Interview: Sophia University Graduate School Chancellor Fr. Toshiaki Koso
Q. I heard that you were a former student of Sophia University; what kind of student were you?
I matriculated in the Foreign Languages Department, majoring in German. I studied English throughout high school, but people around me suggested that I study another language in addition to English in consideration of the oncoming times. As a first-time learner, it was quite difficult. Also, I was invited by a friend to join the university’s mountaineering club, which I was only a part of for one year. During that year, including training camp during summer vacation, I spent one-fifth of it away in the mountains. However, I believed that my university years should be spent studying, and so I was present every morning for my first-period German lectures.
Q. In what way do you want students to take what they have learnt at Sophia and use it in society under the University’s motto “Men and Women for Others, with Others”?
I think the words “Men and Women for Others, with Others” is a well-put, succinct and implicative motto.
Firstly, I want you to imagine Sophia’s campus as a microcosm of the Earth. But at the same time, the campus which students, teachers, and staff use is not limited to just Yotsuya, but is open to the entire earth. This is where they learn, and hopefully where they will attain the preparedness to live on their own in this great big earth, along with gaining viewpoint, knowledge, and skills. The earth is our home, so to speak. I want students to have the attitude that Earth is our home, and everyone living on it is family. I want them to think deeply about the future responsibility they will bear of taking care of our home together with others and handing it over to the next generation.
Inequality, for example even in cases where people are born with a disability, it’s often said that it’s inconvenient but not unfortunate. We all have strengths and weaknesses, so we can think that we can cooperate together and work for the sake of others. This is embedded in Sophia’s motto, and I believe that developing its students to do this is one of Sophia University’s biggest goals.
This kind of thinking is to be deepened and expanded throughout life, and so I want students to have intellectual and emotional experiences during their college years. Once they go out into the world, I want them to become people who keep experiencing, coming up against hurdles and thinking, and finding what the meaning of those hurdles has for themselves.
Q. What meaning do you think there is in Sophia University being chosen as a ‘Super Global University’ in 2014?
Sophia University is an institution which was established with a global perspective, right from its naissance. In this regard there are voices which say that being labeled a “super global university” is unnecessary, but I believe that this designation is especially important in the context of Sophia University and its students taking the initiative and moving forward to connect the world in this day and age.
However, as an institution we should think in terms of what more we can do; Sophia University has its own separate set of beliefs and goals, and we will not stop at the level the Japanese Ministry of Education has set and we will continue to use our world-wide network to keep looking toward a broader and more connected globe. By taking an active approach to communicating with people around the world, the mission of “wisdom connects the world” will be embodied; in order for this to happen I believe that it’s important for people to walk the country with their own feet, connecting with others. People will help you walk on your own over time; you must also learn at the same time, for which I believe constitutes mutual exchange, and that this is what Sophia University should do as a “super global university”.
Q. What hopes do you have for the students who are participating in the for-credit internship program which began in 2015?
First of all, let me say that I believe internship programs are extremely important, and I have a few reasons why. Currently the general and one of the most common types of internship in Japan is the one-day internship. I don’t want to call these “internships”, because I believe if you are going to do an internship the contents should be well-thought out and planned.
Additionally, in most cases, the majority of university professors’ research is difficult to carry out on currently occurring subject matter. There is an abundance of opinions on this subject, but research is focused on findings and events from three to five years previous. If this is the case, this means that textbooks are formed on research findings from several years prior. But with internships, students have the chance to study what is happening now, under professionals who are on the front lines in that subject area. If Sophia can let our students intern side-by-side with people working for organizations, foundations, companies etc. whose goals fit with ours, students can learn how our society works, and in what direction it’s headed in. This is, like I mentioned before, has an important meaning in terms of thinking of Sophia’s campus as a global stage. Through this internship program students can study and learn about society, the world, and get to know themselves on a deeper level, and through this knowledge discover their strengths and weaknesses, and where their interests truly lie. This process, in turn, will become a great help in knowing and understanding society, the world, and themselves.
(During the interview)
In 2013 Sophia University commemorated its 100th anniversary, using the phrase “wisdom unites the world” to express its history, current position, and future mission. We had thought a lot about the world and had imagined what we wanted to be, but until we teamed up with APIC with the Xavier High School Student Exchange Program in the Pacific and Caribbean Island regions, this idea was absent from most everyone’s heads at Sophia, and I believe most of us were not aware of the many countries in the Pacific and the deep historical ties they have with Japan.
Considering Sophia’s 100th anniversary motto, it should go without saying that these countries should be included in our vision. APIC gave us an excellent opportunity to join hands with this region which we hadn’t paid enough attention to, but who are our brothers in creating this world. I was surprised to find that even in Micronesia or Jamaica or Trinidad & Tobago, there were Sophia alums present. They were in local universities and embassies, all studying in their sectors, building their careers according to their life plan, being active in the situation they were placed in, which is exemplary of Sophia University’s motto “Men and Women for Others, with Others”. This was a very joyful experience for me.
Q. APIC and Sophia University have had a continuing cooperation relationship, which was further heightened in December 2014 with the signing of a cooperative agreement. What are your thoughts on this?
According to the cooperative agreement, students from Micronesia’s junior college, for example, are able to have cultural exchanges with Sophia University and Sophia Junior College. Also, both the Caribbean Islands region and in the Pacific Islands region are bearing a heavy burden of the effects of climate change. Sophia University has a graduate program specializing in global environmental studies, and there is quite a large number of students matriculating in this course. This means that while human beings are facing many problems at this moment, it is possible to research problems that affect all of us on this earth. This research isn’t only being carried out in Japan, but with cooperation of other countries it makes the importance of this research even greater, and is an opportunity for us to learn from each other. This is why the cooperation agreement with APIC is helping to increase opportunities for Sophia staff and students alike.
Sophia University, Sophia University Junior College, and Reitaku University have joined hands to form a team that has already started researching revolving on an environmental problem-solving axis, and with other activities such as visiting Micronesia and communicating with local residents, taking part in homestays on the islands, and learning about the region’s history, culture, etc. It doesn’t stop at accepting exchange students, either. Sophia University is making use out of the resources and network that APIC has to offer to fulfill the three tenets of higher educational institutions: education, research, and philanthropy. Sophia is using the opportunities it’s given to deepen its ties with the Pacific and Caribbean island regions, and to fully include these areas in the world of Sophia’s “Wisdom Connects the World”, and to participate in education and research together. I am very much looking forward to seeing this being carried out to fruition.
Q. In January this year, APIC invited 16 students as part of their Pacific and Caribbean Student Invitation Program, where Sophia students had a chance to experience cross-cultural communication. What are your thoughts on this?
Before this, Sophia had implemented a three-week summer program called ‘Summer Session’ that taught introductory classes about Japanese culture, politics, economics, etc. in English. We talked about offering this program in winter as well, which is how the program came into being. Thanks to APIC’s initiative, there were eight students from the Pacific and eight students from the Caribbean island regions who participated in the course this past January. On the last day the students were grouped into fours, where they gave short, ten-minute presentations on what they learned while in Japan. I, also, was present and noticed how even though everyone was from different places, they were all working together in a harmonious way to complete and give their presentations. It also made me realize, again, that the future is in the hands of the youth, and that leaving their country and knowing the face and names of people in the same age range in a foreign country is not only good for travel, but has benefits for business and work. I believe it is important to create the buddings of these connections while students are still in university. I am not speaking only about Japanese students, but for the foreign exchange students here in Japan as well. As I mentioned in the beginning of this interview, my wish is for students to understand that, through experiences learned from communication, that as citizens of this planet earth we are all companions and all just humans, no matter if our skin color, languages, or movements differ from each other. Hopefully, through this, we will realize that we are all the same people living on this earth, bringing a sense of relief and trust. I am happy that these students came to study about Japan, but what I believe to be even more important is the ability to make connections based on trust during their time here in Japan.
Born in 1947, Etashima City, Hiroshima Prefecture. Jesuit priest. Sophia School Corporation Chancellor. Department of Education, Faculty of Liberal Arts professor. After receiving his degree from Sophia University undergraduate and graduate studies in education, he became a professor at his alma mater, serving as head of Department of Literature, among others. His specializing is in comparative education history. In 1999 he became chancellor of Sophia School Corporation. His printed works include “The Oriental Apostle, Xavier” (Sophia School Press), “Renaissance Educational Thought” I and II (Toyokan Publishing) in addition to others. Currently, he is a committee member for MEXT’s Board of Experts for Policy Review, a member of University Education Specialized Quality Assurance Committee of the Science Council of Japan, and Executive Secretary of Japan Association of Corporate Executives, among others. (As of January, 2017)
*As of January, 2017
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