Japan and US Education


I grew up in Japan and moved to California after graduating from Japanese public high school. In my last blog entry, I talked about some of the cultural and language barriers that I have overcome since my move. Aside from the language barriers in college, it was difficult for me to adjust to a different educational system and the emphasis American college places on its education. I can’t really talk about high school or middle school because I didn’t go to school in America but I graduated from a four-year university in California. ^_^ So I can shed lights on the major differences which took me a while to get used to since I am used to the Japanese educational system.

1) Presentation: I hate public speaking. That is why I joined Toastmasters to overcome my fear (LOL) because it is starting to interfere with my career advancement here in the US. Being able to deliver a good presentation is very important here in the US but unfortunately secondary and beyond education in Japan does not put enough emphasis on training students to develop good public speaking skills. So this was really hard for me and my other Japanese friends going to college together because many classes in American college often require the students to give at least one or two presentations in order to receive credit for the coursework. Unless you deliver a presentation, you are not going to receive a passing grade. 🙁 We were afraid of speaking horrible English in front of people and in addition, none of us were trained to go up front of the class to give a talk. So I believe that this is one of the major differences between two educational systems. Also it is directly linked to American society being individualistic as opposed to Japanese culture is very group oriented. Japanese people often ask for others’ opinions before speaking up their own views.

2) Discussion: We did a lot of group work in elementary school in Japan but after middle school..and especially in high school in Japan, it was all about preparing for college entrance examinations in Japan so students are often discouraged from wasting time engaging in “group discussions” in school. So I wasn’t quite sure what I needed to do with this “discussion” group. I studied sociology and we had lectures and discussion sessions and even science classes had lectures and lab/discussion sessions..that often involved “presentations” (individual or groups) I literally dreaded going to discussion sessions as did my Japanese classmates.. LOL I don’t need to explain why but again students were expected to speak up their minds and their findings during the discussion sessions, and usually international students from East Asia (Japan, China, South Korea) were sitting in the classroom quiet but Japanese kids were ESPECIALLY quiet and apprehensive about speaking up in front of the class.

3) Grading System: Japanese schools often grade the students based on the test scores so I had a hard time having to do various things to get good grades in American college classes. Discussion, papers, projects and presentations were all part of the grading criteria so this explains why I dreaded going to the class having to forcefully engage myself in discussion sessions and all of other things that I was not used to. I especially hated group projects because I was so used to Japanese educational system grading us based on the “individual” test scores so I felt that it wasn’t fair to be dragged into this useless “group” project in which American students spend a lot of time discussing, arguing..and we felt that it was a waste of time. 🙂 But it did train some analytical skills and I learned to get the work done anyways.

4) Kissing ass: This was the most troublesome aspect of American college system..I noticed that some students who kept going to the office hours were getting good grades because I guess they scored decently in the areas other than “the tests”..there were almost always students who complained about their grades and they felt that they were unfairly graded so they went to see professors after the semester and then their grades were changed thereafter. Some students were so persistent that they managed to get special permissions from the instructors to make up for their failing grades with extra projects. System is often much more rigid in Japanese education so this was a new concept to me. So I also started to visit the professor and explained that I was an international student and that I wanted to do well..and surprisingly it did help….A LOT. For example, I got an A in this sociology class and I think it has something to do with the fact that I did communicate with the professor often and she knew how hard it was for me to write a 20-pages research paper..in ENGLISH.

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