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“Beyond Classroom Walls and Blackboards: A Study Abroad Article”

by Pauline Therese DV Arejola, BM Voice

Train rides were one of the unforgettable experiences of my Japan life. I recall often asking myself, “at which station am I getting off?” Every time I rode the train I had to make sure that I memorized the Kanji (Japanese system of writing) of the next station. Sometimes I forget the Kanji, there were times I had no idea on which station to get off, but that’s okay. I get lost but eventually find my way. My Japan experience was like a train ride somehow. It was exciting, delightful, sometimes confusing, a bit hard but challenging, but most of all, a fulfilling learning experience.

In the Fall Semester of 2017 (September - December), I was granted the privilege of studying in Japan as an exchange student at the International College of Liberal Arts (iCLA), Yamanashi Gakuin University (YGU). The program was under the support of the University of the Philippines Office of International Linkages. I was also privileged to enjoy the support of the Mobility for Vigor and Excellence UP (MOVE UP) program.
Bob Basa
Visiting Chozenji Temple in Kofu City

Studying abroad as an exchange student at iCLA was a very enriching experience as it involved teachers & fellow students who encourage collaborative, participative learning that leads toward a well-rounded student life. The camaraderie among new friends, the novelty of independence (living away from home), the challenge of learning a new language (Japanese), the immersion with the Japanese culture and the interaction with students from other cultures, are among the many highlights of my student life in Japan.

It was my first time to study in a class where students speak different languages. Given that the medium of instruction was English, adjusting to a new environment was a little less difficult. It was just amazing how we got to communicate well with each other. In iCLA, everyone is always welcome to share ideas and listen to each other’s concerns. The classroom set up is different. It is a small-class setting which made the learning process focused on the students. The tables and chairs in the classrooms are movable to allow mobility and flexibility among students.

iCLA provides an enabling environment for the teachers, students, and guest artists to collaborate through state of the art classrooms, equipment and facilities (i.e. lights are motion activated, air conditioning/heating system is centralized, rest rooms are always clean - provided with toiletries & a warm seat during winter). The glass architecture is a stand out among other buildings in Yamanashi Gakuin Unviersity as it represents openness. The beauty of the interior is seen from the outside – classrooms, faculty rooms, offices, dining area, work shop areas, library, and student lounge.

Opening song by soprano, Pauline Arejola and pianist, Rio Fujita during the "2017 iCLA Winter Gala"
The iCLA building is ideally designed for international students as it provides a dormitory, a kitchen, laundry area, cafeteria, a student lounge for board games and movie nights, a library with a huge collection of books and multi-media materials, a small theater, an art studio, a “dojo” (traditional Japanese hall for martial arts training), a tatami room for Koto playing and tea ceremony practice - all together in one building. My favorite place is the music studio which has around ten electronic keyboards, a baby grand piano, a soundboard with microphones and a sound system for music classes. The best part about it is that it is open 24 hours.

Bob Basa
Koto workshop class performance during the "2017 iCLA Winter Gala"

“Unleash your potential”. This is the first thing you will see upon entering the lobby of the glass building of iCLA. These words beckon, as they are written in huge letters, seemingly breathing through the wall. Every day I saw this and it reminded me that I am in iCLA because I have something that I can share to the world. Whether it be my art as a voice major or the entire Filipino culture, sharing either or both proved to be challenging and at the same time fulfilling.

The students of iCLA is an interesting bunch of international students from different parts of the world such as Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hongkong, the Philippines, India, Africa, Netherlands, UK, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Scotland, and USA. Each student had a different language and cultural background, but all managed to co-exist in spite of differences. Every day, we would dine together in the cafeteria, and spend endless nights in the student/study lounge preparing for our group work, reports or simply having a chat or playing board games and spending time together. On weekends, we would have field trips and tours around the area exploring Japanese culture. We went to temples, museums, restaurants, music festivals, concerts, or simply did sight-seeing on the road. For some trips we went as a class, but most of the time we went as friends.

ICLA Cook Off! Featuring international cuisine. In this photo, our group cooked Adobo and Finnish
Getting to know these people and listening to their stories from different walks of life and different cultures compelled me to become more aware about the issues our society faces today. Every time I would talk to my fellow international students, it was like peeking through a looking glass to another world. These instances made me think, what can I contribute to my own country or to the world?

Music in iCLA is a fun experience. The music studio is a thing to be greatly missed! As a music major, iCLA music studio was where I spent most of my time for classes and rehearsals. I have experienced a lot of new things in school like joining the Improv Ensemble from which I learned to explore improvisation techniques in music performance. I learned to play the Japanese Koto, sang with the iCLA Vocal Ensemble, and learned a few Japanese songs. I also got to compose and premiere my own vocal piece in an international audience, collaborate with fellow student musicians and student composers, and listen to the very diverse music of iCLA students. All of the students’ creativity were showcased in the “Winter Gala”, the culminating concert of the semester.

In iCLA, we also had clubs. One of the after-class activities I miss is the Improv Ensemble “jamming” sessions we had on Wednesday nights at the music studio. There I learned to improvise using my voice and some instruments like piano, koto, drums, and other percussion instruments I haven’t played before. What made the music making more interesting is that not all of us were music majors. The exploration of sounds mostly came from imagination. To add to the fun, electronic music and visual art was also involved in the sessions.

Bob Basa
"Philippine Night" featuring Filipino traditional songs, games, and food at the Mino Association for Global Awareness (MAFGA) in Osaka with tenor Ronilo Flores, soprano Pauline Arejola, and pianist Rikako Hause, and the staff of MAFGA

Cultural exchange was an unforgettable and probably one of my favorite moments that I will forever treasure in my Japan travels. On December 16, 2017, I had the opportunity to sing Kundimans to the Japanese and international guests at the Mino Association for Global Awareness (MAFGA) in Mino-shi, Osaka. It was “Philippine Night” in MAFGA, a celebration featuring Filipino food, games, a little history and music. Sharing the Philippine culture to an international audience was a delightful experience.

What does it take to “unleash your potential”? Collaboration, Communication and a good listening heart. It is through open communication that we got to know the needs of one another; collaboration got us through tough times when we needed to deliver outputs and presentations; and it was in listening sincerely to each other that we got to understand and know our way how. Through working together, we realized what we can do, and actualized it on our own, or together as a team.

The words on the wall worked like magic, propelling and inspiring us to achieve a major goal. At the end of the semester, we had the “Winter Gala”, the culminating concert of all the music workshop classes of iCLA. It was one of the highlights of an iCLA student life. We premiered our own compositions, we got to collaborate with each other - musicians and student composers alike, and listened to various kinds of music. After the concert, I just realized, every student shone like a star on the stage. Every performance was done with artistry and passion, as a product of hard work and a semester’s worth of learning process. Each student has indeed unleashed a potential in himself.

A visit from my family, photo taken at the main entrance of Yamanashi Gakuin University
Bob Basa
Dinner with some Filipino friends at a Filipino restaurant in Kofu City

Now, coming home to the Philippines and resuming my last semester in UP, it is time to unleash full potential. I think “unleash your potential” is a prerequisite to “serve the people”, the slogan of UP. In simpler terms, give what I have. I cannot give what I do not have. Living up to these two challenges is not an easy task, but as an Iskolar ng Bayan, it is my responsibility to give back to the community that molded me into who I am today. It takes a lot of courage, perseverance, hope and faith to fulfill this, but I have to be determined to do this.

Valuable Life Lessons. One of the most valuable life lessons I have learned from the Japanese people was respecting others no matter what circumstance, be it in school, in public transportation, in restaurants, or in the streets. In the streets, when a car stops to let you cross the road, you face the car and bow to say thank you. I still do that unconsciously until now in the Philippines. People waited for their turn patiently in a clean line when boarding the train or in public toilets. The discipline of the people was remarkable.

One very contagious practice that the Japanese people do is cleaning after themselves. In restaurants and cafes, there are usually no waiters around to clean tables, customers put away their trash and wipe their own tables after dining. And the trash bins are clean! This is probably one of the most interesting thing about Japan. People are very particular in keeping their space clean.

iCLA welcome dinner organized by the Student Government
Living in another country for four months made me miss the Philippines. In those four months, my appreciation for the Filipino culture grew immensely. Learning the Japanese language made me realize the beauty of our languages in the Philippines. For the first time, I saw my country from another perspective. I saw my country in the eyes of other people. I saw my country from my own eyes. Studying abroad is not just about the scholarship, it is a great honor to represent the Philippines in the international world. I am proud to have had this chance to share my culture with other people. The Philippines is my home. Even if it is not the “perfect” country, this is home for me. I was born a Filipina. There is a purpose why we are put where we are. Looking back on my student life in Japan, I miss everything—the people, the automatic doors, the clean streets, the characters that I barely understand, the 5pm Kofu City bell—but I have missed my home more. The streets of Manila may not be as clean as those in Kofu but let every bit of dirt on the road remind me that there is still work to be done.

I have had a lot of memories from Japan, and I made a lot of new friends. Japan is now like a second home for me. I miss the people I miss the place, but at the end of every journey, we all come home. After living the “Japanese” life for four months, coming home to the Philippines was more than an excited feeling. Yes I was sad I had to leave Japan, but coming home is an exciting new journey.

Not knowing which station to get off to next is probably one of the worst nightmares a graduating student might have. I have had this nightmare many times. My study abroad experience opened my eyes to the world beyond my UP student life. It empowered me to pursue the dreams I have started. The people I met along the way reminded me of the beauty of a journey towards somewhere. At the end of the day, I know I will come home because every journey has an end point, just like when you get on a train, you get off on another station. The next station for me is home, for now, until my next journey. My next journey begins here, in the Philippines, my home.

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CMu Students at the 2017 NAMCYA Competitions

Since its organization in 1973, the NAMCYA Competitions has become an authority in discovering and developing excellent Filipino musicians and artists all over the country. It is then with pride to impart that since then, students from the UP College of Music have frequently topped its various categories.
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Dr. David Urrows, a music historian based in Hong Kong, visited the College of Music on May 19, 2017 to assist U.P. music scholars, Asst. Prof. Arwin Q. Tan and Instructor Mahler Villanueva, in determining the authenticity of primary music sources.  
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 On April 19, 2017, the Department of Musicology, UP College of Music held a koto chamber concert entitled Tori no Yōni (Like a Bird).
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