Students take rich Armidale experience back to Japan

Published 16 June 2008

chubustudents.jpgSixteen Japanese students have left Armidale after a five-month educational and cultural experience that is an integral part of their English language studies at Chubu University in Japan.

The students, all in the second year of degree programs with a major English-language component, arrived at the University of New England in February. They left at the end of last week, after completing a semester-long linguistics unit for UNE undergraduates and more than 300 hours of tuition at UNE’s English Language Centre. During their stay they engaged in Armidale family and community life as well as the life of the University.

This was the fourth group from Chubu University to undertake the program, which allows students majoring in English to fulfil their course requirement of spending one semester abroad in an English-speaking environment. The program forms part of a wider relationship between Chubu University and UNE that also includes exchange programs for both students and staff.

Associate Professor Katsuko Matsubara from Chubu University’s Department of English Language and Culture travelled to Armidale to attend a farewell function at UNE last Friday [13 June], escort the students on a four-day tour of Sydney, and then fly back with them to Japan.

Dr Matsubara said that this had been the first time many of the students had been away from their home environment but, although there had been some homesickness at first, they had all enjoyed their experience of UNE and Armidale. By forming strong supportive bonds within their group they had become “quite independent”, she said. “They really liked the environment here, and made an effort to talk to people and improve their English.”

One of the biggest challenges they faced was in joining UNE undergraduates for lectures and discussions in the linguistics unit – “Cross-cultural Communication Study” – taught by Professor Cliff Goddard. “They were very serious about it,” Dr Matsubara said, preparing for each class with the help of a support teacher and thus gaining valuable experience in an English-language academic environment. Chubu University places increasing emphasis on this part of the program, with the marks achieved in the UNE undergraduate unit going towards each student’s Chubu University degree.

The group leader, Asumi Tamashima (pictured here at right), said they had met students from many countries at the English Language Centre, and had made friends in the classroom, in the University’s residential colleges (where they had lived for much of the time), and in the families that had hosted them for three weeks of “homestay” experience. One of the “homestay” hosts, Jenny Murray, commented on the “generosity” and “often impeccable manners” of Japanese students, and their willingness to speak English in the family setting. “They’re quite family-oriented, which is something we can learn from,” Ms Murray said.

Mark Cooper, Deputy Director of Studies at the English Language Centre, said the group had benefited from a large increase in the overall number of students at the Centre this year, allowing them to be distributed across a range of classes that catered more precisely to each individual’s level of English skills.

“The students from Chubu University are very open to the opportunities here,” Mr Cooper said, “and very willing to participate fully in all aspects of their five-month program – including not only their cross-cultural studies and English language classes, but also sport, on- and off-campus social activities, and excursions organised through the Armidale International Association. This year’s group all succeeded in greatly improving their English skills because of their full participation. We look forward to these annual visits continuing far into the future.”

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here shows Asumi Tamashima (group leader, right) with fellow Chubu University student Akiho Yamaguchi (left) and UNE student David Sim.