If you’re anything like me, one of your biggest questions about CET is academics. Academics are a major part of study abroad, after all; you have to make sure you’re meeting your own school’s requirements while still taking courses you’re interested in and that theoretically won’t drive you crazy after a month. But trawling through the CET academic information page can only get you so far, so here’s to a first-hand explanation of what you’re getting yourself into!
The simplest place to start is, of course, classes. At the start of the semester everyone takes a placement exam, from which the program professors place you into a class level. Due to the awkward way in which American Japanese classes overlap with CET courses and a slightly embarrassing showing on the exam, I was placed into 260. It seems to be the hybrid equivalent of 301 and 302 at home, but with the added impact of, you know, actually being in Japan for four months.
We have two to three hours of class every weekday, starting at nine – except for Mondays, when some blessed soul trained in the art of wrangling college kids decided that we can start an hour later. In between each hour-long class is a ten-minute break, mostly for the sake of stretching your legs, preserving your sanity, and getting in some last-minute quiz cramming. Barring the obvious (the whole entirely-in-Japanese thing, didn’t forget about that, did you?) classes themselves are relatively normal. You turn in homework, take quizzes, practice grammar, occasionally embarrass yourself by saying something strange using katakana-go, the works. (Katakana-go is the Japanese way of borrowing foreign words. It basically involves sounding out the word in question and it’s easy – at least until you realize that the meaning of katakana words tends to change somewhere along the lines. Such as revenge. Or klaxon. Take a guess, because neither of those mean what you’d expect.)
Class periods are led by a few different sensei; every level has a main sensei (ours is Okada-sensei!), and then a few others (Otsuji-sensei and Tamura-sensei!). The sensei usually rotate each class period, although obviously we see Okada-sensei most often – no reason to label someone as “main” if their role is no different from the rest, right? Anyway, Okada-sensei takes class pretty seriously – but she also has more fashion sense in one day then I’ve ever had in my life, which is a low-key kind of strange combination that somehow serves to make her a bit intimidating. Even though she’s a full head shorter than me with heels. Cute heels, to boot. (I can’t horrify people with puns yet in Japanese, but when that day comes it will be glorious.)
Since it feels rather obligatory in a post focused around academics, I will toss the warning out there; you don’t want to come into the program expecting to play around 24/7. CET organizes lots of events for us and we even have monthly field trips during class,(Next Friday we’re going to the manga museum of Osama Tezuka. Do you know Astro Boy? Black Jack? Dororo? Yeah, those’re all Osama Tezuka, plus dozens of others. “God of manga”, “Father of manga”, can you tell I’m psyched?). You definitely have to play the time management game when it comes to classwork vs. fun wow-I’m-living-in-Japan-stuff. Don’t get me wrong – you can absolutely go to that hanami (cherry or plum blossom viewing party) in the park or hit a string of arcades with your friends, but you also have to make sure to study for that test tomorrow or keep chipping away at interviews for The Project™.
The project, of course, is probably one of the toughest aspects of CET – it’s a semester long research project. We each choose a topic at the start of the semester (the difficulty of said topic is of course tailored to what level of Japanese you’re taking), develop survey and interview questions, and then collect said survey and interview data. Not all of which are with fellow students or sensei, and I can confirm that the nerves get very real. But eventually we take our data and make a poster and speech to present our findings; that’s still coming up, and I’ll give a virtual cookie to the person who can guess what I’m doing for the next few days.
Besides the project, a few other unique parts to the program are our kaiwa renshuu (conversation practices) and koubetsu juugyou (individual classes). Kaiwa renshuu are about what it says on the (English) tin – you talk with other students, CET staff, and sensei about various topics and have them sign off afterwards. The idea is to create opportunities for using new vocabulary and grammar. Personally, I find them a bit nerve-inducing and would rather stick to spontaneous everyday interactions, but I’ve met classmates who get quite a kick out of the conversations, too, so I suppose it just depends on whether that’s your cup of tea or not. (Someday. Someday, puns.)
Koubetsu juugyou are also pretty simple. Once every week or two, we have a one hour meeting set up with a sensei who doesn’t usually teach us (mine was Tsuda-sensei!), where the idea is to work one-on-one with whatever you might be having trouble with. That can be new grammar, kanji practice, or my personal kryptonite, particles. Curse them. I’m not sure how one curses inanimate objects, but I’m doing it anyway.
But besides my personal inability to remember “だ” literally ever, that’s the gist of it! I’m sure there are bits and pieces I missed here and there (although at least in English I don’t have to worry about forgetting words. Usually.) but hopefully my crash course in CET academics didn’t read too much like a syllabus. After all, if you’d wanted one of those, you could have found it on the academic page!