DMSE Students Participate in Tokyo Exchange Program

May 11, 2017

MIT is participating in a new exchange program with the University of Tokyo during the 2017 Spring Semester. Two DMSE students decided to take advantage of the opportunity, and both students have nothing but positive things to say about their experiences.

Jessica Sun ’18 and Erick Hernandez ’18 have been in Japan since January as exchange students looking to supplement their materials science and engineering education with some new cultural immersion. They’re still taking classes with content you would find at MIT, ranging from biomaterials to semiconductors, but the classes are structured a bit differently in Japan. “All classes are lecture style,” says Erick, “and [have] no recitations or regular psets. We have assignment assigned as ‘reports’ instead, and they vary in format from solving a specific problem to researching a certain topic we covered in class and writing a more traditional paper. I wouldn’t say that the learning is more passive, but there are definitely fewer questions asked in class during lecture.” Jessica quickly noticed that “students tend to be more shy” than they are in the United States, “but they warm up quickly.” 

When asked what their favorite aspect of the trip has been so far, Sun says she’s grateful for the community. “My favorite part of the trip is meeting so many new people -- not just Japanese students, but international students from all over the world. Some of my favorite memories so far include bumping into MIT alumni at a dance studio, staying with classmates in a ryokan and eating takoyaki with friends.” Erick gives a nod to the food selection as well, saying, “Something that I love is how much fresh seafood I’ve been eating. It is plentiful, much more than just sushi, and not expensive (compared to other foods)! I’ll definitely miss it.”

While the cultures are indeed quite different, Hernandez says he has had an easy time adjusting: “in terms of cultural differences, I’d say people are a bit more kind, reserved, and fashionable. I haven’t had any jarring cultural experiences so far, which could be just a matter of having adjusted quickly to frequently using small bows. People have also been rather accommodating of my limited Japanese skills. Most shocking thing so far: I knew in Japan cars drive in the left lane, but people walk on the left, too! Took only a couple days of bumping into people to figure that one out.”

Both Sun and Hernandez acknowledge the value in studying abroad and gaining new cultural experiences. Sun said, “I think the most valuable part of my experience abroad is gaining the confidence to explore and try new things. Especially since Erick and I are the first set of students sent from MIT on this exchange program, we've had to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty. Missing a semester of MIT courses, friends and familiarity to be in a foreign country was definitely a risk, but it's been an experience that I wouldn't trade for anything.”

To learn more about MIT Exchange programs, visit the MIT Global Education & Career Development page at:

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