一期一会 (ichigoichie). This Japanese saying by Sōji roughly translates into “one life, one encounter.” It describes every meeting as a once-in-a-lifetime encounter and encourages us to give each moment of our lives our all. 一期一会 also happened to encapsulate the two weeks that the four of UIC students spent in Kyoto. This summer, four UIC students were given an opportunity to participate in a program offered by Kyoto University. They were able to make the most of those new intellectual experiences and friendships in a beautiful city where centuries of history intersect with the hustle and bustle of the present.
Kyoto University (also known as Kyodai) is a national university in Kyoto, with its heritage has been matching by its fame for producing world-class researchers, including 18 Nobel Prize laureates, two Fields medalists, and one Gauss Prize recipient. It is currently one of Asia’s highest ranked universities and a top-tier university in Japan. Three to four UIC students are invited to this institution every year for the “Kyoto Summer Program (KSP) for East Asia and Germany Students with KU Students.” This year, the selected UIC students took part in the program from July 29th to August 9th. The four students from different majors and different stages of their college years engaged with those from even more diverse backgrounds. The participants—whose majors spanned everything from electronic engineering to French literature—were from Peking University in China, the University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, National Taiwan University in Taiwan, and several universities in Germany along with students at Kyoto University.
Despite the variety, all of the participants took the same lectures on aesthetics in Japanese literature, the human mind in zoology, environmental technology, and Japanese language. The lecture on aesthetics in Japanese literature especially left a lingering impression on the participants as the lecture delivered the authentic aspects of traditional Japanese literature that could not be learned elsewhere. The Japanese literati often associated environmental elements with their work, as they had a tendency to cherish the essence of nature. This is why many haikus—a short, classical form of Japanese poetry in three phrases—center on the theme of nature. One of the UIC students even raised a question, comparing a haiku with the theme of winter to a novel by Korean modernist author Yi Sang.
The program was not conducted solely in the classroom, as it also offered the advantage of relishing historical sites and beautiful sceneries distinct to Kyoto. The students said that the field trip to Lake Biwa was especially memorable and impressive. Lake Biwa, and its surrounding wetland regions, is home to many animals, such as an abundant fish population and migratory water birds. At the same time, Lake Biwa draws the attention of tourists with the 17th-century Hikone Castle. The students were invited to the laboratory at Shiga University for a simple lecture and an experiment using mud extracted from the wetland region. Afterwards, they went sailing on the stunning lake and conducted another experiment by themselves. With a gentle breeze all around them, they drew water from the lake, purified it, and shared cups of it to drink.
The KSP participants of 2019 mostly started out as a crew of strangers, but in the end, they grew to recognize one another as companions, roommates, and so much more. Throughout this program of lectures and field trips, the students were able to enrich a bond with one another which transcended the boundaries of nationality, language, and culture. In the words of Jaeyeon Jeon, class of 15 majoring in CLC, the KSP program was an opportunity to explore the world, and especially so in the sense that it differs greatly from UIC, an environment which he believes to be heavily influenced by the English language and its culture. While English remains as the main means of communication between students from different parts of East Asia and Germany, trilingual or even quadrilingual students did not refrain from leading conversations in Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese. He said that it may have been simply due to differing levels of mastery in English but the fact that everyone had different approaches to the language, which rendered it as nothing more than one of the options, reminded him that there was no shame to not being able to speak a foreign language as one speaks his/her mother tongue. This sounds self-evident but it is also easily forgotten when surrounded by fellow UIC students.
The experience left the participants with invaluable encounters that took them beyond their textbooks and showed them a whole new world. These two weeks spent at Kyoto University helped all of the participants to become academics and individuals who deeply appreciate both what has come before them and what lies ahead.