Special Discussion: Prof. Kazuko Suematsu and Katharina Heeg (Part 2)
Part 2: Struggling to Adjust and Discovering New Interests

K.H: It would be very interesting to hear from Prof. Suematsu about how much change has happened at Tohoku University during the pandemic.


K.S: Yes, it’s been a very tough year. However, we decided to go ahead and had a plan for it, for the long-term and mid-term. For example, we launched a project called “Be Global” at the Global Learning Center, which has four different big projects. And one of them is to support international students. So, what we did was to plan and to shift everything that we used to do online without losing the core of international education. Of course, it’s not the same, but we decided to replicate the activity we had in our real-life online. So, we did the short programs online for both incoming and outgoing, and we were still able to take exchange students online. IPLANET students have been doing great on so many different online programs. And we try to keep the students’ interest as much as possible. We still offer a help desk for international students’ questions and help them even via online.


K.H: I think the university, and you as a lecturer, needed extra time to adjust with the situation, didn’t you?


K.S: Yes, in the beginning, we had to make a lot of adjustments. Sometimes we were disappointed about the limitations that we had. But gradually, we adjusted to try to do more and more. For example, I like to challenge myself to do a little bit more than what we can do right now. So, I decided to bring music to the international program because in Japan there are certain verses of music that can be applied to education. This kind of idea also happens in Germany and the USA. I worked with a partner who works in a music department, and we did a virtual music program for Tohoku University students, and that was a lot of fun. So, this is a little progress, and I think it is very challenging, but I believe we could do it. I will give you another example. The intercultural collaborative learning class I mentioned also faced a huge challenge. Active exchange activities including discussions and projects are the core of such classes, but we had to do them all online. In some classes where we had collaborations with companies or members of the local community, it was extremely hard. However, we tried our best to invite them and get them involved in class so that international students, domestic students, and community members could stay connected.


K.S: Could you tell me about your life during the Pandemic in Toronto, Kathy?


K.H: I moved here in March 2020. So, I had to come to Canada right before they closed the borders. I have lived two years in Canada and I haven’t experienced it because of the pandemic. It was a struggle at the beginning when I wanted to start living here because everything was closed. When we moved into our apartment, we couldn’t go and buy furniture. We just looked it up online and got it delivered. They were so many struggles regarding basic life aspects. I also had to find a job at the same time, and so that was a big struggle. In the winter before I moved to Canada, I networked in Germany with a company that has an office here in Toronto. So, I went to a networking event and connected with some people there who have some connections here in the Toronto office. Then I was able to get an interview once I was here, and I started working for a German company and supply chain in July 2020. My first four days were still in the office. Since then, I’ve been working from home the whole time. So, for one and a half years, I have only been in the office a handful of times, and I have never met most of my colleagues in person. So it was hard to adapt to because my partner and I were both new to Canada. It was very hard to meet people and to build a life here, and it felt like I was trapped inside, and we both had to do our work in the same space. That was tough at the beginning. But over time I got used to it, doing some activities like paddle boarding, finding things we could still do, and finding ways to make friends here as well. But yes, it was hard to come to Canada during the pandemic, especially when one is not on a program like in the university where there are circles where you can meet people.

Katharina’s photo was taken when she was working from home, with a view of Toronto in the background


K.H: Prof. Suematsu, do you have to go to the university even during the pandemic?

K.S: Since my kids left home for their education in university, I have spent more time at university during the pandemic whenever it was possible. I try to be there as much as possible to help other staff. Also, I give some advice to those who are interested in studying abroad and whenever they ask to have a meeting, I am available for them, online or in person. Can you guess the ratio of students who ask for advice in person? It is 9 out of 10. It means students still need support in person. So we still have to do this, and that is the reason why I try to be in my office as much as possible.


[PART 1] [PART 2] [PART 3]

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