Despite spending most of her childhood and teenage years in Malaysia, Kana Sugiyama found herself going back to her roots in Japan after graduating from The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) in 2018. Enrolled in one of the most prestigious universities in Japan – the University of Tokyo – Kana looks back at #LifeAfterISKL and the notable lessons and experiences she has learned during her time at ISKL that have helped her transition to university life. Currently studying International Relations and now entering her junior year at the University of Tokyo, Kana retrospectively talks about how taking the IB at ISKL helped her adjust rapidly to the university environment.
‘Doing the IB curriculum at ISKL allowed me to explore my academic interests and made me realize the importance of making connections between subjects that I was learning. This is one reason I chose International Relations to be my major field of study, as it takes a multidisciplinary approach when it comes to studying world phenomena. Furthermore, volunteering for refugee children (as part of the creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) component, which is an essential part of the IBDP), opened my eyes to the severity and importance of solving contemporary global issues,’ she said.
‘Even doing IB’s Internal Assessment (IA) and Extended Essay (EE) helped prepare me in conducting a proper research project – something that Japanese students (from Japanese schools) may not have a chance to do, whether in high school or middle school.”
Kana shared some specific moments in her university experience where she sees the similarity between the university work and the classes at ISKL.
“I was taking this class at my university about the portrayal of men and women in advertisements that have changed over the years. It was basically what we did back in High School during our English language and literature course. ISKL helped me learn these crucial skills such as how to properly write an essay or conduct research.”
Describing her time at ISKL as influential in her development, she attributes the culture of inclusivity and emphasis on student’s freedom of choice in their subjects and extracurriculars as key highlights of ISKL’s curriculum.
“The IB Programme prepared me in several aspects: from managing my time, to honing my capabilities and strengths and helping me find what interests me, as well as improving my interpersonal skills.” – Kana Sugiyama (Class of 2018) describing her experience at The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) in undertaking the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP)
“Coming to ISKL I was shocked (in a positive way) to find out that there were so many kids from so many different backgrounds. Another thing that surprised me was the freedom that I had – back in my previous (Japanese) school, I felt like there was not a lot of opportunities or choices for me to choose from, and it was up to the teachers to tell me what to do; both in terms of academics and non-academics. An example would be how in the IB, we are allowed to choose the subjects that we are most interested in and passionate about. We also have a large number of after school activities and clubs to partake in’.
‘ISKL is strong in this respect, as they give students tons of opportunities that sets them apart from the typical Japanese-school experience,” said Kana.
Having the mindset and perspectives of a global citizen were key aspects of the ISKL learning experience, something that was perfectly encapsulated at the Interscholastic Association of Southeast Asia Schools, otherwise also known as IASAS –– a series of interscholastic competitions revolving around sports and arts involving students from select international schools around Southeast Asia. Kana who is a 4-year participant of IASAS talks about her cherished moments.
“One of my favorite experiences at ISKL was the IASAS Cultural Convention, where I participated in Choir and its accompaniments during my four years in High School. Being in IASAS was a way to make friends and get to know students from other countries and schools.
‘To this day, I still keep in touch with most of them – who come from all four corners of the world. I also got to showcase my musical piece in front of hundreds of people, which was a very memorable experience. The whole preparation period for IASAS was tough at times, but it taught me how to collaborate with people,” she recounts.
Lastly, all Japanese students are required to sit and pass a University Admissions Exam, a rite of passage that gets all students nervous. Since Kana was a Japanese national but completed her high school abroad, she did what was called a ‘returnee exam’.
“I took a different examination from the ones that students in Japan would usually take. I graduated in June, but schools in Japan start in April. Hence, I had a couple of months in advance to study and prepare for the exam, which only begins in February and March the next year.”
She then elaborates on the preparation period for the exam, which in Japan is often characterized as a constant uphill battle with many difficulties along the way. But for Kana, it was relatively simple due to her experiences.
“Despite living in Malaysia my entire life, people might think that my grasp of the Japanese language is not up to acceptable standards. But I have been able to maintain my native language throughout the IB because I took the IB Japanese language course, which indescribably helped me for the entrance examinations. As the test requires exam-sitters to write an academic essay in the Japanese language, it came to me much more easily compared to those who might not have practiced writing in such a formal language’.
‘Therefore my transition was relatively seamless, and prepping for the other aspects of the exam was no serious issue as I have already done a rigorous course like the IB, which taught me the importance of having a good work ethic, and focus.”
Lastly, Kana offers some parting advice for Japanese students from international schools heading over to Japan for university.
“I’d say try and utilize as many opportunities provided by ISKL as much as possible, whether it be joining a sports team or doing community service. You will have much to talk about during your interviews! If you are looking to join for the spring intake, I encourage you to brush up on your Japanese (language) as many universities will ask you to write an essay in the native tongue. Your college application experience will look a lot different from your peers, and you may feel lost from time to time, but believe in yourself, and your counselors will also be there to support you 24/7!”
In preparing students to become Future-Ready, ISKL prides itself on its ability to expose students to a plethora of global experiences and perspectives—allowing them to fully grasp the extent of their role as multifaceted individuals in an increasingly globalized society. Kana Sugiyama is just one example of the many Alumni who have graduated from ISKL with the mindset, skills, and competencies needed to take on new challenges and tackle the future with confidence. For Kana, this included the ability to transition easily into the Japanese higher education environment after years of living in a country far different from her own.