Center for International EducationWaseda University

About the Center

From the Dean

Kate-Elwood

Prof. Kate Elwood
Dean of Center for International Education

Hello! If you’re a student viewing this page, you are probably considering studying abroad. If so, I strongly encourage you to do so!

Studying in another country allows you to grow and learn in myriad ways. It is one of the most valuable forms of education, a cultural encounter that will remain an important part of you long after you have returned to your home country.

There are obvious gains, frequently noted by those planning to study abroad, such as becoming more proficient in another language and becoming more independent and mentally strong by living apart from a comfortable everyday existence surrounded by friends and family in uncomplicated circumstances.

These are certainly worthy aims, and in most cases, study abroad will enable this kind of development. But focusing just on benefits of this ilk is similar to beholding a gorgeous feast and thinking that it will be a good source of protein and fiber. The experience provides these, of course, but it is so much richer than just that. At the same time, it is hard to describe the essence of what it is reaped from study abroad.

I think one analogy sums it up well. The acclaimed writer David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005. He began the speech with a brief, odd anecdote:

“There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet

an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says,

‘Good morning, boys. How’s the water?’ The two young fish swim

on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks at the other and

goes, ‘What’s water?’”

Wallace explains the story by saying that “the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.” The fish spend their lives in water but are never aware of it. It’s just there, and they cannot imagine any other kind of existence.

The culture we grow up in is like water for fish. It encompasses us, and it is so integral and natural to us that it can be well-nigh impossible to even properly notice it unless we leave the fish bowl, so to speak.

A primary challenge of study abroad is to swim in a new medium. Your “water” is exchanged for something that feels denser. Swimming is harder and seems strange. Learning to cope in this new environment is exhilarating. I still remember my elation the first time I successfully found a telephone number in a Japanese telephone book by myself, as a study abroad student in days long before the Internet.

But beyond that, you become able to recognize many of your own long-held but undetected cultural expectations and attitudes. This broadens exponentially your potential for learning and for engaging with the world at large, not just with the particular foreign country you are studying in. This is what it means to be a true cosmopolitan or, as Japanese people often out it, global jinzai. I wholeheartedly recommend taking advantage of the opportunity to study abroad during your time at Waseda.

Prof. Kate Elwood
Dean of Center for International Education

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