Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tsuda College Rituals Bring Meaning to Entrance Exams

As a higher education researcher, my eyes are always peeled for ways in which institutional culture supports student growth and development. Tsuda College rituals and mores are giving me great insight into these practices in Japan. Over the last six months, I’ve noticed time-honored educational activities that embody collegiate life. For example, in Japan class schedules are organized by “periods,” much like the way United States secondary schools design their student schedules. Traditionally, students in Japan live with their parents while pursuing a full-time roster of courses leading to the baccalaureate. They often commute to campus by metro, whether they live 30 minutes or 2 hours away. Thus, most four-year institutes do not offer robust residential life programs for students in on-campus dormitories, and in fact, provide very limited housing options.

What has piqued my interest of late is my recent observation of nyūgaku shiken, or the standardized university entrance exam for incoming freshmen. In January I received official notification that Tsuda’s exam dates were slated for the first weekend in February. During this period, I was told the college campus was open only to test-takers and faculty. Furthermore, I was asked to remain completely silent while on school grounds. On the first day of exams, women queued up along the administration building to register for their chance to prove their intelligence and strength to Tsuda College. It was a compelling and inspirational site, as the severe weather presented another challenge for these anxious test-takers, who had one opportunity to pass this exam. I wanted to exclaim Gambatte! but held my tongue. Uneventfully, the weekend progressed, and I witnessed women come and go with beautifully wrapped bento boxes in hand (presumably for their lunch break). Then, on the final day of testing, as I ambled across the lawn, I saw parents arranged in a semi-circle near the main entrance to campus. Mothers and fathers smiled cheerfully and took photos as their daughters exited the various buildings. Test-takers, many of whom were crying, received warm embraces at the conclusion of this significant milestone. The whole scene gave me (and still gives me) chills. Had I not been walking at that hour, I would have missed this meaningful exchange, which captured years of hard work, commitment, and dedication on the part of students and their families. 

Tsuda College Undergraduates

In this post I would like to express my deep gratitude for the exceptional Tsuda College chefs, who work faithfully to please students, faculty, staff, and guests. Tanaka-san and Takiino-san lovingly prepare and present dozens of four-course meals daily. My sincerest thanks to these culinary experts who make life a little easier for those of us who enjoy dining on campus.

Celebrating Daruma, a Buddhist tradition bringing good luck to the Japanese

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