Student Engagement with Faculty and the Local Community:An Open Discussion
- Senior Assistant Professor Ken Aoo
- ILLAHI Nanda Rizky
- HOANG Tu Thanh
- Sekiguchi Kokoro
- Kato Nanami
- Tsuyama Khaya
Okayama University has a unique commitment to local engagement.
Supported by the university, students seek to connect with, support, and learn from the surrounding community while researching local solutions to global challenges.
A group of students from Okayama university toured the nearby rural Tsuyama area.
Afterwards, they revisited the impactful experience with Tsuyama ideathon. As part of the discussion, students got to talk about proposals for new school initiatives directly with this senior administrator.
Initial Thoughts: Restoring Tsuyama’s Charm and Promoting Interactions Between the Locals
How did you feel about the experience?
It was really interesting to have a chance to listen to people in the community and learn about the actual situation in a rural area. Most people were more forward thinking than I expected. I never thought that a monk would want to have a beer garden in his backyard! It was really surprising. People are trying, but there are hurdles, and everyone in the prefecture really has to unify and help one another. It’s easy to have assumptions beforehand about what a community should do, but people are more engaged than I realized.
Tsuyama itself really has a lot of charms. But it’s not being fully promoted. I think it’s important to express that charm not just to the locals but also to people outside of the community and create a better image for Tsuyama. It’s a really interesting place, so I wish more people could know about it.
It was a really good opportunity for me to go and talk to so many different types of people. We talked with everyone from police officers to high school students and even a monk! Like [he] said, the monk was really open to change and progress. Of course there were also lots of traditional people. They are trying to utilize their history so they can move forward and flourish in a way that’s true to themselves. I agree that they would benefit from some small steps towards improving some of the older parts of the town. Maybe they can’t renovate a building, but they can give it a nice coat of paint, or even a mural. Little steps can help a lot.
I expected them to focus on tourism and how locals interact with tourists. But they were more concerned about relationships between people within Tsuyama. They wanted people to stay there, or work there, and to actually have something in Tsuyama instead of just visiting. A lot of other cities might just want tourists, but I think it’s really great that they want to bring people to live in Tsuyama and then promote interactions between the residents.
Do you think this was useful for your learning?
Learning Beyond the Classroom:
Communication with Real People to Move Beyond Facts and Figures
How was this experience different from normal classroom learning?
We got the chance to apply what we read in textbooks to what we see in the world. I had read about depopulation and societal ageing and all these issues facing Japan, but you don’t really see them until you get outside of the big cities and look at this kind of rural area.
It’s important to have experiences like this so we can see what’s really going on in the world. Learning facts from the web is easy. For example, their tourism numbers might be good, but maybe they’re still struggling when you talk to people and look at the on-the-ground situation. It’s important to communicate and have a dialog with real people, who might have a different understanding than what you had going in.
This kind of experience makes you aware of details which you might otherwise miss. For example, people talked about wanting more leadership and more of a direction. Some people wanted to focus on tourism, some on improving the community, and while you certainly can do both at the same time, the need for vision and focus really stood out as something people wanted. Human elements like leadership are details that are easy to overlook until you get out into the community and talk to people.
Moving Forward: Turning Fruit into Jam and Jam into Tourism.
I was really happy reading all of your suggestions because nobody wrote “people should do this and that,” instead you offered ideas: “you could probably do this and that.” You really respected the local people and their ownership. This was one example of how we can combine an educational and a civic engagement mission.
Right now we’re trying to work together with northern Okayama to solve some issues. I think this can be a really good starting point. We want to do some new research based on local communities, but we need to make sure we’re coming from a place of listening and dialog. How do you think Okayama University can contribute to these local communities and work on these SDG initiatives?
It would be great if we could make a message board where local businesses, residents, etc. could post their ideas or problems. Then, students and faculty with the appropriate skill sets could match themselves based on interest and ability with projects where they would be a good fit.
For me, I want to make sure not to destroy what the countryside already has, because I really love it. I’d want to focus on new ideas to build on what they have now. They don’t necessarily need big new buildings, just more ways to use what they have. For example, they throw out a lot of peaches and other fruits. Maybe they could turn them into juice or jams, which would make wonderful regional souvenirs. This would benefit their agricultural and tourism industries, and help the region prosper, which would in turn lead to more people wanting to come to the region.
I think that project is actually quite doable together with our researchers, such as the department of agriculture.
Oh, really?! The department of agriculture!
One thing we were talking about is how Okayama University as the largest university in the prefecture has so many connections. For example, maybe they could connect us with just one large kitchen which can make all that jam. Or maybe one sugar industry. But if Okayama University does encourage students to go places and execute projects, those connections would give us great tools.