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Hi everybody! Here is another edition of student interview. I had the pleasure to talk with a former student at Waseda University in the School of International Liberal arts. We talked about her experience with the admission, studying abroad and general life as a SILS student.

Thank you very much for your time. Could you please give our readers a short introduction about yourself?
Hi. I am a graduate of School of International Liberal Studies at Waseda University. I have just graduated last March – so just like 2 months ago. That means I entered Waseda in the year of 2015. As you may already know, there is no major in Waseda. You study a lot of different subjects for example international relations, politics, communication. There are also classes about dinosaurs. I mainly took classes in international relations and politics. Because I was interested in these topics, I also studied abroad at an American university in Washington DC in my sophomore year. Now I am working.

Why did you decide to attend Waseda University – School of International Liberal Studies?
When I was in the elementary school, I lived in the Philippines for four years due to my father’s job. I took a returnee test for my middle and high school. Because I entered through that test, I had a special class for my English. But I knew my English was lowering bit by bit every year. I thought when I get into university, I would want to improve my English again and be able speak and think in English. That was the reason I chose for SILS because English is compulsory for every classes. Also, I didn’t have specific subjects I wanted to study so I thought “Liberal Arts” would be great. These are the two main reasons, I think.

Is the flexibility to study whatever you want the main appeal for SILS?
I guess the bigger appeal are the English classes. A lot of my friends entered SILS because they wanted to improve their English skills and study abroad for a year.

Wouldn’t you be able to also improve your English by studying in a Japanese program and taking English classes at the same time?
I think if you go to a department that have English classes, you learn English as a language. In SILS, you learn a subject by using English. That is the difference.

“The English test at SILS was one of the most difficult compared to the other universities”

At the end, you applied for Waseda SILS and got in. How was the whole application process? Did you prepare a lot in advance?
Waseda wasn’t the only school I chose for. I had to study for the other exams as well. I started studying for the entrance exam from my second year in high school. I also applied for the public schools and had to study math, Japanese, world history and anything else. The English test at SILS was one of the most difficult compared to the other universities. The vocab was a lot more difficult. In the listening test, they would only read the sentence once and the speed is pretty fast. That was hard for me at first.

To clarify, you applied through the Japanese admission?
Yes, I applied through the ippan nyushi [general admission]. I had to take three exams on the same day – Critical Writing, World History and Japanese. Even though the exam about world history was in Japanese, it had parts in it where they would ask for English words that fits the Japanese descriptions in the test.

How comfortable did you feel doing the tests?
For the English test, the amount of questions was quite a lot. I was afraid I might not be able to solve all the questions. I was doing okay but I didn’t have time to look back at my answers.

So, how did you prepare for the tests?
There is a textbook where they had exams from the previous ten years. For my preparation, I tried to solve these. I also learned the vocab I didn’t know in these tests. And I also listened to podcast on the iPod to train my ears for the listening tests.

I see. Is there anything else about the examination, you would like to let others know?
The examination about the world history is different from others school, I think. There are questions where you have to answer in English even though the problem itself is in Japanese. For example, there was a question about “Declaration of Independence”. You had to read the historical statements in Japanese, guess which event it was referring to and then write the event in English.

Let’s move on to the next topic. How was your student life at Waseda SILS? Did it meet your expectation?
I had a really exciting four years. I remember the first day. All the classes were in English. Until high school I always took classes in Japanese. That was really a big change. I was really exhausted just after taking one class. The difference between SILS and the other departments at Waseda or other Japanese universities is that a lot of the classes in SILS the professor would ask you to do a discussion, presentation or write essays in a group. That was really different from my friends at other universities. But that was really exciting for me. It helped me improve my English ability and I am really thankful for that style of class. For SILS students whose mother tongue is Japanese, they have to do the one-year study abroad from their sophomore year.

Wow. A chance to study one-year abroad. How was it?
It was really exciting but also exhausting as well. The universities in US has a high level of participation and knowledge. You have to say your opinion in English in front of large class of about 35 or 40 people. That is not something that Japanese universities would require you to do.

Not even in SILS?
In SILS, someone would rather answer on their own by raising their hands. In the university abroad I studied at they would point to me and say: “What do you think?”. That was different but I was prepared because I had the classes in English in SILS. I was also in the US at the time of the election when Trump was elected. It was really interesting to see how a lot of people were more interested in politics compared to Japanese. A lot of my friends don’t know what is going on in the politics and don’t care who gets elected. In DC, when they start a discussion it would last forever.

“They would think I am speaking as a representative for Japan”

How did you feel in the middle of all this? You said you focused on international politics.
Yes, all the students there were interested in international politics. A lot of people would ask me what Japan would think about a particular issue. They would think I am speaking as a representative for Japan. I felt I couldn’t say anything wrong about my country. So, I would research on my own about the recent information. That influenced me to study international politics and relations.

Your English is quite good. Was it at that level already in the US?
The year in the US was really big for that. I was able to speak normal conversation after my elementary school in the Philippines but I wouldn’t have been able to tell my opinion about an issue if it wasn’t about that year abroad experience. When I started off in SILS, I was recording all the classes on my phone. I was listening to the parts where I couldn’t get. But then before going abroad I was able to listen to the class and taking notes. The next big jump was obviously studying abroad.

Are you able to choose where you want to study?
You can choose 7 universities. Where you can go depends on your GPA in your first semester and your TOEFL score. You also have to write a motivational letter.

Did you participate in any activities, clubs, communities?
I was in the tap dance circle. There are four big performances in the year and we would practice three times a week for that. I also volunteered as a student advisor for studying abroad when I came back from the US.

Are there circles where you can have more international exposure?
I think Waseda is one of the top schools that has high percentage of international students. If you walk around campus you can see students from everywhere talking in English. There was a lounge, kind of like a meetup place where you can just go and find someone to speak to in English.

The courses were taught in English. Were you happy with the quality?
To be honest, there were professors where their English abilities were not that good. But then in a lot of classes the professors were quite passionate about their subjects. Also, there are a lot of interaction with the other students in the class with group projects and group presentations. That was a really good experience to improve my English ability.

“Before I would hesitate but after studying abroad, I would just go for it”

Has studying at Waseda SILS so far changed you in any way? Anything particular you learned about yourself?
I think, it changed me in a way how I would participate in something. Before the university, I wasn’t the kind of person who would raise my hands and participate in a lot of things. A lot of SILS students would speak up their own opinion. In the study abroad you always had to have your own opinion. That motivated me to always have an opinion and explain it. It also changed me in how I think about participating in events or not. Before I would hesitate but after studying abroad, I would just go for it. The attitude in getting into things, I guess.

How do you feel studying at SILS has benefitted you working in Japan?
The company I am working right now is doing a lot of international businesses. My English ability would come very handy and I can start right away instead of learning English first. That is one of the things about SILS. The other thing is that because I got to study abroad, I got to know the good parts about Japan. The uniqueness, the culture, the people. The difference to the US. Also reflecting to my life in the Philippines, a developing country. If one day I get really involved in international business, I would want other people to know the good parts about Japan and from my part I would also want to get to know the good parts about other countries as well.

Are there any last words you would like to share for students who would like to study at Waseda SILS?
Waseda SILS was one of the best choices I made in my life. I was able to improve my English which was one of the reasons I wanted to enter SILS in the first place. I got to expand my global perspective through the classes in Japan and studying abroad. Also, I made a lot of friends from all over the world. Speaking with them I learned a lot about their culture and background. It influenced me the way I think and how I want to spend the rest of my life. I think SILS Waseda is one of the best schools if you want to expand yourself, improve yourself in anyway and be a new you.

Thank you very much for your time.

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Simon has worked in the IT industry for 9 years as an IT Product Manager. In 2018, he was chosen by the Swiss-Japanese Chamber of Commerce to receive the prestigious scholarship and consequently moved to Japan from Switzerland to learn more about the country and the culture. He has a huge passion to make a positive impact in people’s life which shows in his engagement in various volunteering activities.