LIM, Jin Young
Sitting in a beach café in Thailand reflecting on my just completed undergraduate education; I was filled with awe and gratitude just contemplating how things had wondrously and expectantly unfolded over these past four years.
Just five years earlier, when I graduated from high school, it seemed at the time that I was a bit lost and lacking direction. My dream of going to Canada to study was no longer possible due to a major setback in my father’s business and its resulting financial impacts. At the time, to be honest, I was not even clear about what I wanted to study no matter where I would have the opportunity to attend university.
That year, an opportunity to go to Fukushima, Japan, to do volunteer work in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami changed things unexpectedly. I fell in love with Japan while working at a survivor center where I worked with elderly people affected by the disaster. I learned about the values of “kizuna” – the
“interconnectedness” of humanity and our world. That made all the difference.
I met people who became like a compass in my life. Among them was Matsuka-san who was an alumnus of Waseda. He advised me to come to Japan to study and encouraged me by assuring me that if I came he would take care of me. That led me to applying to SILS a year later and he came through on his promise by becoming my guarantor and taking on the role of a foster father in Japan. My life was set on a focused track. What a wonderful and unanticipated twist of life.
I was accepted as a student at Waseda University and I chose to pursue an undergraduate liberal arts education. New topic areas, a new language and the challenge to become a more well-rounded and global person sparked my interests, ambition and aspirations. Waseda University and the Japanese government were very generous in offering several scholarships that relieved the financial burden on my family. They enabled me to come to Japan to study.
My freshman and sophomore years were spent at the Waseda International Student House (WISH), where I lived and experienced university life with both international and local Japanese students. I embarked on my Japanese language studies without any prior knowledge. I enthusiastically and determinedly delved into learning a new language because I realized this was
the only way to exchange ideas and connect with the local community at a more meaningful and deeper level. My academic interests led me to taking formal and informal classes with Professor David Holley, who became a mentor. He had a huge impact on my life both intellectually and politically. His passion for journalism and the world, especially his interest towards relations between countries in East Asia inspired me to pursue a dual degree program in International Relations offered by Waseda University with Peking University (PKU) in China.
This opened the door to spending my junior year in China, which was perhaps the pinnacle of my undergraduate student life. I studied hard to finish all 48 credits required to graduate from the double degree program and spent whatever time I had left to seek out and attend public lectures offered on campus at PKU. In one of those lectures, I met a Stanford University’s Professor Scott Rozelle who talked with grit and passion about the different problems of education in rural China. In addition to my normal class schedule, that then led to an opportunity after the two semesters at PKU to participate in Professor Rozelle’s Rural Education Action Program (REAP). I was able to join a group of Chinese and American students traveling around different rural villages and migrant communities fulfilling the work of testing IQs of babies. This experience was very formative in my life, as it had
not only taught me firsthand about the actual living conditions in parts of China that are unseen by most people, but it also offered the invaluable experience of interacting with both the children and their parents or caretakers. As a fourth-generation overseas Chinese in Malaysia, studying abroad in China provided me the chance to reconnect with my roots, and the country seemed mysteriously familiar yet novel to me. Familiar, because we all looked “Chinese” and understood a common language, yet different when it came to our thinking processes, mentalities and cultural backgrounds.
In my senior year, after returning to Japan from China, I not only found a more intensified desire to learn about Japan but also driven to connect the knowledge I gained in China with my other classes at Waseda. I went back to Professor David Holley’s “Chinese politics” seminar, joined discussions, gave a presentation about China and shared my experience studying there with other students.
So many diverse inputs and learning experiences over four years culminated in my senior thesis paper on the topic of “flow” – a mental state in which one becomes fully absorbed in an activity which then becomes intrinsically rewarding. Under the guidance of Professor Timothy Seul, I finished my thesis and integrated the various studies of flow with education, psychology and philosophy. In addition to my academic focus while
at Waseda, beyond just studies, I also trained hard four times a week in my teacher’s Aikido dojo. My teacher Seikou Ito-sensei took me in as an uchi-deshi (live-in apprentice), and dedicated a lot of his time to teaching me not only the grappling techniques, or “waza” of Aikido, but also more importantly the art of “bushido (the samurai way of life) ”. I’m always reminded by him: 丹田を集中して、力を抜いて、迷わないで、残心をちゃんととって、！！ (”Focus on your dantien, relax your body, don’t hesitate, and to be mindful of my “zanshin”, meaning to finish every waza, every action with full awareness and perfection”). The spirit of samurai, and my Aikido trainings have been an integral part of my education in Japan, which always will help me face life with a sense of equanimity.
In Japan, most students follow the practice of “shuukatsu (job-hunting)” and proceed to work right after graduation. As for me, I have decided to take a gap year, and explore the possibility of starting up a social business in Ladakh, a wonderful place up in the Himalayas of India before going to graduate school in the US. I visited Ladakh once before I came to Japan, and went back there again in August 2018 to organize a yoga retreat expedition and various community service projects for the local nomadic people. My hope is to help promote sustainable eco and spiritual tourism in Ladakh while at the same time contributing to the development of their education system. One of the values that I’ve brought back from the Himalayas is the peace, happiness and warmth of the local people. In Ladakh, there is a magical word called “Julley”. This single word communicates anything positive you can possibly think of. People there say Julley for “hi, thank you, you’re welcome, I love you, and I wish you goodbye”. The list goes on and on. There is no better word to describe my current thoughts, feelings and wishes towards so many people and even anyone with whom I have crossed paths with across in my young life. So Julley to so many people!
The perplexing question that liberal arts students frequently face, and I bet all of my fellow-students have at one time or another experienced, is – “What do you actually study in Japan? What is your major?” I faced this difficulty every time that I returned home to Malaysia in my summer breaks. Often the follow-up question would be, “What are you going to do with your life in the future?” Hmmm, I found it hard to respond. On the Waseda University’s website, it promises “a distinguished heritage, a distinctive future”. Here I have taken classes on journalism, education, philosophy, political science, religion, etc. So, the question is: what is so “distinctive and distinguished about our education?” I think our strength as SILS students lies in our flexibility, our openness, our mastery of languages and our willingness to sensitive to cultural diversity and respectful of people from all backgrounds.
We are not masters of one field, but sort of jack-of-all trades. At the very least, there is nothing cooler than having the opportunity, to explore and choose what we love to study and be curious to the max. As an alumni of Waseda University we all have something to take pride in. Many have a good foundation for being globally oriented. We speak at least two languages and have studied abroad for a year in another country! Referring to languages, a Waseda professor, Kou sensei shared this wise thought with me recently: “Every new language is a new passport in your life, cherish them and utilize them wisely”.
I believe that everyone in this universe has their own unique path of development, transformation and evolution. No two are the same. I believe that things, whether good or bad, happen in life not “to us”, but “for us”. They teach us something. They expose and open our lives to many surprises and challenges. They allow for both happiness and sadness while presenting endless possibilities for each and everyone of us to learn and grow. The only real and assuring path in this world of constant change and uncertainty is to continuously grow ourselves and find ways to contribute to the happiness of others. A teacher of mine told me once that there is much we can learn from nature. Flowers are the most beautiful things in this world, he said, because their mere presence could bring happiness and beauty to the world. As humans and as SILS graduates, no matter what we choose to do in life, we should all strive to be walking flowers, shining beautifully, peacefully and naturally wherever we go. Thank you for preparing us all so well for whatever the future may hold and for how we will create it.