IUC Series: What is the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies and (when) should I go?

I’ve been thinking about writing up something on the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies (IUC) in Yokohama, Japan ever since I came back a year ago. Why? Because the IUC was a fantastic experience that vastly improved my Japanese and, well, it was a heck of a lot of fun. But I was mostly determined to write about my time there for another reason: I couldn’t find any information about it on the internet! In fact, I didn’t even know the IUC existed until I was a graduate student. But when I was trying to figure out if I wanted to go, the net had little to offer in the way of advice.

Now, this is not to say that there is no information at all on the IUC on the web. On the contrary, Stanford University, through which the IUC is coordinated, maintains their own English language website, and the Center itself has both Japanese and English homepages that are regularly updated. But what I really wanted was feedback from previous students. What was the IUC like? How do you get in? When should I attend? What do you do there? Where do you live there? What are classes like? A million questions like this had no readily available answers. For this reason, we’ve decided to write a five or six part series of articles detailing the IUC summer and 10 month programs.

The plan (subject to shuffling depending on our writers or how we handle the topics) will be as follows:

1)      Introduction
2)      Summer program
3)      Funding your stay at the IUC
4)      IUC Housing and alternatives
5)      Year Program
6)      Other sources of information on the IUC

Of course, the big disclaimer to any information I give you is this is just my experience. We may have a couple people write for some of these articles, but there is no absolute, single way to go about anything involving your stay in Japan and work at the IUC. Everyone comes into language study abroad with very different circumstances, goals, and personalities. They live in different places, spend their time differently. People also get from a program what they put into it. So all I can do is offer you one or two perspectives and as well-rounded a view as I can manage and hope it helps out potential applicants who think the IUC might be for them. So, without further ado, let’s jump in!

Photo by Kabacchi

What is the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies?

The Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies is known throughout the academic community as an esteemed program for Japanese language and research, and has offered a unique and intensive language training environment since 1963. According to their Stanford University website, the IUC’s services are provided for “a select number of undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students.” The IUC provides both a summer intensive program and a 10-month intensive program. I say this because both programs are pretty intense. Sometimes students who are accepted to the year program are required to also take the summer program because their Japanese isn’t quite at the level it needs to be for entry, but students also regularly attend the summer program without taking the 10-month session OR as a refresher having already done the 10-month stay.

Why should I go to the Inter-University Center?

The purpose of the IUC is to provide advanced language training, since many universities offer advanced Japanese on a limited basis if at all. If you’re lucky, your university has a Japanese program. If you’re even luckier, it has a full four years of Japanese offered. But in most cases it’s rare that you’ll have a sufficient textbook for those four years (I know that working with Yookoso we were out of the textbook game after second year, whereas books like JSL offer four years but are weak on writing skills). In any case, beyond that, students often lack substantial support for formal Japanese study besides independent courses, much less an all-Japanese environment all the time. This is where the IUC steps in. If you’re an advanced undergraduate, a graduate student, or a professional who’s serious about using Japanese in the future for your research or career, then you should definitely consider attending the Inter-University Center. It’s been the best advanced Japanese language training center for a long time, and I doubt that’s going to change any time soon.

When is the right time to go to the IUC?

For someone who intends to pursue the Japanese field, the question of when to attend the IUC during one’s study is an important one. I attended both the summer and 10-month language training programs during the 2009-2010 academic year, which was my second year at Ohio State University’s East Asian Studies M.A. program. Before last year, I had never heard of the IUC, and the prospect of attending such an advanced program was as exhilarating as it was intimidating. Was my Japanese good enough? Did I have the mettle to endure a full year of intensive training? The impression I received when I asked around was that mostly Ph.D. students and professionals attended the IUC. But at my Japanese professor’s insistence, I applied and was, thankfully, accepted.

The reality of attending the IUC was quite different than my initial impression. Although at 23, I was admittedly on the somewhat younger side of the students there, a significant number were Master’s students in their first year (some of whom I had met as fellow prospectives touring graduate schools!) and Ph.D. students in their first couple years of study. Equally numerous were people who had just graduated college or finished JET, and only a couple people, no longer formal students, were professionals. During my time at the IUC, more than one professor commented to me, “The Center’s students are getting younger every year, aren’t they?” In the past, professionals and advanced Ph.D. research students served as the majority of applicants. So the question remained: was this a good time for me to enter the Inter-University Center?

The answer is a whole-hearted: yes.  Having completed one year of study for my M.A., I had a better idea of what avenue of research I wanted to pursue in Japanese history. I went into the Inter-University Center for my second year, armed with a general plan for research and prepared to find materials for individual study that would support and narrow my topic somewhat. I came back for this, my third and final year of study, with a new repertoire of research skills and a much more advanced reading and speaking level. Not only have I been equipped with language skills that will be much needed to delve into primary source work, but my time at the IUC has also made me a more attractive candidate for Ph.D. programs, which are anxious to find applicants already endowed with advanced research skills in their primary language of study.

This being said, it is important to note that there is not “perfect timeline” of when one should attend the Inter-University Center. I entered the program with five years of Japanese under my belt (four in undergrad, one at OSU), and this placed me within the second or third tier of language students attending that year (level placements of students are in flux depending on the results of each year’s entrance exams—more on this in another article). This was an ideal time for me, and I definitely suggest that Master’s degree students who feel confident with 3-5 years of Japanese seriously consider applying to the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies. Although it is a challenge to your mental fortitude, the benefits of the program far outweigh the stress endured (And what is being a graduate student, if not learning to deal with stress?). Part of the allure of studying at the IUC is that the professors there, like those at your home institutions, know that everyone comes in with specific research and personal goals, and they do everything in their power to facilitate these needs and cultivate your language skills to best serve your plans for the future. It is an opportunity not to be missed.

I hope this post was a decent introduction to the Inter-University Center. We’ll have more practical things soon coming your way, such as outlines of the coursework offered in both the summer and 10-month programs, a guide to funding and housing, and more! If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave a comment on this post, email us at shinpai.deshou@gmail.com, or message us on our Twitter and Facebook accounts.



About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
This entry was posted in graduate school, language schools, living abroad, main posts, study abroad, study tools, summer program, undergraduate and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to IUC Series: What is the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies and (when) should I go?

  1. Pingback: What is the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies and (when) should I go? | JapanLike

  2. toranosuke says:

    I had an incredible time at IUC when I was there for the 2007-08 school year, and I cannot recommend the program enough. In my experience, and I imagine Paula agrees, there simply is no comparison between the boost IUC will give your language skills in just one year of intense studying, versus semester after semester of necessarily less intense studying, whether on your own or in a class. I took the full 2 1/2 years offered by my undergrad university, and then another year in grad school, and really felt like I was getting nowhere. Today, I’m still not fluent, of course, but my reading skills have rocketed beyond what they were before IUC, and are more on par with what’s necessary for doing real research in Japanese.

    I watch people struggle to get there with only grad school courses or private tutors, and frankly I just don’t believe there is any question that IUC is the better, more effective, more efficient choice. I know I sound like a paid promoter or something, but I promise I’m not. I’m just a student… and I absolutely plan to go to IUP or ICLP when the time comes to get a proper foundation in Chinese, so I can stop taking language classes (or jump ahead to advanced classes, as the case may be) and actually begin engaging with texts.

    Paula-san, I’m sure you have plenty of people who you have in mind to contribute to this series, but if you’d like me to write something, I’d be happy to. Just let me know 🙂

    • Paura says:

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂 I agree, the IUC experience is like no other. It’s a shame that there’s not more around the web on it. I’m brainstorming the articles as I’ve listed them above, but if you have something you’d like to add or write about, just email me and let me know and I’d be happy to toss around some ideas with you. We always need more article writers!

    • altrioccidentiultimafermata says:

      Travis I have a lot of books from the ICLP in Taiwan, and if you want I can help you with your Chinese study program :-). As I’ve written, I’ve been studying Chinese for more than 10 years, now I’m studying Japanese and I’ve bought some books from the IUC program. Unfortunately the tapes for “Formal expressions for Japnese Interaction” can’t be sent from Japan to Italy and it would be great if you or Paula could help me to find the audio for that book. 🙂

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  8. Mike Antonacci says:

    This is just a small factual thing, but I wanted to point out that even JSL only has three years worth of books (although for anyone working with JSL, I would highly recommend trying to get into a summer program of some kind for one of the years.)

  9. Pingback: When to Teach Kanji, and How Much? | 茶有の者 - A Man with Tea

  10. Maria says:

    I just want to say that I really love all your blog posts about IUC, and I was wondering, do you remember when they told you that you were accepted? The website says mid-March, but that’s pretty vague…thanks again! 🙂

    • Paula says:

      It’s been so long, I don’t really remember, but I imagine that it varies every year based on the board that makes the decisions. Good luck! 🙂

  11. Emily says:

    I’m so happy there is something written about IUC. How competitive would you say it is to be accepted into the program?

    • Paula says:

      Personally I can’t really say how competitive it is, as I’ve been out of the program for five years now and don’t know the shifting figures on number of applicants versus accepted students. You may want to direct your question to them directly from their site. 🙂

  12. mmfn says:

    As others said, (unfortunately), this is one of the few sites that talks about this program. It seems like on the web, except from here and a few threads on reddit, it’s difficult to find firsthand infos even now after years of this program-review.
    Anyway, this year I finally decided to apply and I hope everything will go well. I wanted to thank you for the useful posts 🙂

  13. altrioccidentiultimafermata says:

    Paula thank you for the description of the program. I’ve been studying Chinese for more than ten years, and now I’m studying Japanese. Of all the books I have, those from IUC are the best, in particular Formal expressions for Japanese Interaction and Writing letters in Japanese. Unfortunately the tapes for Formal expressions for Japnese Interaction can’t be sent from Japan to Italy. I would be really grateful if you coul help me to find the audio for that book.

    • Paula says:

      Thank you for reading! Unfortunately I do not know if or where the materials are sold. I would suggest contacting the publishers or program directly to ask.

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