Callum Bell is a University of Glasgow Philosophy student, studying abroad at Kyoto University for a year – his first time outside Europe. Callum tells us how studying abroad in Japan has deepened both his knowledge of his subject and his perspectives on his own culture.
It’ll be difficult to contain my experience of the last few months within a blog post. I never dreamed that Earth would have opened up to me the way it has.
Driven by many reasons personal and aspirational, I am spending the third year of my philosophy degree in Kyoto, Japan.
A few years ago, an opportunity like this would not have seemed to be in my realm of possibility. However, thanks to the University of Glasgow’s GoAbroad programme, a scholarship, support from SAAS and many hours of hard work at Tesco, here I am.
It’s my first time being away from Glasgow for more than two weeks, as well as my first time outside of Europe. Studying abroad is a big leap in my life and it could be for yours too.
I am fortunate that I have loved the content of my courses back in Glasgow, but still I felt something was missing. The bulk of the philosophy offered to us stems from the Western tradition and thus comes mainly from European and Anglosphere philosophers. This is perhaps due to factors such as geographic location and time constraints in teaching.
However, much of the philosophy that I had gained from in my own time had been from Buddhist, Daoist and Hindu traditions. I wanted a chance to be taught ways of thinking from other parts of the world in a more focused manner.
Kyoto turned out to be the perfect place for this pursuit. My course content in Kyoto University is largely influenced by the Kyoto School of philosophers from the early 20th century. These philosophers critically engaged with the Western tradition while also integrating insights from the Eastern traditions I mentioned before. An example of this would be Abe Masao’s essay ‘Sunyata As Formless Form’ where an argument against the predominant view in Western metaphysics beginning with Plato is presented.
Dropping yourself into a totally foreign culture is one of the best ways to learn about and gain perspective on the culture you grew up in. For this reason, my favourite class so far has been Pedagogy.
In this class, a teacher with a ‘Dead Poets Society’ level of enthusiasm teaches us about how the history of education is directly linked to the history of philosophy. This has implications for how we are taught in schools and universities today. Further than that, because it was never colonised by Europe, Japan retains methods and philosophies of teaching in their schools which are highly contrasting alternatives to our own.
Life in Japan
The most fortunate aspect of my stay in Japan has been the people I’ve met. The dormitory I stay in is a fair commute from the university and not the most modern, so I was anxious as to how this would affect my year here.
Any fears turned out to be unfounded as Satsuki Dormitory has provided me with a sense of community unlike any I’d encountered before. For the first time in my life I have been cooking and eating dinners regularly with other people, people I will hopefully know for the rest of my life.
More than that, I feel that amongst the Japanese people and among the international students here, there is a real sense of looking out for each other and helping each other out. Our common room has seen many fun, wholesome moments as we share themed food nights and movie nights together.
When I was but a wee bairn, I always said that my dream was to travel the world. With the friends I’ve made here and two friends from back home who came to visit me, I’ve travelled to Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka, Matsuyama and four smaller Japanese towns. Together we’ve taken Japanese tea ceremony, had karaoke nights, participated in Shinto fire festivals, fed deer at Nara, hiked mountains and visited dozens of shrines and temples (there’s more than 2,000 in Kyoto alone).
With more than half a year still remaining, I’m excited to see where my exchange might take me next.
Though we share the one Earth, each of us lives in a world comprised of our own unique life experiences. For any students who want to experience more of this Earth during their time here, for anyone who wants to make their world that little bit bigger and more diverse, I couldn’t recommend more jumping at the chance to study abroad. For me it’s a step closer to the international life I’ve always craved but which until now seemed so unobtainable.
Find out more about study and work abroad opportunities for University of Glasgow students on the University website.