Imagine how a student in Japanese studies was impressed by visiting Osaka in in April-May 2005: a graduate-to-be first realized that she could speak Japanese! Unfortunately, she had had no chance to practice Japanese with the native-speakers so far. That was the case ten years ago.  

In 2001, Anastasia Borisova was enrolled on a bachelor programme on Oriental and Africa Studies at SPbU. She originally came from Novokusnetsk. Kemerovo region. In Russia, there was a “Japanese rush”: many people were keen on karate, aikido, or other martial arts, Japanese comics and anime. 21 students in Japanese studies were enrolled on the programme that year.

SPbU International Affairs

In 2005, it was a bit of a fluke that she visited Japan for a short-term study programme. SPbU had had no rules and regulations that would have governed the procedure how students and staff could go abroad for short-term study programmes. “I didn’t have to win a competition to go to Japan, — said Anastasia Borisova, lecturer at the Department of Japanese Studies at SPbU. — In spring, my scientific supervisor asked me whether I wanted to go to Japan. I agreed, although it was my final semester at the University”. It was an exchange programme, but “exchange” was not fair: a group of six students from Osaka came to St Petersburg for a month, while to Osaka only one person from Russia for a couple of weeks.

There was another student who also visited Japan for a study programme for a year – and no more chances for students to go abroad on a study programme. Some students would take part in the competitions of the Ministry of Education of Japan. Some of them were lucky enough. Anastasia Borisova also took part in those competitions, but failed to pass the tests and interviews at the Consulate of Japan. Other students searched for a chance to go to Japan from the Ministry of International Affairs of Russia. All in all, the students in Japanese studies had to find the opportunities for a study trip themselves. Unlike the students in Japanese studies, the students in Chinese studies, as Anastasia says, had more chances to visit China.

Japanese rarely visited the University. Did they visit Russia, they were eager to speak Russian. In Osaka, the students from St Petersburg lived in the foster families where no one could speak Russian or English and the students therefore had to speak Japanese. They were a success: they could speak Japanese and Japanese understood them.

At the University of Osaka, the lectures on the classical Japanese literature were a hard nut to crack. “It was a course for the Japanese students. The lecturer spoke quickly, no mention that we were students from Russia. Nevertheless, the lecturers on the history of Osaka and international relations were much easier”, — said Anastasia. When the students came back to Russia (just before the final exams and thesis defenses), the Faculty had no respect to their trip. They told that they couldn’t accept the learning outcomes from the foreign universities (although the courses were the same) as the University taught them in a slightly better way.

Our students and professors in chemistry, astronomy, history, economics, and management to name but a few have always been keen on Japan: conferences, seminars, and joint research projects. Still, Japan was not an easy country to get even for the students and professors in Japanese studies. Presumably, it can be explained by the fact that among 21 students only 17 successfully graduated the University, while only 7 grads started a career in the Japanese language. A surprising result!

1/3 students started their career in the Japanese language.

Anastasia Borisova, after a year she gained a master degree, started to work as a department assistant at the Department of Japanese Studies and then became a post-graduate student. She prepared a thesis on the evolution of the Iemoto, a a system of familial generations in traditional Japanese arts such as tea ceremony (inc. sencha tea ceremony), ikebana, noh, calligraphy, traditional Japanese dance, traditional Japanese music, the Japanese art of incense appreciation (kōdō), and Japanese martial arts, and its influence on the modern Japanese society.

No rules

“Up to 2011, SPbU had no rules or regulations on how to select students and staff for educational or research trips to the partner-universities, — said Rector Deputy for International Affairs Sergei Andrushin. — The deans and directors of different centres themselves signed agreements with the foreign universities, and, as the agreements stipulated, they didn’t allow the students or staff of other faculties or educational programmes to travel under those agreements. The informational was not available for other faculties and centres. Only some faculties could accept international students or staff, and they even didn’t’ know about all the opportunities the University could offer. For example, the delegation from the Japanese universities mostly visited only the Faculty of Oriental Studies, and the relevant information was not available to other faculties. As a result, research collaboration was limited”.

The informational about international cooperation was not available even to the students and staff of the faculty which had signed the agreement as the deans told about those opportunities to a “limited” number of necessary people. Most trips were just for entertainment, with neither research aims nor deadlines. What is more, the University had no office that would be responsible for its international affairs.

~95% of those who took part in the exchange programmes were the faculties of humanities.

The academic mobility between SPbU and, say, Japanese universities was rather limited. Up to 95 % of staff who took part in the academic exchange programmes were those from the faculties of humanities, mainly Oriental Studies. Joint research publications were scarce, usually limited to philology and oriental studies.

What has changed

Today, the University’a students and staff have ample opportunities to go abroad: both exchange programmes and educational and research short-term trips. “Anyone can visit any university. Even in Japan. You don’t have to necessarily know Japanese – you can choose the programmes that are taught in English, — said Anastasia Borisova. — A teacher from Japan now works at the Department of Japan Studies. She often asks Japanese who study at the University to come to her lecturers to talk with her students in Japanese. They prepare presentations and vividly discuss them”.

The delegations of the Japanese universities visit SPbU on a regular basis. Many Japanese companies collaborate with the University: Mitsui & Co. Ltd., JTI, Panasonic. For example, Mitsui has internship programmes for SPbU’s graduates, scholarships for the students in Japanese studies, and provide books for the lecturers. Another example: JTI also provide scholarships for research projects. The University regularly holds meetings with the top-management of these companies.

Since 2011, as Sergei Andrushin told, the University has been re-organising the way it administers its international affairs. What are the results? 

  • the University, not the faculties or centres, is responsible for arranging the visits of the international delegations in various spheres to the University, with the results of the negotiations published in its web-site 
  • signing the agreement means that the University has taken into consideration the needs of all the faculties
  • you can find all the information about the partner-universities on the web-site of the University
  • the University informs its students and staff in writing about all the opportunities for academic exchange
  • the University set the rules and regulations for exchange programmes for students and staff 
  • since 2011, the University has open competitions for students and staff to take part in the exchange programmes  and conferences
  • the University follows a transparent approach to financial matters in relation to the international projects
  • the University has established long-term partner relationships with the world’s lleading universities and companies, thus increasing financial support of the exchange programmes and other projects.

As the University has made exchange programmes more transparent, it has also expanded a range of exchange areas (up to 16 for the last 5 years) and increased the number of professors who take part in academic exchange in Japan. The number of students who take part in the exchange programmes has increased from 0 to 35 a year. The University has also established partner relationships with the Japanese universities (4 partner-university in 2009 and 21 partner-university in 2016). Among the partner-companies is Mitsui & Co. Ltd., JTI, Panasonic, and Shimadzu. As a result of the effective negotiations with the Japanese colleagues, we have increased the finance from the Japanese companies by 10 times (from three ml to thirty mln per year). The number of joint publication has also increased by 4–5 times (269 publications since 2011 to 2016 with the researchers from 53 research institutions and universities in Japan). The University has also opened the main educational programmes with a specific focus on Japan: International Relations, Political Science, Tourism, Economics, and Management.

Japan is not an only country SPbU is gaining momentum, among these countries is China, Germany, and Hungary.

What students and staff think

We asked the students and staff what they think about the changes the University has introduced so far. The Associate Professor of the Department of Psychology and Differential Psychology Olga Strizhitskaia visited the National Autonomous University of Mexico where she spent a whole month in October 2016 and in May she visited the University of Tohoku, Japan, to have a research internship during two weeks. All the information about the programmes, as she says, can be found of the University’s web-site.

If you have a clear view of what you want to gain form you trip to another university and present a well-developed project, you have all chances to win a scholarship at the University.

Associate Professor of the Department of Psychology and Differential Psychology Olga Strizhitskaia

“I was interested in a joint project with Professor Maria Montero to study the generation gap in Russia and Mexico, — said Olga Strizhitskaia. — We have finished it and prepared a joint publication to submit to an international journal. In 2017, we are planning that Professor Maria Montero will pay a visit to our University”. When Olga Strizhitskaia was a students at SPbU in 1998-2006, neither she nor her group-mates had a chance to go abroad.

The Associate Professor of the Department of Computational Methods in Mechanics of the Deformable Body Sergei Kostyrko worked, with support of JTI, in the Laboratory of the Professor Kitamura in the University of Kyoto in summer 2015. In October-November 2016, he studied how the defects can influence physical and mechanical properties of the thin-filmed systems under the SPbU-DAAD programme “Dmitrii Mendeleev” in the Institute of Mechanics in the Magdeburg University. In 2017, Sergei Kostyrko is planning to take part in the competition “Dmitrii Mendeleev” once again to gain a financial support and continue his research project with Professor Altenbach. When he was a student in 2001–2007, he didn’t have a chance to go abroad on an exchange programme. However, when he was a post-graduate student, he took part in the international concferences, with support of the travel-grants of the RFBR.

The second-year master-student Ludmila Lavrik in Engineering Geology chose an exchange programme on the University’s web-site and spent a whole semester in the University of Warsaw. She prepared a motivation letter, a certificate of proficiency in English (B2) and a record of her average score. Nobody from her group took part in the competition, but when she came to Warsaw, it turned out that 7 SPbU’s students in journalism and international relations also wan the competition to study in the university of Warsaw. While she was a bachelor student, she visited Cancada and took part in the research conference.

In 2016, the fourth-year bachelor student Regina Shaikhutdinova in Cultural Studies, together with her group mate, spent a spring semester in the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology. She incredibly mastered her Chinese and got insight into China-Taiwan relations. Almost all the students who pursue Cultural Studies, as Regina said, go abroad on internship programmes. When she was a first-year student, she had already known that she had such an opportunity. She also visited China on a summer language course.