Rachel Ahn: My Trip to Kyoto University

Kyoto University previously announced a competition for learners in their Evolution of the Human Sociality: A Quest for the Origin of Our Social Behavior course, wherein learners were asked to submit a research proposal as a coursework assignment. Two winners were selected, and won an all expense paid trip to Kyoto University. Rachel Ahn was one of the winners.

During the summer before my final year of high school my father wanted me to take advantage of some online courses so that I could mention it on my personal statement for university applications. I completed courses ranging from Human Biology to Python before finally taking part in this Primatology MOOC on edX.

I wanted to learn something about humans and their evolution as I am interested in reading evolutionary biology at university. So, I enrolled to over 10 different MOOCs from different platforms and quickly found edX. I ended up learning a lot more in this course than I could have ever imagined. My goals once I had started taking the course more seriously, were basically to just learn as much as I could and to take advantage of the many resources available.

The course definitely broadened my perspective on the adaptations and social behaviour of animals in general and not just primates. What I really loved was that there would often be lectures delivered by professors or researchers from different places around the world along with President Yamagiwa’s videos which provided learners with a variety of teaching styles and perspectives to experience. This course, and MOOCs in general, helped me to figure out what my interests beyond secondary education are.

Additionally, my trip to Kyoto was one of the best experiences of my life. I learned so much more than I can write down. Many of the lovely people who hosted and guided us in Japan are reading primatology at Kyoto University, a couple even at the Phd level! So they were able to provide engaging and detailed answers that were much more informative than information boards or online guides.

Moreover, many of them have had hands-on experience with primates and so were able to share personal anecdotes and intriguing facts. I also had the opportunity to talk to the many people in the field of primatology during the poster presentation session and because of that I received great advice for improving my hypothetical research proposal.

The city was equally memorable; there were so many stimulating and beautiful experiences – from the food to the outings, ambiance, and the monkeys. Our guides and hosts were also very kind and extremely helpful. I remember telling many of my friends and family before the live Skype presentation about how amazing it would be if I could win and go to Japan. Now, looking back as a winner, I still feel very lucky to have had this experience.

I really recommend MOOCs to people who might not know what their interests are yet. Just try whatever tickles your fancy. I ended up loving courses that I just started out of curiosity. By trying various MOOCs, I was able to discover new interests which helped me filter my university options. I think there’s really something for everyone enjoy in MOOCs.