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### Nagi Nakamura’s Report on Studying at The University of Sheffield, United Kingdom

Nagi Nakamura | Second-year Master’s Student, School of Fundamental Science and Engineering

  • Duration of Visit: July 2023 – October 2023
  • Host University: The University of Sheffield
  • Location: Sheffield, United Kingdom

Here is a report on the study abroad experience of Nagi Nakamura, a second-year master’s student from the School of Fundamental Science and Engineering, who had the opportunity to study at The University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. This enriching experience was made possible through the support of Waseda University’s Top Global University project known as “Waseda Goes Global” or TGU.

Motivations for Application

The decision to pursue a study abroad experience stemmed from my desire to immerse myself in diverse value systems and enhance my English proficiency, aspects that are challenging to cultivate solely in Japan. Additionally, I aimed to reevaluate my life in Japan from an external perspective. Although the idea of studying abroad had been on my mind since my undergraduate days, various factors such as mandatory coursework, the impact of COVID-19, and job hunting had previously deterred me. However, a pivotal moment during an international conference in the first year of my master’s program prompted me to take the leap. The exposure to a myriad of perspectives, values, and lifestyles from different research labs globally highlighted my own biases, insufficient English skills, and self-management capabilities. Recognizing this as a unique opportunity for personal growth and learning, I applied to the program with the primary objectives of fostering tolerance, improving English proficiency, and honing self-management skills. Beyond these apparent reasons, I harbored a subtle yet significant motivation. I harbored reservations about the common tendency in Japan to idealize foreign countries without critical assessment. By venturing outside Japan, I aimed to objectively evaluate the strengths of my homeland and explore how I could leverage these attributes proactively.

Research Experience at the Visited Lab

Under the guidance of Dr. Shuhei Miyashita at the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, University of Sheffield, I delved into the realm of transformable origami robots—an extension of my prior work on origami electronic devices in Japan. My focus revolved around understanding the fundamental deformation mechanisms of an origami robot capable of transitioning from one form to another. This innovative research envisions applications such as the retrieval of foreign objects ingested within the body, where the robot unfolds from a compressed state to a functional gripper form. A key breakthrough of this study was the development of hinges that autonomously deploy and fold in response to external stimuli, facilitating the shape-shifting process. Notably, these hinges trigger self-deployment through water and subsequent self-folding via heat. By generating multiple samples of crease patterns utilizing these hinges, we are currently consolidating our findings for submission to an academic journal.

Academic Environment at the University

The academic setting at the University of Sheffield unveiled notable distinctions from the Japanese educational landscape. Stringent regulations governed the laboratory operations, with fixed working hours from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM on weekdays. Access to the lab was restricted to local Ph.D. students holding the keys, necessitating coordination with peers for entry and exit. Adherence to rigorous safety protocols and comprehensive risk assessments underscored the meticulous approach to research conduct. A noteworthy contrast was observed in the academic timeline, with students typically undergoing three years of undergraduate studies, one year of master’s studies, and four years of Ph.D. studies. The prevalence of Ph.D. students outnumbered that in Japan, fostering a student-centric laboratory management approach. Collaboration thrived within the research community, emphasizing teamwork and mutual support among peers, complemented by guidance from professors.

Cultural Exchange and Social Interactions

Embracing a multicultural milieu, my interactions transcended national boundaries, enriched by a diverse cohort of students hailing from various countries including the UK, France, Italy, Egypt, China, and Cyprus. Engaging conversations during communal meals often revolved around cultural exchange, providing insights into each other’s heritage and traditions. Noteworthy was the camaraderie fostered through shared experiences such as cheering for the local soccer team, post-lab social gatherings, and recreational activities like mahjong sessions. These informal settings facilitated organic connections and vibrant discussions, embodying the spirit of cross-cultural camaraderie that I aspire to embody.

Accommodation and Surroundings

Navigating the accommodation challenges posed by the peak season influx, I transitioned between multiple residences within a walking distance of 20-30 minutes from the university. Residing in the southern precinct of downtown Sheffield, my abodes ranged from a homestay with a septuagenarian host to a shared house arrangement with fellow tenants. The quintessential British housing layout featuring front and back gardens typified the architectural landscape, characterized by interconnected rows of houses. The temperate climate of England, albeit cooler than Japan, posed unique challenges due to the thermal properties of traditional brick houses, warranting adaptability to the local living conditions.

Cultural Contrasts and Observations

The cultural disparities between Japan and the UK manifested prominently in culinary traditions, lifestyle nuances, and societal dynamics. The culinary landscape, marked by a profusion of fresh produce and diverse ingredients, juxtaposed with the relatively expensive dining-out culture, necessitated a shift towards home-cooked meals among international students. The conviviality and openness exhibited by the English populace left a lasting impression, reflecting a communicative ethos rooted in mutual respect and approachability. The social fabric of England, characterized by spontaneous interactions and affable exchanges, contrasted with the reserved demeanor often observed in Japanese societal interactions, underscoring the cultural distinctiveness that enriched my experiential learning.

Challenges and Learnings

Reflecting on the challenges encountered during my sojourn, two salient incidents underscored the importance of preparedness and adaptability. The absence of drying facilities in traditional British residences posed a predicament during the incessant rains, highlighting the need for foresight in managing daily tasks. Similarly, an unforeseen flight delay en route back to Japan necessitated impromptu logistical arrangements, emphasizing the significance of contingency planning and equipping oneself with essentials for unforeseen circumstances. These episodes underscored the value of adaptability and resourcefulness, traits that I aim to cultivate further in my personal and academic pursuits.

Future Aspirations

The transformative experience of studying abroad has crystallized my aspirations for the future, propelling me towards multifaceted objectives encompassing self-reflection, linguistic proficiency, and global engagement. Articulating a nuanced perspective of Japan to a global audience and honing my English communication skills rank high on my agenda, underscoring the pivotal role of language proficiency in fostering cross-cultural dialogue. The immersive exposure to diverse cultural paradigms has instilled in me a profound appreciation for global interconnectedness and the imperative of fostering intercultural competencies. As I chart my academic trajectory, the lessons gleaned from this enriching experience will serve as guiding beacons, steering me towards a future enriched by cross-cultural exchange and scholarly pursuits on a global platform.

In conclusion, for individuals contemplating a study abroad venture, irrespective of their academic juncture, I offer a resounding affirmation that the pursuit of international exposure is a timeless endeavor ripe with transformative potential and personal growth opportunities.