Learn through a Diverse Living Environment
SHIMOKITA COLLEGE’s Challenge
SHIMOKITA COLLEGE is a much talked-about facility in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo, where redevelopment is underway. It was established in 2020 as a residential college where a rich diversity of high school students, university students, and young professionals can live together, learn from each other, and create new educational values in their daily lives. We interviewed Mr. Shuta Takada, Director of HLAB,Inc., which operates the facility and creates a learning environment, about this new form of education that combines a school dormitory with liberal arts learning.
Shuta Takada, Director and COO, HLAB
Graduated from the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Engineering and the Graduate School of Engineering. He was a student researcher at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In 2011, while a student, he co-founded HLAB with Ryosuke Kobayashi (Representative Director). He was involved in the launch of the summer school program. After completing his graduate studies, he worked at Boston Consulting Group as a consultant and helped develop business strategies related to telecommunications, digital, and big data. With experience in both nonprofit and corporate organizations, he returned to HLAB in 2017; he assumed his current position in 2019.
Inspired by a student dormitory at Harvard University
－What kind of company is HLAB?
HLAB is “where people from different walks of life inspire, learn, and co-create from their differences.” We design communities to realize such a society. Specifically, HLAB provides opportunities for students and young people from various backgrounds to encounter diverse ideas, become aware of their differences, and inspire each other as familiar role models while living in a dormitory and pursuing a wide range of liberal arts studies.
The starting point of the program is a dormitory at Harvard University where Ryosuke Kobayashi, the president and founding member of the program, experienced. While at Harvard, he spent time in a unique environment where he was surrounded by diverse people and the only Japanese student in his grade, and it was because of this unique environment that he experienced diversity and stimulating learning. After returning to Japan, he decided to start HLAB with friends to “reproduce this learning experience in Japan.”
－Mr. Takada, how did you join HLAB?
I entered the University of Tokyo from Kaisei High School. After entering university, I became aware of the problems with career paths and career choices that seemed to be going with the flow. Some students said that they were walking the path paved by their parents and teachers. Some students were told to aim for Tokyo University or local national university for “good education”. When students wanted to consider their career paths or know other career choices, they were told that there was not enough information or opportunities. I often heard this after entering college.
If career choices are heavily influenced by those around you, spending time with a diverse group of people will help you learn more about your options and make proactive choices. I wished I had spent my younger years living in a dormitory, an environment that fosters high-density and open communication with others. Living in such environment would help ”break down” the preconceived notions that each of us has about each other. That’s why I started the HLAB project with friends
The “unknown world” that can be seen by living in the SHIMOKITA COLLEGE
－Tell us about SHIMOKITA COLLEGE.
When HLAB launched in 2011, our goal was to replicate a “liberal arts education through dormitory (college) life,” and we began a summer school. The summer school is a week-long residential program for high school students. Students gather with peers who are close in age and circumstance, but have completely different ideas and are capable of showing each other a world they do not know, as they transcend borders, regions, and generations, while living together. The summer school program is truly a life-changing experience, filled with moments and lessons that bring the unknown world closer to students. When the program started, it was held only in Tokyo with Harvard students, but it is now held in four locations: Tokyo, Obuse-machi in Nagano Prefecture, Onagawa-machi in Miyagi Prefecture, and Gunma Prefecture. College students are from all over the world. To this day, a total of more than 3,000 high school and university students have participated.
In the winter of 2020, HLAB started our first residential college in the heart of Tokyo, together with UDS and Odakyu Railway. SHIMOKITA COLLEGE opened as a residential college where students can live and learn together. Shifting the focus of learning from a short-term summer school program, SHIMOKITA COLLEGE offered a longer program, living and learning under the same roof.
SHIMOKITA COLLEGE is a place where high school students, university students, and young professionals live together and learn from each other while utilizing the entire town of Shimokitazawa, a place that recognizes diversity, as a campus. There are programs for: high school students, university students. What all three programs have in common is that they provide the environment necessary for learning from each other while living together.
Our plan is to coexist with the conventional universities and high schools in Tokyo with amazing teaching teams and curricula, and offer an “add-on” boarding experience for those students across different schools.
All residents (hereafter referred to as “college students”) are involved in creating the culture of the college.
HLAB creates a place where students can learn and grow through living with a diverse group of people.
－How can we become a SHIMOKITA COLLEGE student?
There is a selection process to be a SHIMOKITA COLLEGE student. The selection process consists of an essay (statement of purpose) and an online interview. The selection criteria are based on the applicant’s motivation to learn and understanding that SHIMOKITA COLLEGE is not just a place to live, but a place to learn. Specifically, we value the applicant’s intellectual curiosity, passion, and spirit of sharing.
We offer residency periods of up to two years for college students and adults. We tell college students that the first year is a challenge and the second year is a leadership year.
We also encourage high school students to live at the college on a semester-by-semester basis. It may be a psychologically tough for them to be away from their parents for more than one semester and attend school from SHIMOKITA COLLEGE; however, we tell them, “Let’s get away from home, even for a short period of time,” because being independent and experiencing Social Emotional Learning at SHIMOKITA COLLEGE during the impressionable years of high school is very important for the rest of their lives.
Learning and growing day by day
－How are college students growing through living at SHIMOKITA COLLEGE?
We ask our college students, especially the high school students, to actively engage in interview work. We ask them to interview people of different ages and affiliations who live at the college and who have their own ideas about the college.
This is the spirit of learning at HLAB, which is peer mentorship (learning from people of similar generations). Along with daily visits with guests from HLAB’s own community, college students are exposed to, learn from, and are inspired by many different walk of lives while living at SHIMOKITA COLLEGE.
Many of the college graduates have said that their self-esteem and communication skills have improved. In addition, we have received comments from high school students who have been told by their teachers, “You have changed.” They have started to express their own opinions and speak up more actively.
Although SHIMOKITA COLLEGE has a cafeteria, students are required to prepare their own meals on weekends and holidays. Through cooking their own meals and doing laundry, some students said that they felt grateful to their families and expressed their appreciation, saying, “Housework is a great free service, isn’t it?”
Creating new learning and values with College students.
－What is your outlook for the future?
Currently, there are 80 people living at SHIMOKITA COLLEGE. About 20 are working adults, 50 are university students, and the rest are high school students. They come from different countries, including Hong Kong, India, the U.S., Japan, and Canada. We hope that through HLAB projects, students will not only broaden their own perspectives and communities, but also learn that by eating and living with a variety of people, they can create new learning and value in the time they spend together. HLAB’s program is just such a place to do so.
The Diverse town of Shimokitazawa has its own charm. We define our campus is not only the building of SHIMOKITA COLLEGE but also the whole town. The connection with local community is the key to initiate projects in Shimokitazawa community. I hope that more college students will experience the “learning” that this special community creates.
HLAB is considering expanding to other areas and collaborating with schools. We hope to expand in collaboration with many communities, schools, and companies in the future.
Interviewer: Kaori Takahashi（eduJUMP!）