Interview with a Waseda student in English-Program FSE
Hi everybody! Recently I had the chance to sit down with Philip Beaucamp, who is a first-year graduate student at Waseda Universty in the “Graduate School of Fundamental Science and Engineering”. We talked about his experience in Japan, with the admission and general life as a FSE student.
Thank you for your time. For starters, can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Philip Beaucamp and I am from Germany. I did my bachelor in “Mathematics in Business and Economics” at the University of Mannheim in Germany. After that I studied Japanese as an exchange student at the Kyoto University of Foreign Studies for 1.5 years. Last year I entered Waseda University to pursue my master at the “Graduate School of Fundamental Science and Engineering” in Applied Mathematics.
“I chose Japan because it has a variety of old and new.”
Why did you come to Japan?
That is an interesting question and probably not what most would expect. I came to Kyoto first as an exchange student when I was in my last semester at the University of Mannheim. I have never been to Asia before and that was my first time. I chose Japan because it has a variety of old and new. Japan, I think, is in general very popular in the West. You hear a lot about the high-tech cities, like Tokyo but I was also interested in the culture.
Originally, I planned only to study one semester but after one month I knew I wanted to stay longer and extended my stay to three semesters. I had lot of fun during that time. My initial plan was to go back to Germany to continue my study, but I told myself why not try to apply for a university in Japan and see how it goes. Then I applied for Waseda University for a graduate degree and got accepted.
Why have you decided to study at Waseda FSE?
I chose Waseda because it was one of the few universities that was known to be very international. I think they have more than 5000 international students. Another reason was that they were one of the few who offer English-program for the subject I wanted to study which was financial mathematics or financial engineering.
So, you applied for Waseda. How was the whole process? Did you prepare a lot in advance?
I need to mention first that I am applying as an international student. I have also not studied at Waseda before where I think most students would continue from their undergraduate to a graduate program. Lastly, I applied for a graduate program. The application for the undergraduate is different. So, the process is different for me.
The most important thing before you apply for a graduate school is you have to find a professor from a kenkyushitsu, laboratory, who will take you in. So, I wrote an email to the professor and sent my bachelor thesis as a proof I have some experience in that field. After that, I received a problem sheet about various mathematical problems I had to solve in a couple of days. I did the best of my abilities and he was happy with my answers. I was surprised by the result because I couldn’t solve everything.
For my Japanese peers, they had to have a certain grade of GPA. Also, in their fourth year as an undergraduate student, they contact the professor and attend some seminars. The professor gets to know them and will decide based on that if he will take them in or not. Maybe there is some additional test, I am not sure.
After I got the “okay” from the professor, I did the normal application process. I did the TOEFL and the optional GRE Test. The English part in GRE was really difficult. I also needed two recommendation letters but I handed only one in. There is a lot of documents you need to hand in and it takes a couple of months.
You mentioned GRE test was really difficult. Could you explain more?
I think the English is very advanced for Japanese speakers because the test is actually made for native English speakers. So, the level was very high. Most native speakers would fail, I think. They don’t test you on grammar because they assume you already know that. It is a multiple-choice test that had words I have never seen before.
I bought a book and there is a vocabulary list online you can look up. For Japanese people, if they study the vocabulary list for the test, I think they can pass the test.
For the mathematical part, because I took the general GRE test, they tested you on high-school level. There was like 20 questions I had to answer in 25 minutes which gives you roughly a minute to solve each question which was very difficult.
The English and Math are each divided into three parts. At the end, they will choose randomly two out of three to give you an average grade. That is quite stressful because during the test you think that one of these parts you are doing is for nothing.
When did you start preparing for the admission?
I knew I wanted to start in September and I started to look into Waseda in November the year before. I wrote my professor the latest in January and it took me two to three months to gather all the documents. Especially the TOEFL and GRE. Sometimes the slots are fully booked and you have to wait a bit until you can do the test. At the end, I applied in March and I got my result in May. I think for the April term the deadline may be much earlier because there are more students applying.
How was the essay writing part? How did you prepare for it?
For the essay I had to write a one to one-and-half page by hand why I wanted to study that subject at that school. I think Japanese students also have to write an essay in English because Waseda has such a high standard.
For the preparation, I did all on my own because I felt pretty comfortable in my English ability. I just made sure I didn’t do any mistake because I had to write by hand.
Did you have to do an interview?
No, I didn’t have to do an interview even though I was in Japan at that time.
Anything particular about the admission, you haven’t mentioned yet?
No, I think that is it. For me the most difficult part was finding a professor, solving the problem sheet and taking the GRE test.
What do you think about a professional support service for university admission?
Regarding professional services, if I was at the beginning of my application or even before and I knew about them I think I would take advantage of them because they have professionals that can help me in various ways.
“I was surprised by the strong community in the laboratory.”
How’s your student life so far? Did it meet your expectation?
I am doing fine. I have way less subjects than I thought I would have. I found out for graduate students the main focus is their research and do seminars. And usually in the last year everybody is busy doing job-hunting that sometimes they don’t come to school anymore. The uni-life is pretty cool in Waseda. They have tons of circles and clubs for almost everything. Tons of events like talks.
The main thing for graduate students is the kenkyushitsu, the laboratory where you do your research. You are required each semester to take part in seminar which I think is more important than classes. I was surprised by the strong community in the laboratory. We research together, have regular field trips and meetings. We have once a month a party together. I think it is different in Europe where you research more on your own.
“I expected the whole program to be in English but it was not the case.”
How is the English-program at Waseda University? Are you satisfied with the quality?
The English-program is still very Japanese. I can do my thesis, the seminar, take English classes, but that is it. That is to the extent of it. Everything else is in Japanese. For example, in the laboratory we are mixed with the Japanese students. If I didn’t know Japanese, I think it will be very hard for me, especially talking to people, making friends or all the social events. I guess technically you can still pass the study because you get credits for attending classes. I think it has to do with my department “Science and Engineering” that it has a lot of Japanese students and not a lot of foreigners. I expected the whole program to be in English but it was not the case. I think for someone who just came to Japan, I think it will be very disappointing.
The other thing is, there are only a few classes in English sometimes. So, most of my classes were actually non-mathematical classes. I had to take classes outside of my department. I took some classes in SILS, which I believe their English-program is very strong. I heard they do everything in English, like classes, reports, thesis. Everything.
At the end, I don’t see Japanese people applying for English-program because you are allowed to take English classes even if you are a Japanese student. It doesn’t matter because you can do whatever you want.
Are there any last words you would like to share for students who would like to study at FSE?
I say, have really good look at the school you are applying to. Because at the end they are responsible for the program how much it is in English.
In summary, studying at Waseda FSE is not bad. The research is good, my professor and peers are very nice and intelligent people. It is a good environment for studying. Plus, Waseda offers a lot of extracurricular activities, which I am sure you will have a lot of fun.
Thank you for your time, Philip
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Simon has worked in the IT industry for 9 years as an IT Product Manager. In 2018, he was chosen by the Swiss-Japanese Chamber of Commerce to receive the prestigious scholarship and consequently moved to Japan from Switzerland to learn more about the country and the culture. He has a huge passion to make a positive impact in people’s life which shows in his engagement in various volunteering activities.