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Living & Learning / Acquiring new virtues in a multicultural environment

Courtesy of Emiri Oda

Emiri Oda, front row second from left, with her friends in the dormitory

By Emiri Oda (McGill University)/Special to The Japan NewsThis column features reports by Japanese students currently studying overseas on their lives on and off campus.

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My freshman year at McGill University has been hectic. Although I faced a lot of challenges in both my academic and social lives in Montreal, the experience has become irreplaceable.

The Faculty of Arts offers students a wide range of courses, which allowed me to take various classes. Despite the variety, I found that many of my professors encouraged critical thinking. My peers also gave a lot of critical comments. For instance, in one of the discussions during my sociology class, my classmates pointed out that the textbook did not adequately explain particular issues. This experience taught me that it is essential to critically evaluate the credibility of information, even if it seems reliable on the surface. I came to find this even more important after learning how dangerous consuming information without control is, as it could lead us to inappropriate ideology. I once took part in a workshop where I was totally convinced by the mentors. If I had remained obedient to their seemingly informative ideas without knowing they were actually rather prejudiced, I could have been completely deceived by them.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

Moreover, I learned to be assertive during my first year. I have regarded patience as a virtue. Nevertheless, this prevented me from declining my roommate’s request to have her boyfriend stay in our room for several nights. This unusual situation affected my physical and psychological health. After this experience, I participated in a seminar at McGill about assertiveness, and noticed that assertiveness is not arrogance but a necessary quality to protect my well-being. In the Japanese culture, being assertive is usually considered rude. However, I realized that honestly telling people my preferences helps them understand who I am and what I want, which I find crucial in communication. Since then, I have become able to proactively express my feelings and opinions to others without fear. Even though it seemed immodest to me in the beginning, this experience enabled me to express disagreement and rejection when it is needed.

In addition, the distinct environment of the university complemented my freshman year. McGill has such a diverse community — 25 percent of the students are international students, which is what attracted me to it. Studying with peers from around the world deepens one’s cultural understanding and helps cultivate an open-minded perspective. Furthermore, the urban setting of the university facilitates students’ access to stores, restaurants and leisure and extracurricular activities. Montreal is also known as one of the largest French-speaking cities, in which French and its culture can be found everywhere. Thanks to some French courses that I took, I can now take orders “en francais.” It embraces fine arts, and as McGill’s music program is famous worldwide with many talented students, I attended a lot of classical music, choral and ballet concerts both on and off campus.

Now that I have declared sociology as my major, I would like to pursue my academic goal, and make the best of the multicultural and multilingual environment.

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McGill University

Founded in 1821, McGill University is known as one of Canada’s leading research universities. Three Canadian prime ministers, including the incumbent Justin Trudeau, and actor William Shatner are among its notable alumni.

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