Norway/College of Arts and Sciences (PEAK)/Undergraduate Student/Hello! My name is Marie Hayashi Strand, and I am a second year student in PEAK. I am half-Norwegian and half-Japanese, and lived in Norway, the Philippines and Singapore during my ch
Hello! My name is Marie Hayashi Strand, and I am a second year student in PEAK. I am half-Norwegian and half-Japanese, and lived in Norway, the Philippines and Singapore during my childhood. For the past seven years I have resided in Tokyo. I am currently a member of The University of Tokyo’s ski team, and enjoy the training and camps that we conduct. There are three types of competitive skiing, and the one I belong to is cross country. As a person who loves intense aerobic training like running, cycling and swimming, I feel cross country to be the best sport for me. I enjoy meeting new people and making new friends.
What attracted you to Komaba, UTokyo?
The Environmental Sciences program caught my attention because of its first two-year liberal arts curriculum. Instead of immediately diving into my major, I appreciated the opportunity to explore a wide variety of subjects outside of my narrower field of interest. I hope that this wide approach will allow me to integrate my interests in pure earth and life sciences with the humanities aspect of the environmental sciences. Moreover, even if I have already lived in Japan for some years now, I have never felt that I really had a chance to properly connect and feel a part of my local Japanese community. I was therefore convinced that gaining more knowledge about Japanese culture and language would be valuable for me not just academically, but also on a personal level. And I really wanted to join the university’s ski team. The opportunity to engage in hard training, develop strong relationships with fellow students, and learn the proper skiing techniques of the number one sport in my home country – for me this was like hitting a flock of birds with one stone!
Describe your transition to Komaba, UTokyo.
To be quite frank, for me the transition was quite a culture shock. I think that most people who enter university feel this way at first. University life is very different from high school. You truly have to take responsibility for yourself. You have to make sure that you show up for class, that you submit your assignments on time, that you lead a properly balanced life - and self-study constitutes a major part of getting good grades. Even though I had already lived in Japan for a very long time and still commute to school from my house, I truly felt as if I had entered into rather deep and unfamiliar waters when I first arrived at Todai. But all of the students and professors and staff were really kind and supportive and were always there to help me, so gradually I started to adjust to university life.
Describe the adjustment to Japanese culture.
Because I joined the university’s ski team, I was exposed to all sorts of shocking cultural experiences. I think the greatest cultural shock for me was just how totally dedicated everybody was to the team. Though in western sports teams it’s more about personal achievement, I feel that in Japanese bukatsu, or club activities, the concept of achievement is taken to a whole new level by emphasizing commitment. In addition to hard training, the members are also devoted to contributing toward the Team (with big “T”) and making it a much larger, stronger, better place for everyone. Even something that at first seemed like an irrelevant activity, like parties, actually play a crucial role in socializing and connecting with everyone in the team – such activities make strong bonds and contribute to team culture.
What have been your best experiences at Komaba, UTokyo so far?
In PEAK, I enjoy the social gatherings that we have, especially during Christmas. Within my ski team, I love the gashukus, or training camps that we have.
Describe the friendships and connections you’ve made at Komaba, UTokyo.
I feel that my life is currently divided into three regions: (1) PEAK student life; (2) Ski team life; and (3) Family life (for most other people I’m sure (3) is dorm life). I feel that in (1), I share a very strong connection with my class, and that every party or get-together that we have is lively and full of talk, celebration and fun. Because PEAK is such a new program, we PEAK students form a very small group in comparison to the majority of Japanese students, but I feel that this is actually a strength since it helps to draw us closer together. Of course, we talk and interact with many other Japanese students as well through various social gatherings. (2) I love my ski team, and when I state that I am a member, I do so with pride. It was very difficult to socialize with my team members at first, especially since the majority of them are males. But I have come to realize that they are all very kind, funny and friendly people who have helped me adjust to the Japanese bukatsu life, and I have never regretted joining the team.
What’s your favorite thing about Shibuya and Tokyo?
(1) I love the fact that there are so many things to do here! Shopping, going to the cinema, karaoke, eating various types of cuisines... (2) Japanese people are very kind and respectful to you. (3) Tokyo is clean and efficient.
How did you prepare for your journey to Komaba, UTokyo?
I conducted self-study with chemistry, physics and mathematics IB textbooks that I got from my high school friends. I knew that my knowledge was incomplete and tried to quickly supplement it before the semester started.
If you could give one piece of advice to a new international student or researcher, what would it be?
If you’re going to enter as a Natural Sciences student, make sure that you have a good background knowledge of mathematics, biology, physics and chemistry. The semesters are still going to require a lot of hard work and devotion, but solid preparation will make it easier to manage the transition to university life.