Thanks for staying faithful to this blog and I really, really apologize for not updating any post for quite a while T_T
GS Chronicle is a blog series featuring my current undergraduate study in Global Studies Major, belonging to College of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University. Here, I want to share my so-far-2-semester-long study experience here by dividing the conversation into two parts.
Now, in Part 1, I want to focus on familiarizing this top-notch IR (International Relations) in Japan to my fellow Indonesian highschool students —especially from my alma-mater— as well as other International students currently seeking a splendid university experience. Therefore, If there’s any of my GS friends reading this, you might wanna read Part 2 instead, cuz this Part would rather be boring for you XD Jyaa, ikimasyou!
Global Studies: what to expect
This statement might be over-simplifying, but to not complicate things, let me just be clear: “Global Studies Major” is more or less the same with the majority of IR programs you found in other universities, just with different naming.
Why, thus, is it not entitled with “International Relations” major as its name?
Well that’s something that I’ll explain in the very end. So to put it simply, in this Global Studies major you’ll mostly learn about IR-related materials such as diplomacy, United Nations, international development, US Foreign Policy, Japanese Politics and many more.
Aside from the classes covering IR materials, the students also need to learn the basic introductory courses on social science and humanities. In my second and third semester, for example, I took Introduction to Anthropology and Introduction to Economics; it’s not directly related to IR or diplomacy-sort-of but the students ought to master these fundamentals to further their study here.
People often ask me: HOW DOES THE CLASS LOOK LIKE?
Well, as in other universities, it depends on the professor: the sensei is the one to decide how the class is run. We can know how the class might be organized and how your grade is assessed by looking at the Ritsumeikan Online Syllabus.
To give you a more vivid image on the classes, I want to share how I personally catagorize the classes
1. The Standard Lecture-based Classes
Most of the classes in GS employed this method. So, the instructor will use a powerpoint slide to explain the materials and the students just need to sit and listen. For student grading, usually this type of class will have either a final exam in the end of the semester (typically an essay exam with 5-10 questions) or a final paper (2000-3000 words writing is common). Usually in one semester we have 15 classes and we need to attend 2/3 of all the classes (missing 5 classes mean instant F grade).
2. The Discussion-based Classes
For people who likes to speak, they should be fond of this type of class. Usually, the instructor would give like 10-15 minutes explanation and use the rest of the class duration for students to discuss and share their opinion.
Personally, I have a mixed feeling on this type. On one hand, I really like to hear other voices and raise mine, yet when it was done too often it just become so boring. Another source of discomfort is when it seems that you’re the only one who speak frequently, so the rest of the class might saw you to be outspokenly ambitious.
Moreover, there are some occasion, where students raise some “you don’t say” questions which —hypothetically speaking— is intended simply to give a good impression like “hey, professor I contribute to the discussion so I deserve an A grade”, though the materials lack essence.
There is, however, one class which really make the best out of this discussion-based class: it is Miwa-sensei’s Global Studies Seminar. The class focuses on discussing Henry Kissenger’s seminal masterpiece, Diplomacy.
Although reading this super-thick book —added by its super complex use of vocabs— is painful, I really learn a lot from the class. Though the class is run as if we’re in a book club, the course method doesn’t hamper us to have interesting discussions. Currently I have reached page 481 and so far I have learn many IR concepts such as Realpolitik, appeasement strategy, containment policy and many more; and I can’t really hold my self to finish this reading as quick as I can.
3. The Good Ol’ Highschool Class
To my faithful readers who’s currently a high school student, I know that you can’t wait to enter college real soon. True, when I was still a high student I also thought of univeristy life as a very “American Dream” sort-of experience where you can explore anything you want and has greater freedom to arrange you’re life. But it’s not always true, cuz when I’m sure that you’ll eventually miss high school life along with its classic class system: bringing textbook, memorizing class materials, doing weekly homework, multiplechoice exam, etc. I’m firm that as much as you hate these conventional method of learning, you’ll certainly miss it.
Fortunately, we too have this highschool-ish classes in GS. Most of them are Japanese language courses. Here the sensei is going to teach us vocabs, grammars and other language structures which we have to memorize as we’ll be examined through 10 small quizes and 3 major exams. Sometimes we also have some poster presentation which’d be spectated by Japanese student volunteers. The highschool vibe of this class really make me felt young and spirited 😀
4. Manaba is my Mana”bae” Class
“I just met my bae, y’all”; a typical college life conversation you might say.
If you ask me, I defintely have a bae too: her name is manaba. Basically, manaba is a kind of online site made by Ritsumeikan to facilitate a more interactive learning with the students. Usually the instructor of this type of class would put a topic thread and ask students to write their opinion on weekly basis —let’s just say that manaba is like your online blog or journal.
Though, your comments in manaba doesn’t have to sound super formal and formarly, I just often get intimidated when my other classmate already post their comments earlier. And I’ll be like,
“danggg…that writing’s soooo damn good T_T how I’m suppose to write a better one *roll and cry*”
And since you have to write your comments once every week, I just think that this type of class would sort-of consume your weekend time. Two examples of this type of class is my Introduction to Peace Studies, Introduction to IR and Global Studies Seminar classes.
5. THE NEAR-PERFECT CLASS
Nothing is perfect; true indeed, but I found a class which, in my personal opinion, is close to perfection. It is Prof. Hatcher’s Introduction to United Nations class. You’ll get a great combanation of the above class types: you’ll have the college-like lecture but you still have the highschool vibe. The method of learning is also various: we have rigorous lectures, class debates and some extra quick-and-smart competition whose winner will get bonus grade! The reading materials are light and understandable (unlike other classes which have like hundreds of reading but often lack essence at is not really helping to help our comprehension).
The class module is compact and simple: THE UNITED NATIONS – Oxford’s Very Short Introduction. Despite it’s small size, you’ll learn a lot cuz the book’s simple language would enable you to easily remember the contents.
All in all, I’m more than convinced that joining Prof. Hatcher’s course would certainly be an unforgettable study experince. That said, though, is not to imply that passing the class is an easy task. The course puts high demand for students to perform well, so we ought to work hard in order to survive. As long as you read the assigned materials and finish all the tasks, you’ll do just fine 😀
Aside from the classes, there are many additional features that help me to really enjoy being a Ritsumeikan student in the GS program. I’ll try to explain them one by one
First: Exchange Program
Ritsumeikan University, GS in particular, is without doubt a very nice place to study IR; yet it’s far from being perfect. I have various interest in different fields which are not provided in the GS course options, for example: Contemporary Islamic Studies, Latin American Economy, Middle Eastern Conflict, Introduction to Judaism and many more. Fortunately, though, Ritsumeikan has anticipated such craving by establishing Exchange Program that enable students to spend one semester to one year of study in on of Ritsumeikan partner university. Fortunately, you can transfer your credits so that joining this program doesn’t imply a late-graduation.
I read the list of exchange partner universities that we can visit, and I found so many options: from University of British Columbia (Canada), University of London (UK), Peking University (China) and even Universitas Gajah Mada (Indonesia). I become so keblinger in choosing my destination, so I meticulously examined each of the partner’s offered courses and tried my best to match them with my above mentioned interest. And after a long evaluation I decided to put 4 institutions as my option (listed according to priority):
- Leiden University (The Netherlands)
- Lund University (Sweden)
- Science Po Bordeaux (France)
- University of Bergen (Norway)
These 4 universities have courses that correspond to my study interest especially on Middle Eastern and Islamic studies. I also chose all of my options to be European universties because I’d like to familiarize with Western liberal-art style education since I’m currently planning to pursue my Master and Doctoral degree in Europe.
Listing these universities might be easy, but the real challenge is what comes next: the selection process. In order to be accepted we ought to have a high language certification as well as detailed study plan and motivation essay. We’d also have a final interview to convince Ritsumeikan that we deserve the limited seats for this program (some partners like Manchaster University only provided 1 seat for Ritsumeikan’s 35,000 students). The good news is, we don’t need to pay any tuition fee to the partner university! So, as long as you received the full-scholarship back in Ritsumeikan you just need to cover your airplane ticket and cost of living (which can also be partially covered by financial aid provided by Ritsumeikan).
Second: Guest Scholars
The fact that our GS program really often invites brilliant scholars and sometimes even popular figure to the campus as guestspeakers really make me feel in the class as if I’m not studying in Japan that time; guests coming from University of Warwick, for example, made me feel as if I’m studying in UK. Aside from scholars, we can also meet guests who comes with a more eminent background: once there was a real former senator of US congress, an officer of US army in Asia Pasific, World War 2 Prisoner of War, Noble Prize winners, even former RI President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono once visited our campus. Having these guest lecturers really galvanized my curiosity to IR through hearing their expertise and life experience. In the future I do hope we can invite seminal figures like Amartya Sen, Nouman Ali Khan, Michael Sandal, Ridwan Kamil, Justin Trudeau and many others to our classroom.
Third: We’re in Kyoto!
This is too obvious to mention, actually. I mean seriously, though . . . Kyoto is just too good to be true. You’ll get surprises at least every 3 months, with the different beauty that each of the four seasons will offer. And as the former imperial capital of Japan, every inch of the city is lovely; Kyoto is simply a heaven for insta-nians to harvest awesome photos and likes.
Above that, as you stand in the cultural epicentrum of Japan, you’re living in a middle of tourist industry. So, often times we can have a part-time job facilitated by Ritsumeikan that’ll allow us to guide tourist in English and be payed for that! (you can get up to 8,000 yen/trip for this activity). Moreover, sometimes the International Center of Ritsumeikan will email us when there is free tours and events. Once I joined a cultural event in Fukui for free and it was so fun. Some of my friends once also received free Sumo wrestling ticket. Also, recently I just received a free Noh-Kyogen theater ticket too 😀
I believe that my fellow readers might found the above explanation unclear. That’s why as always, I’m available for contact my firstname.lastname@example.org personal e-mail. My previous posts on Ritsumeikan had made my inbox quite filled with plenty questions, and I’m happy to reply most of them. But again, I’d like to emphasize that I’m neither a personal computer nor a dictionary made to address lazy inquiries; I often encountered questions that can actually be answered by simply accessing the Ritsumeikan official website. Thus, I would really appreaciate people who ask with prior research on what they’re asking 🙂
In conclusion, the experience that I have so far of studying in Ritsumeikan has further convinced me that the Global Studies Major is a program really worth attending. The outstanding professors, the international classmates, the cosmopolitan environment and opportunities as well as the abundant facilities that the university provide reassured me that my enrollment here has never been a wrong decision to begin with.
Wallahu a’lam bishowab,