help residents who have problems and also contribute to organising social events and community outreach.
The university has a lot of student circles and clubs. I’m a member of the China Student Scholar Association, which promotes interaction between students from Japan and China. We invite professors from different universities and fields to give talks, and we also plan volunteer activities to support post-disaster reconstruction efforts around the Miyagi prefecture, which suffered in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. I always enjoy meeting new people, hearing their stories and sharing a bit of my own culture with them.
On Friday and Saturday nights, I like to go downtown to have a meal with friends or to watch a movie.
I also like travelling, especially to places where I can enjoy nature. Japan has very distinct seasons, and there are different things to enjoy at different times of the year – such as cherry blossoms in the spring, and the changing colours of the leaves in the autumn. From Sendai, it is a convenient train ride – or a cheap bus ride – to many beautiful towns in the Tohoku region. So it is easy to explore new places and old traditions during the weekends and come back to campus refreshed to start the new week.
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If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to study in Japan, student Zhou Xiang shares a typical day in his campus life