Syed Matin is a junior Political Science and International Studies major who studied abroad his sophomore year on the Hopkins Global Leadership Fellows Program at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan.
Many students that choose to study abroad in Japan do so because they have taken Japanese classes, have Japanese ancestry, are majoring in East Asian Studies, or have taken a Japanese related course in the past which piqued their interest in Japan. I had none of those experiences when I decided that I wanted to go to Japan. All I knew was that there was a tiny island nation across the Pacific which produced cars, electronics, long-living people and Pokémon. I’m studying political science, and I usually wake up early in the morning and read through a few newspapers and online foreign affairs publications. Japan began to pop up more and more in my readings, whether it was an op-ed discussing how Japan should deal with the nuclear threat posed by North Korea or an article about the latest confrontation between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands. I became interested in Japan and started to read as much as I could about Japanese politics, foreign policy, and history. When the opportunity finally came, I decided to go to Japan.
During my year at Waseda University in Tokyo, I took many history and politics classes related to Japan. My Zemi class (which is a small seminar class integrated within the GLFP Program) even took a field trip to Hiroshima. Visiting Hiroshima reminded me about the horror of war and that we must do all we can to prevent war. I am not naïve—I understand that sometimes war is unavoidable; however, the leaders of countries engaged in war should be committed to minimize the human cost of war. Hiroshima is a stark reminder of that.
“Through the GLFP Program, I was able to discuss a wide variety of topics with global leaders ranging from ambassadors to journalists. The classes that I took through the Global Leadership Program widened my perspective on issues in the world; I began to develop a more comprehensive and global perspective.”
Syed Matin, Class of 2018
Perspectives are important – all the conflicts that exist in the world are because two or more parties have differing perspectives about a certain issue. These perspectives encapsulate many ideas: one party may lay claim to a piece of land for purposes of national security because the land is militarily strategic, while another party may lay claim to that same piece of land for economic security because the land contains natural resources. Essentially, meaningful understanding of contentious issues in the world today cannot be achieved without exploring the different perspectives – and exploring different perspectives was something that Waseda’s diverse and international student body allowed me to do.
I was also able to travel to Kyoto where I was able to learn about Japanese history and culture. Some of the temples I visited were magical. I had done some research prior to visiting, so I knew that they were over a thousand years old. I couldn’t help but to imagine what they would have looked like a thousand years ago. Kyoto was also a great place to enjoy some delicious Japanese sweets!
During my winter break, I was able to intern at the National Diet. I interned for Member of Parliament Asao Keiichiro from Kanagawa prefecture. I was able to see Former Prime Minister Noda and current Prime Minister Abe debating each other in parliament. Later, I was also able to have an extensive conversation about global leadership with former Prime Minister Hatoyama. Working at the Diet allowed me to understand the issues at the forefront of Japanese politics. But my work wasn’t limited only to the Diet; I was also able to engage in some political campaigning. Through this, I was able to learn even more about the nature of the Japanese political system.
From the cat cafes to the amazing ramen to the matcha flavoured sweets to the thousand-year-old temples, my time in Japan is unforgettable. The best part about Japan was interacting with the people. The people I came across were gracious and very willing to help. One aspect about Japan I will never forget is the kindness of the people.