If my first year was not already expected to be hard enough, I decided to try and walk on thinner ice. I decided to work in Student Services for an international women’s university based in Tokyo, Japan. As if I was not already nervous enough to make a good impression with my new students, I had to rethink my entire approach. I signed up to work with students who just arrived in Boston to take classes, learn English, and about American culture. Imagine spending endless hours playing a video game, and earning the highest score after you become good at it. Then, unexpectedly, the game resets just before your score is officially submitted. Now you have to start all over again to climb back to the top! I can relate. I had just finished graduate school and learned a lot from my classwork and graduate assistantships. I felt confident to make my mark in Student Affairs, and then all of a sudden the game reset.
My target population is study-abroad students who face quite an upward battle. Creeping onto the same thin ice as myself, they came to Boston to learn and become better English speakers. Imagine how difficult that process must be. Imagine how difficult it must be to just to explain a thought that is burning in your brain and could be explained so quickly in Japanese. And now they are being asked to explain that thought in English, the game resets.
Even though there can be tremendous difficulty sometimes, there is a silver lining. My purpose in Student Affairs becomes more lucid. At first I was so worried that I would not be able to have the type of experiences I desired post-grad school: to teach students about leadership, offer students advice, and help guide them towards their full potential through planned programs. But, when you work in Student Affairs, it is never about your vision or the way you thought your career would pan out. It has always and will always be about the student and their developmental pace. Discovering how they learn best and acknowledging their voice is the central piece to our work. My work continues by helping them find their voice in English. It has come to my understanding that there should be critical emphasis on constructing meaning from new information and experiences. By challenging my students to be active and take ownership in their studies, I can better understand their pace, interpret their learning, and help each student develop during their time here.
By understanding the process of how our student population receives information, we can begin playing the game together. In my first couple months here, I tried hard to speak very slowly so that students could interpret the information being explained to them. That way, the game never reset again and I could begin working towards stretch goals. In the next couple of months ahead, I plan to enable creativity and teach about leadership skills. These are two ideas that most American college students would expect. Female students from Japan find this very uncommon. Up until this point they have been taught to listen and memorize facts. There is no opportunity to question a Sensei. What the Sensei says is final and as they say in Japan it is, “the way.” I plan to change that ideal and teach their girls about leadership philosophy and allow them to express their opinion and voice their ideas.
Thanks for reading and check out level 2 of my journey on an international campus in Student Affairs.
This post is part of our #SAinternational series. We will hear from #SApros who work in international student related services. We’ll also hear from those those who have had the fortunate opportunity to work overseas or have a global perspective to higher education. For more info, please see Kim Irland’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series.