Next Generation Talent:
Tokyo Tech's GSEP Course Offers Students Flexibility in a Collaborative Environment
Murancathuparambil and her GSEP classmates are enrolled in the Department of Transdisciplinary Science and Engineering, which takes a holistic approach to solving the issues concerning our global society and creating new value in the process. Blurring the boundaries between academic fields, students in this department are not limited to any specific discipline and are given the opportunity to develop their skills in terms of innovation, creative thinking and communication. Since all GSEP classes are taught in English, international students who meet the entry requirements can earn a degree irrespective of their proficiency in Japanese.
"When you go out into the world, most jobs these days require you to be competent in more than one field, and that's the appeal of the transdisciplinary aspect here at Tokyo Tech. There is definitely a real-world connection with the study," Murancathuparambil explains.
She also appreciates how the program can be tailored to fit each student. "If you discover a new interest, you can integrate it into your studies, so there's a fair amount of freedom." While she was initially attracted to a career related to aerospace, recently, her interest is leaning more towards game development.
A Connection with Games
As a child in Mumbai, video games were one of Murancathuparambil's primary cultural references for Japan, and she dreams of working for a company like Nintendo in the future. "I enjoyed their games when I was growing up — and I still do! Gaming helped me make friends; we would spend the evening playing them together. I think Nintendo's products are very user-friendly, and even people who are not really that into games can enjoy them," she says.
Although accepted into a university in India, she was seeking a break from the rigorous academic environment and wanted to experience student life in another culture. She had already been studying Japanese for several years at an after-school class. With the encouragement and support of her teacher, she began investigating options in Tokyo.
"I had reached Level 3 on the JLPT (Japanese-Language Proficiency Test), and I was still a bit uncomfortable with studying science and engineering entirely in Japanese due to the technical terms involved. So, I was very interested when I saw that Tokyo Tech had a program in English with so much flexibility."
Bonding Through Shared Experiences
Murancathuparambil is now enjoying the camaraderie of the diverse cohort of fellow students in the GSEP course and notes that the emphasis on collaborative, group-based study has helped to facilitate this. "Even if there is a sense of rivalry for certain aspects, we always study together and help each other. I think all being international students studying in an unfamiliar culture has also brought out this instinct to take care of each other," she notes.
Tokyo Tech's gymnastics club serves as another important form of social interaction for her, as well as a way to extend her circle of Japanese friends. Although she participated in gymnastics until high school back in India, she says belonging to a club in Japan is a new experience. "The culture around clubs here is really supportive," she says. "Club members are almost like a small family. We check in on each other, and the connections go beyond a shared interest in school."
Challenges Lead to Opportunities
Studying and living in Tokyo has not been without its challenges, but these can also be chances for growth. After living in a school dormitory in her first year, she subsequently moved to her own apartment. The higher rent has necessitated her getting a part-time job—something she says is not common among college students in India. She works in a café where, as with most service sector jobs in Japan, she had to learn how to use keigo (honorific language) when addressing customers. Japan's younger generations find the specialized phrases challenging at first, too, but once mastered, a knowledge of keigo can be an asset for job seekers.
Although the international media sometimes depicts Tokyo as a city full of people wrapped up in their own lives, Murancathuparambil has found the reality to be very different. "It might seem intimidating at first, but after a while you will discover where you fit in, and you'll start calling Tokyo 'home.' Just be open to talking to others, and don't worry about your language abilities, because they will try their best to be welcoming and to understand you," she advises.
Rachel Devassy Murancathuparambil
Global Scientists and Engineers Program (GSEP)GSEP is the university's inaugural international Bachelor of Engineering program specifically for international students. Conducted entirely in English, it gives international students, even those with no understanding of Japanese, the opportunity to undertake an engineering bachelor's degree.
Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech)www.titech.ac.jp/english
Photos by Julio Kohji Shiiki