Reflections of a Japanese Programmes PA.
Hi! My name is Chris and I recently graduated from my degree in MML at Christ’s College. Pembroke, however, feels very much like home as I have spent the last two summers here working as a Programme Assistant (PA) on international programmes for high school, undergraduate and postgraduate students.
Despite sharing a common affiliation with Nihon University and its high schools, the two programmes in which I have participated vary significantly in length and style. For instance, the Nihon High School Programme is an intensive two-week English-language course for 16 and 17 year old students, held over the Easter and summer holidays, whereas the Special Lecture Programme is for undergraduate students and has been running for entirety of August for more than 25 years now.
The role of the PA can also vary from course to course but our remit is always to ensure that the students strike a good balance between excelling in their lectures or language classes and enjoying the unique social experiences that Cambridge and England has to offer. One of the first tasks involves drawing on the skills and interests of the PA team to assemble an exciting timetable of activities to keep the students busy outside of the classroom. Punting tours, afternoon tea in Grantchester and trips to London or ‘the other place’ (Oxford), are all examples of activities that we have planned and executed on recent programmes.
While an experienced Programme Director is always at hand to guide planning, we enjoy a great deal of freedom and often draw on our own passions to enthuse the students. This was true for me when I organised a trip to the Emirates Stadium for 14 students enrolled on last year’s Special Lecture Programme. As an Arsenal fan, I was able to lead a walking tour around the club’s old stadium before visiting the new one where we arranged for the students to have a tour in Japanese. The slightly improvised chanting lessons stand out as my all-time PA highlight!
Naturally, each programme offers an authentic cultural exchange from which the PAs, as its intermediaries, can benefit as much as the students themselves. It is often the case that the PA team will give presentations on the not so intricate variations of regional accents across the British Isles. Unsurprisingly, the students tend to be amused by my pronunciation of ‘power shower’- ask a friend from Northern Ireland to do the same and you’ll be equally amused!
The students reciprocate our presentations by offering workshops on origami, calligraphy, and will generally be very enthusiastic about teaching you some Japanese expressions. In addition to all the wonderful memories, the students’ fondness for ‘omiyage’ (gift giving) ensures that we return home from the programme with a suitcase full of everything from chopsticks to paper fans as well as lots of exciting snacks to taste.
I enjoyed the PA experience on both programmes so much in 2017 that I re-applied to come back for more after graduation. And who knows, having had such a great time once again, I might just be able to squeeze another programme (or two) in before starting a graduate scheme!