The following is a guest article written by Shuoyang Meng, a PhD student at the University of Tokyo. Meng enrolled in a course at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Education called “Introduction to International and Cross-Cultural Education,” which was co-taught by SPICE Director Dr. Gary Mukai and former CASEER Director Dr. Hideto Fukudome. SPICE will feature several student reflections on the course in 2023.
I am a third-year PhD student at the University of Tokyo, and I conduct research in the field of higher education under the supervision of Dr. Hideto Fukudome. After having completed the SPICE-CASEER course “Introduction to International and Cross-Cultural Education” at the University of Tokyo in fall 2022, I enrolled in another joint session, “Comparative Higher Education Management,” at Stanford University in January 2023. Scholars and administrators of Stanford were invited to speak on various educational initiatives of the university during the session.
For me, the most important inspiration that I have drawn from “Introduction to International and Cross-Cultural Education” is the possibility of communication and mutual understanding between countries and cultures. For example, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings’ theory of culturally relevant pedagogy was reviewed in one of the classes, and it emphasized the appropriate understanding of students’ cultural identities when teachers help with their growth and achievement. Mukai introduced the concept of global citizenship in the session and elaborated on the underlying principles of being a global citizen. In addition, Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu was invited to give a guest lecture on the possibility of enhancing compassion in today’s society by discussing the essential concepts of mindfulness and heartfulness. These examples have shown me that there is something in common in different cultures. It constitutes the fundamental values of human society based on the premise of open communication and understanding between countries and cultures. As a student from China in Japan, this premise is personally very critical.
In “Comparative Higher Education Management” at Stanford, I also found something in common between higher education in China, Japan, and the United States. Since the course was aimed at learning the development of undergraduate education in the United States, the lecturers shared several initiatives regarding undergraduate education at Stanford. The most impressive of which for me was Civic, Liberal, and Global Education (COLLEGE) for freshman students. COLLEGE offers classes covering various areas from STEM to the arts and a timespan from ancient times to the present. It provides the newly enrolled students with an opportunity to think about the meaning of the education they are going to receive. They consider questions like, “Does it only mean a diploma which guarantees a decent professional career?” The faculty members who find enthusiasm in such modern liberal arts curricula are welcome to teach the courses, and they help the students to reflect on questions that transcend individual academic disciplines—how to achieve a good life, what citizenship means in the 21st century, and how today’s global issues should be understood and addressed.
COLLEGE has shown me an effective example of how we can integrate general and professional knowledge in higher education, which is one of the common agendas for specialists in higher education around the world. It is necessary and fruitful that researchers from different parts of the world observe the resolutions to those common issues and organically utilize the experience to develop higher education together. During his first appearance in the course “Introduction to International and Cross-Cultural Education” at the University of Tokyo, Mukai mentioned that one of the goals of the joint courses is to foster a desire in the students to find academic opportunities at Stanford and other universities in the United States. The joint courses have indeed motivated me to pursue a post-doc opportunity at Stanford upon completion of my doctoral studies at the University of Tokyo and to see and learn more insights into social issues. I anticipate the discovery of yet more commonalities despite some of the differences among higher education in China, Japan, and the United States.