HUB-International Communications Space
Nestled in the center of Tokyo Tech's Ookayama Campus is HUB-International Communications Space (HUB-ICS), informally known as ICS, or "that place on campus where you can hang out."
With floor-to-ceiling glass windows, comfortable seating areas, large-screen TVs, and a variety of international magazines and board games, HUB-ICS is where Tokyo Tech members go to relax, make new friends from around the globe, enjoy conversations in English and other languages, and join thought-provoking discussions.
Anyone — from any language background and any field of study — can drop in, join a conversation or an event, and connect with others in an open, inclusive atmosphere.
One frequenter of HUB-ICS is Giedre, originally from Lithuania, who is a doctoral student in nuclear engineering. "ICS means a lot to me: I met people who welcomed me, and it is the place where I have made real friendships. When I first came to Tokyo Tech for my master's program, I was spending three to four hours a day at ICS. I would just hang around and talk with people, and when there were no students around, I talked with the staff. I come here to meet new people and have conversations about life at Tokyo Tech, Japan, politics, anything."
Second-year master's student Oleksii describes the space as "my launch pad to develop a social network at Tokyo Tech. I attend and host events, and sometimes I just come to hang out and talk about stupid stuff."
Tokyo Tech Vice President for International Affairs Jun-ichi Takada describes the origins of the space. "HUB-ICS was intended to serve as a space where international students could just drop by and spend time. When HUB-ICS opened in 2004, very few universities in Japan had this kind of facility. Though the international student population at the Institute was about 800 at that point, we anticipated that that number would more than double. We wanted to be able to meet the needs of current and future international students."
"Another mission for HUB-ICS was to be a place where students could independently pursue activities in which they were interested," relates Takada. "We saw a strong tendency by graduate students, in particular, to spend their time solely in the lab with their lab mates. We wanted HUB-ICS to be a place where students from diverse academic levels, backgrounds, and fields could come on their own and meet others with whom they wouldn't ordinarily have a chance to interact. I think many students come to HUB-ICS to take a break from their lab activities."
Cesar, a first-year doctoral student in systems and control engineering, identifies the unique role of the space in the Tokyo Tech community. "Tokyo Tech students," he says, "tend to approach everything, their studies and student club activities, very seriously. ICS, however, is a place where people can just lounge around and talk. It's a very open atmosphere. We can talk about anything."
Reina, a math major from Yokohama, likes the fact that, unlike at similar off-campus venues, at ICS "anyone can join the group anytime." She comes to ICS for lunchtime events — students bring their own food and drinks — but she especially appreciates the atmosphere, which differs from other venues on campus. At HUB-ICS, there is no pressure to conform to Japanese social norms, says Reina.
Reina notes that ICS offers additional benefits to the Institute's younger Japanese students: "As a bachelor's student, I don't have a lot of opportunities to meet international students. At ICS, I can do so easily."
This, too, was part of the plan, says Takada. "We wanted Japanese students to use HUB-ICS as well, and we wanted to organize events that would attract them to the space. English language instructors began organizing informal opportunities for Japanese students to improve their communication skills. Their efforts led to the development of English Café, one of the space's main events."
Third-year undergraduate Hirokatsu, who attends English Café, says "the barriers I felt to speaking English have disappeared." Moreover, he regards ICS as his "first gate to the world."
Explaining that he had not previously had experience interacting with non-Japanese on a regular basis, Hirokatsu ventures that HUB-ICS is "like studying abroad in Japan." His mind is "more open" as a result of exposure to the diverse perspectives at HUB-ICS.
"There are many places around the world that I want to go to because of friends I have met here," he adds.
For students from abroad, HUB-ICS offers something else: a sense of belonging.
At Tokyo Tech, says Cesar, "there are three groups: undergraduates, graduate students, and international students. When Japanese students in graduate programs join labs, they stay in the labs to socialize. But with international students, no matter how well adapted we are to Japan, we want to talk with other international students. I can come here and be part of a group."
Giedre adds, "ICS is the kind of place where, when planning to meet up with friends, we just say, ‘Let's meet at 10,’ and we already know the place."
Moreover, networking happens organically. "Here, you are always meeting people from other countries and making connections," says Cesar. And, with students coming to ICS from a range of fields of study, opportunities naturally present themselves for collaborations.
Oleksii, whose field is AI and complex networks, explains how he gained a close friend and business partner through his time at HUB-ICS. Unlike the start-up-oriented community spaces on and off campus, he says, "ICS allows you to make connections in a casual environment. It's not like a business meeting; it happens almost by default."
He mentions Genki, a Japanese student. "We spent countless hours together at ICS talking about stuff and sharing our ideas on a whiteboard, and we came up with an idea for a language website/application. We presented our proposal to an entrepreneurship competition, Tokyo Tech Startup Challenge, and we won funding from the university to develop our business."
Tokyo Tech community members who use HUB-ICS need not be fluent in English. According to Oleksii, a native of Ukraine, "You don't have to speak English very well. People are patient and will wait for you to communicate your ideas."
Mexico native Cesar agrees. "ICS contributes to improvement of peoples' language abilities — and not just in English."
The students dispute a stereotype, evidently common among Japanese students, that HUB-ICS is primarily a gathering space for those who speak English. Reina contends that it is also welcoming to Japanese students (and others) who want to speak Japanese — or any other language.
"I tell my Japanese friends that they should just come and talk to people. Their ability in English doesn't really matter, and some of the international students that come to ICS can speak Japanese."
Having developed interest in other foreign languages since coming to HUB-ICS as a first-year undergraduate, Reina, now in her third year, is learning Spanish, German, and a little Korean.
For those interested in speaking or improving their English or Japanese, various events are held weekly. In addition to English Café and Japanese Café, there is 20-20 Café, a lunchtime event for those wishing to improve their skills in both languages.
Regular events also include In My Opinion, launched by Oleksii, where students can share opinions on a range of topics, including fashion and entertainment, and Tokyo Tech Academy for Leadership (ToTAL)-sponsored Open Forum, where a recent discussion centered on theory and ethics pertaining to autonomous vehicles.
Study abroad briefing and reporting sessions are held on a monthly basis. Event information is available on the HUB-ICS homepage and Facebook page, and via event flyers at the library and on-campus convenience store.
Faculty members, staff, and students can also reserve the space for activities and may use HUB-ICS equipment, including two large screen displays, a videoconference system, and computing facilities. Food and drinks (non-alcoholic) are also is permitted on-site.
Takada encourages all members of the Tokyo Tech community to take advantage of the events and services at HUB-ICS.
"Going forward, I'd like to see more researchers here. HUB-ICS staff members can answer your questions or concerns about matters related to daily life in Japan."
According to Takada, HUB-ICS staff members provide regular briefings and orientations for newcomers on topics such as how to access medical services, how to find and rent apartments, and how to prepare for natural disasters. They also provide individual consultations on a variety of topics, ranging from how to read a bill sent in Japanese to where to go to study Japanese.
In addition, students and researchers can find a wide range of announcements and on- and off-campus event postings on the HUB-ICS bulletin board, making the space an excellent one-stop source for information.
What you should know
Location: On the ground (first) floor of West Building 9, Ookayama Campus.
From the street, descend the stairs in front of West Building 1, and turn right at the bottom.
Hours: Weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., though the space can be reserved for use at other times
HUB-ICS will be reborn and expanded within Taki Plaza, a new building scheduled to open on Ookayama Campus in late 2020.
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Published : December 2019