Being a student at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, I am provided with incredible opportunities to expand my academic and cultural horizons through student exchange programs. And let’s be real, Tokyo Tech fam – studying abroad is a total game-changer, and you’d be missing out big time if you don’t take advantage of those sweet student exchange programs.

I had a chance to visit the Imperial College of London as an Imperial-Tokyo Tech Global Fellow from April 2024 to July 2024. Hear me out, based on my experiences there, on why one should embark on an adventure to level up their university experience:

Immersing Yourself in a New Culture

One of the most exciting aspects of studying abroad is the chance to immerse yourself fully in a new culture. By living and breathing a new way of life, we enhance our ability to navigate and thrive in an increasingly globalized world. For example, I tried the fish and chips in the UK, and it is so different than what we get here in Japan, or in our COOP cafeteria. The size is bigger, and the fish is juicier. Fish and chips are eaten on Fridays. Tradition says that to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, meat from warm-blooded animals was avoided, but cold-blooded fish was allowed, and that’s how it became a tradition to eat fish and chips on Fridays.

My friend at the Imperial College says that tempura also originated from the same concept. In the 16th-century Muromachi period, Portuguese Catholic missionaries to Japan brought with them the Western-style cooking method of coating foods with flour and then frying them, hence, giving birth to tempura. My friend seems to be knowledgeable in the matter.

Photo 1: Me and my friend working together at the university.

Development of Language Skills

It is said that studying in a foreign country is one of the most effective ways to improve your language skills. Well, I now think so as well. Being surrounded by native speakers and having to use the language daily in real-life situations accelerates our language learning process exponentially. English is not my first language, and similar to many students at Tokyo Tech, I do have to take time in understanding the accent of another person. “It’s chewsday, innit?”. Initially, I thought that the guy here wanted me to chew something. Later, after asking him to repeat himself twice, I figured that he is mentioning that “It’s Tuesday, isn’t it?”. Well, being an Indian I replied, “eye think sow”. Being in an exchange enables us to flex our language skills like a linguistic legend, so if you see me saying “bacon”, please understand it is not bacon (I am a vegetarian by the way), it is me asking for a “beer can” in my fake British accent (well, I am a teetotaller too)!

Gaining independence and self-confidence

Stepping out of your comfort zone and adapting to a new environment is challenging, but it’s also an incredible opportunity for personal growth. Living and studying abroad develops essential life skills such as independence, problem-solving, and resilience. We gain a newfound sense of self-confidence as we navigate unfamiliar situations and overcome obstacles on your own. Often it happens that I might not want to go to a shop in the UK, because I was not confident enough if I would be able to have a conversation with the British people clearly and would be able to make a purchase. But hard decisions are meant to be taken, and I am glad that I did get confidence when I talked to the strangers.

Academic Awesomeness

Student exchange programs offer the chance to take courses and engage in research projects that might not be available in Japan. In Japan, I am pursuing my doctorate at the intersection of sewage engineering and psychology, but here, in London, the research team is working to make textiles (in particular, leather) from wine and wine waste. Let me explain a little. During the formation of wine, the grapes are juiced out and fermented for weeks. These juiced-out grapes are a big waste for companies. Generally, wine companies compost this waste, but need a huge space for composting. In addition, they also need to pay their municipality for waste management services. The research team under Dr. Elena, which includes myself, takes this waste and converts it into leather. This would lessen the menace of the impact of waste disposal and, in addition, would decrease the killing of animals for their skins for leather preparation.

Photo 2: One of the leather samples made in the lab from the grape (left), me working in the lab, the picture clicked by Dr. Elena (right)

The exposure to different academic perspectives and methodologies broadened my knowledge and inspired new areas of interest, like for example, to make leather from the lovely nihonshu in the future. Plus, many universities have partnerships with industry leaders, providing unique opportunities for internships, networking, and career exploration. We also had a visit to a kombucha factory to understand the fermentation process. Read more about it here;

Talk about a win-win!

Photo 3: From the left; Dr. Elena Dieckmann, me, Alfie, Mr. Joseph Landreth-Smith, Head of Brand and Co-founder of Holos Kombucha, Reeti, and Ludo

Building a Global Network

During your time abroad, you’ll have the chance to meet and connect with students worldwide. These international friendships and professional connections are invaluable resources throughout our academic and professional journey. We also gain a global network of contacts and potential collaborators, opening doors to future opportunities in various parts of the world.

Photo 4: Vinayak and his new friends sun-basking on the Dover castle premises.

Don’t let this incredible opportunity pass you by, Tokyo Tech fam! Embrace the challenge and embark on a student-exchange adventure to shape your personal and academic growth in epic ways. The experiences and skills you’ll gain will undoubtedly give you a competitive edge and prepare you for success in our interconnected world. I do believe that this will motivate you to get your study-abroad game on and level up your life! I am rooting for you.