There were two things that new students had to do the first thing in university.
- Enroll in classes
- Join a “circle” or two
- Enroll in classes
There were required subjects for business students.
- English language
- Another language of your choice
- Macro Economics
- Advanced Mathematics
I thought I’d do fine in the language, but I was terrified of the rest of the numerical subjects. If they were going to make us take advanced math, why didn’t they make it one of the required subjects for the entrance exam?! Was I the only student who chose history over math for the entrance exam and didn’t seriously study math in high school?
But it turned out that even the math professor didn’t expect us to really understand advanced mathematics. We were allowed to bring in the notebook to the term exam, so as long as you attended the class and took notes, you’d pass it. I didn’t understand what I wrote down on my notebook, but I just copied what looked like the answers on the exam paper. The last question was not in the notebook, but I fabricated the formula and still got an A.
People said entering university was harder than graduating from it. The year I started at Waseda was 1996, still dragging the remnants of the bubble economy era, when university students were the highly valued golden eggs in the job market. It didn’t matter they couldn’t solve advanced math because getting into the competitive school already proved they were smarter than other kids. Big corporations were ready to spend a fortune on new graduates to teach the necessary skills and their company doctrines. They’d be loyal to the company until they retire, because of the Lifetime Employment practiced in post-war Japan, when companies competed over human resources.
Though such an era had ended several years back, the culture, the university system, and people’s mindset didn’t change so quickly. Older students told me that you could fill the exam paper with nonsense, and you’d still pass. For me, Advanced Mathematics class was an easy one. Perhaps the professor knew enough many of us had given up math in high school and took pity on us.
But in other subjects, I struggled. I spent hours studying for Macro Economics and Bookkeeping to get a C, while everyone else seemed to have received A or B with minimum preparation in between their part-time jobs and enjoying their youth.
I did better in English and Chinese. I aspired to become as proficient in Chinese as in English, but with other classes, later mentioning “circle,” and my part-time job, I barely spared time to master another foreign language. I still got As, but my initial goal of understanding films in Mandarin never came true.
Almost all classes were held in large classrooms, students sitting elbow to elbow. Octogenarian lecturers sat or stood at the podium, and mumbled the lesson they had been giving for the past 50 years. There were little interactions between the lecturer and students nor between students. I had such high expectations from my university life, where learning was a sublime privilege, but the reality was just more years of high school-like note-taking and memorization.