Last year, Hironaga Harauchi sat at his desk at Akita International University in Japan, reading his textbook and listening to his professor lecture the class on economics. The professor asked a question, but all the students stayed silent. After a few seconds, the professor continued on with his lecture until the class period ended.

A few months ago, Franz Deim sat at a desk at Vienna University of Economics and Business. He looked around at his friends next to him. He saw them on their laptops and phones, WhatsApp-ing one another, and figured one of his absent friends had probably overslept.

Now, Harauchi and Deim both sit in a small classroom somewhere in the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business, intently listening to their professors. Phones and laptops are left in backpacks to remove distraction. A student in the second row raises her hand. The professor squints at her name tag and calls her name. She asks a question and the professor opens it up to the other students to get a discussion flowing.

Interactions between students and the professor during a class period is not typical in Japan, Harauchi said. He said he had been surprised to see students speaking out and interacting with one another in class at UR.

Deim's experiences came as a surprise to him as well, he said. He said he had been reminded of his high school days. 

“You get assignments to get checked, you can’t use a mobile phone in class, you can’t use a laptop in class,” Deim said. “In Austria, the professors assume you are an adult and you can make your own choices.”

Sophomore Yu Kataoka is a student studying at UR from Waseda University in Japan. He never realized his thoughts and opinions had much value until coming to UR, he said. 

Katoaka said in Japan, people usually trusted one answer: the professor’s. They don’t expand on why his or her answer may or may not be true, Kataoka said. The students in Kataoka’s classes back home rarely engage in discussion because there is a general consensus that what the professor says is the right answer.

In the few months that Kataoka has been here, he has already heard students talking a lot more and expressing different opinions. He said there was an understanding that everyone has different beliefs and values and that they should all be welcomed.

This flow of ideas and the ability for students to have their own opinions and express them without fear is a privilege many students fail to recognize, Kataoka said. Students at UR are not coerced to think a certain way, he said. In fact, Kataoka said many professors left their own opinions out to avoid swaying the discussion.

Another thing that Kataoka noticed was the support and acknowledgement he received from both students and professors, he said. After the first few sessions of a political science class, Kataoka decided to talk to the professor after class. Not only did the professor address Kataoka by name, but he also gave advice on how to keep up when Kataoka admitted the content was challenging.

At UR, the professors are really kind and want you to do well, Kataoka said. They know students’ names and are easily accessible -- both things that Kataoka did not see at his home institution, he said. 

Barbora Chaloupková, a senior from Charles University in Prague, was stunned by all the resources at UR, she said. 

“There’s such a concentration of potential here,” she said. 

Although she is studying at the best university in her home country, Chaloupková said the difference in resources between Charles University and UR was very apparent. Students who graduate from UR not only graduate with an amazing education, but also with opportunities and internships that allow most students to do what they want in the future, she said.

Another shocking aspect of UR, Chaloupková said, was the variety of foods offered by the Heilman Dining Center. She had never seen anything like it, and the vegan options were incomparable to any other campus dining hall she has eaten at, Chaloupková said.

In Chaloupková’s opinion, the only way the dining hall can improve is by having thick bread.

“We miss our bread,” Chaloupková said. “Just give me European bread.”

Contact contributor Kaori Tachibana at kaori.tachibana@richmond.edu.