Mobile Doctorate, iPhone PhD: “Learn Anywhere” and Everywhere with WasedaThu, Aug 20, 2020
Waseda University headquarters are situated in Shinjuku, a multifaceted division of Tokyo sprinkled with a colorful panoply of skyscrapers, billboards and bright lights in the respective business, shopping, and entertainment areas. Alongside these sights nestle verdant recreational parks, majestic shrines and temples, and of course, stately academic institutions like Waseda.
Did you know Waseda has a total of ten university campuses in Japan? Apart from the main grounds, there are four other locations in Shinjuku, namely Nishiwaseda, Toyama, Kikuicho, and the Center for Advanced Biomedical Sciences, TWIns. Nearby wards of Tokyo accommodate Nihonbashi and Higashifushimi campuses, the neighboring prefecture Saitama harbors Tokorozawa and Honjo, and further south lies Kitakyushu campus in Fukuoka. Complementing the various academic campuses in Japan, Waseda University’s Global Network facilitates studies abroad at hundreds of partner universities and institutions in nearly 100 countries. From the many locations within Japan to the multiple international programs, Waseda university students are seemingly able to learn everywhere!
Amidst the recently turbulent times of 2020 and the escalation of the coronavirus, University President Aiji Tanaka reiterated Waseda’s three missions. He also outlined two policies that the University would follow. The second policy, “No one will be left behind,” parallels the Sustainment Development Goals of the United Nations. For Waseda students, this entailed online classes under the “Learn Anywhere” program, and a spring semester full of Moodle. And for me, as a graduate student with high hopes to graduate on time, yet finding myself stranded outside Japan with limited resources, it meant testing the limits of this expansive, all-inclusive program of learning.
The spring semester was about to begin in just a few days. As far as my plans for this point in time, I had expected to be at my desk in my small but comfortable Tokyo apartment, surrounded by my laptop, books, pens, pencils, paper, printer, and every academic accoutrement desirable and imaginable. As far as the reality — well, it was starkly opposite. So different, in fact, that the situation seemed surreal and removed, as if I were watching myself in a film. Instead of being in my sacred sanctuary of study in Shinjuku, I found myself quarantined inside a bare room with thinly painted cement walls in a rural south Indian Ayurvedic hospital, without a sheet of paper, without a pen, and without much of an idea how things would work out from here. The loud jungle sounds were punctuated with the louder, hollow cries of vibrant peacocks that amplified the uncertainties flitting through my mind. How will I ever be able to continue my studies from all the way over here? Besides my cell phone, I was equipped with a minimum of materials: iffy Wifi and my thinking cap.
I had departed Japan to conduct field studies in India during the winter break, planning to be back in Shinjuku with plenty of time before the onset of the spring term. Well, things definitely did not go as planned for myself. And to put things in perspective, things most likely did not go as planned for most people in India and in Japan and in most countries around the globe. I was then and am still well aware that my concerns are relatively miniscule, considering the magnitude of the circumstances. But with the duties associated with being a successful student, my head was swirling with thoughts about school and classes and homework and good grades and scholarships. Besides wearing a mask, sanitizing and social distancing, my mind was set on getting back to Shinjuku and my life as a student at Waseda.
India’s national quarantine, the world’s strictest lockdown, lockdown extensions, and suspension of all domestic and international flights kept me planted among the coconut palms and occasional tarantulas. They kept me far across the oceans from the subtle pink of cherry trees with their delicate parade of abundant, unscented blossoms. They kept me stranded in India for months. Enrolled in a semester’s worth of coursework, and with tenuous means to complete it, the situation was one that could very understandably and quite easily engender despair. Armed with assiduousness, I was bolstered with confidence from Tanaka-San’s message. I was boosted with determination from Waseda’s third mission, “to promote research and scholarly work even under difficult circumstances.” I made up my mind to be positive, and to align myself with Waseda’s mission and the spirit of educational pursuit. I attained the resolution — yes! I decided that yes, I would be able to successfully undertake the spring semester. Yes, even under the unexpected circumstances and despite the meager means I had available to me. I envisioned it as a challenge, an actualization of academic modernity: a mobile doctorate, an ‘IPhone PhD!’
Of course, like with any new practice, you pick up tricks along the way. And it was almost immediately that I learned I could much more quickly scroll through the hundreds of pages of reading assignments when I turned the phone screen horizontally. In fact, that was what made it possible to do it at all. Another “trick” was to procure a pen and a notebook by asking one of the kind staff members at the hospital. Though still massively time consuming, I found it was a “shortcut” to write out my responses by hand, and then to type them up onto Moodle. Despite the gargantuan challenges, I managed, thanks to Waseda’s online system of classes and the immense support from my supervisor and professors. Thanks to Waseda’s staunch commitment to its mission and policies, I was not “left behind.”
After four long months in the sultry heat of the Indian subcontinent’s southernmost reaches, I miraculously obtained special permission to board a special rescue flight from New Delhi to Tokyo. I had originally planned to be in time for sakura, but was instead returning in time for semi. Nevertheless, I could return safely to Shinjuku, was actively engaged in my studies and already nearing the end of the shortened semester. From Japan, the remote and secluded village hospital in the depths of the Indian jungle felt far away from this concrete and city bustle of the nation’s capital. But I came with a lasting souvenir — my experience was proof that Waseda students can learn anywhere, everywhere and even in the middle of nowhere.
*This article was written and contributed by the following student.
Linda Teresa Klausner
Graduate School of International Culture and Communication Studies