Final exam finished

※ This article discusses my final exams between 17th of January 2017 and 10th of February 2017.

At Kobe University, students just finished their final exams. I have to point out that most students end their term with the first days of February, but our Kanji exam took place awkwardly late. Anyways, I want to take this opportunity to revise all my subjects I took this semester:

English composition

A course held by a Canadian English teacher. She was very focused on speaking slowly and clearly. The English level was low. She raised the bar higher for me though (her remarks on my compositions were merely stylistic and less about the grammar). We discussed potential pitfalls in conjugations of verbs and other composition related matters. After she told me in mid-term, the Letter faculty won’t give me a grade, because I am registered at the University as Science student, I didn’t participate any more. She explicitly pointed out that she totally understands that.

Academic Writing

In this course, an English man taught us how to write academic texts. It focused on textual structure in order to supply a reasonable argument. It was meant to be the course Martina and I visit together. We were told from the beginning, a grade cannot be given to us. But it was fun to both of us. Our teacher taught us a lot about Japanese culture and his accent was fascinating to me. However, once I was informed about "English composition" and Kanji class got more difficult, I dropped out. Martina dropped out at christmas time, because she wanted to attend Volleyball practices at that time.

Japanese Elementary Integrated

The main Japanese class is meant for every beginner of Japanese who does not want to have intensive classes. We had one session on four days (6 hours in total per week). We had 3 different teachers and I have to admit all our teachers were really good. One male teacher was incredibly enthusiastic, motivating and funny. One female teacher was exceptionally intelligent and adapted to every individual’s learning speed. At the beginning many international students take part and some of them were really uninterested (they never studied the vocabulary we had weeks before). At the mid-term exam by the latest, those students dropped out and our group size reduced from about 35 in October to 15 in January. In the end, a very productive course and the exam tested us on all aspects of Japanese grammar we studied so far.

Japanese Listening & Speaking 1

In this class, we are supposed to study to listen to Japanese texts and speaking freely. Again, this is for elementary students. The teacher was only speaking little English, which is good for listening exercise, but terrible if you want to understand a new Japanese vocabulary. The speed in the lecture was also unbalanced. We got a new text to read and a few moments later were asked questions about the text. We had to answer them freely. But being exposed to new vocabulary in the textbook and sometimes to grammar, only the Intensive course students studied so far, the texts were often incomprehensible and split our class group in two. The feedback about the course was not positive. I also did not learn that much compared to the hours I spent on it. In the end, I also did terribly bad at the exam.

Japanese Reading & Writing 1

The same teacher like in "Japanese Listening & Speaking 1" taught this class. We read aloud the texts of the textbook. However, the reading turned out to be shouting aloud wrong readings among the students, because the pace of the audio files was too high and we could not achieve the same speed so quickly. For writing, we had to write our own text based on the textbook compositions. The Writing part was good, but I am as unhappy about the Reading part as for "Listening & Speaking". I think my performance at the final exam was okay.

Japanese Kanji 1

The third and most comprehensive writing system of Japanese is Kanji. In this class, we were given 15 (at October) up to 25 (beginning from December) Kanji to study each week. We had to write a weekly exam. One part was about writing the characters for a given context (given in Hiragana, i.e. pronunciation) and the opposite way, we had to write the pronunciation for a given character in a specific context. This class was incredibly difficult for me even though I practice with WaniKani regularly. Because of its difficulty, many of my friends dropped out (beginning: 35 students, end: 8 students). I don’t see any possibility to make Kanji studies easier and the teacher was incredibly energetic and enthusiastic. She tried to motivate us all the time. Sadly, it is her last year and she is retiring now. She made lovely presents during the term (christmas cards and handwritten cards to wish us good luck after this year). In the end, I liked that there was one particular difficult course and I hope I did good enough at the final exam.

Speech Communication

A very different topic to me was this course. In Speech Communication, students of linguistics or language teaching study phonetics. In general the course was supposed to study all aspects of the IPA. When I was at school at the age of 17, I was always annoyed that we didn’t study the IPA. However, it turns out that the IPA’s definition is language-specific making it much less useful than I thought back in school. In general, the course was okay, however, the Japanese students are very defensive and silent slowing down the course a lot, if the teacher does not increase the pace oneself. We were three international students and the two others study Japanese language. As far as I can tell we were all a little bit bored. In the end, we had (almost) weekly homeworks and had to fill out a comprehensive exercise as final exam at home. We also had to give a presentation in the end. My performance was good at the exercise, although I don’t know the IPA by heart by now. For the presentation, we had troubles with the setup, but it was okay, I guess.

Japanese Culture 1

In this class, Elementary Japanese students were introduced to cultural conventions and practices. The teacher tried to speak Japanese only, but we only understand very little at the beginning of the semester. At the beginning about 20 students participated, but one week later already only about 5 students were left. The teacher did not seem very interested in the course and the content was too boring for the other 15 students. I have to point out that the handouts (summarizing Japanese history, ceremonies, vocabulary related to housing, food, religion, etc.) were very good. At the end of the term, we had to give a presentation on our country. 3 students were left and one of them got sick right before her presentation. My conclusion is: Acceptable course, but I would not take a second course continuing on that topic.

A comparative study of Japanese Cultural Industry

A sociologist explains the Japanese cultural industry. What is the cultural industry? For example, Manga and Anime are important means to export Japanese culture to other countries. In general most international students in Japan preferred Japan as host country, because of their interest in Manga or Anime. In this sense, this course tries to discuss the industry related to this cultural export/import phenomenons and the course was one of the most terrible ones, I ever had. The class did not take place about 5 or 6 times out of ~15. But the teacher could have told us. For example, he was in Europe that week but he was not interested in telling anyone. So the organization was terrible and the content was confused. It had no structure. Our "final exam" was a submission of a report over 400 words. 400 words are just ridiculous. The last lecture was given by Nissim Otmazgin as a guest, who was incredible good. In conclusion, I looked up the Manga and Anime mentioned (so I learned about the most popular manga/anime) and the last lecture was good. Besides that, it was a waste of time.

EU-Japan comparative seminar 2

In this course, the economical differences between the EU and Japan were discussed. This includes labor mobility, migration, diplomatic relationships with other countries and a free single market. In general, this course was very good and it got me interested in economics again. It was the first time, I realized how difficult it is to ask Japanese students for their opinion. At the end of every session we were given research questions and had to discuss them in a group of 3-5 students. Japanese students are just not used to think rationally about a topic or develop their own opinion (at least, that is my conclusion). The course is taken by students in intercultural studies, law or economics. It was interesting to discuss the facts and get the figures, but in the end they came short. The discussions were also very political and the international students contributed majorily with their opinion. Criticism was also given about one german teacher we had (he held about 4-5 classes). He expressed a very strong contra-Japanese political opinion about migration and integration. Of course this is inappropriate in a university. I agree that the Japanese policy towards these issues are subject to debate, but at university I only want to learn about the facts and figures. Our submission was just a small presentation I gave in Novemeber. In the end, an acceptable course, but it was not awesome.

Bachelor thesis

Weekly, I had to present my progress on reading the Machine Learning book by C. Bishop. It is very interesting. I switched between mathematical theory, theoretical exercises, practical topics about implementations and side projects. I had fun to implement the fun and there are plenty of resources online. I think I did a fair progress, but I am not finished yet. In the end, I want to have an implementation recognizing mathematical expressions. I will continue during my holidays.

So this sums up the courses of this semester. Compared to other semesters, I spent a lot of time with activities outside university. Organizing the Japanese life was more cumbersome than in Austria, but I also spent a lot of time on sightseeing and of course on Karate (once per week) and Aikido (1-3 times per week). The Japanese people are incredible helpful and our tutors were very gentle.

For the upcoming semester, I will skip classes which are not assigned to Japanese language or my bachelor thesis. I want to participate in the intensive course for "Upper elementary Japanese students", just like Martina this winter term. The intensive course students told me it is very difficult and the pace is incredibly fast. You need to study a lot on your own every day. I am fine with that next semester. And finally, I also want to focus more on Aikido and I terminate my registration at the Karate club.