Mojolaoluwa Oke (“Mojo”) is an undergraduate student at MIT, class of 2022, majoring in mechanical engineering and minoring in Japanese. He is interested in human-centered design, and the possibilities of creating effective and affordable technology for developing markets – including for his home country of Nigeria, or other African nations.

What are you studying at MIT?

Coming to MIT, I was thinking of computer science. But then in my FPOP [First-Year Pre-Orientation Program], I discovered product design. It opened my mind to the broad scope of mechanical engineering and how it can be used for problem solving. I got connected to D-Lab and their mission of design for development. I’m interested in human centered design – which is essentially designing a product with the user in mind. It’s an iterative process: understanding people’s wants and needs, empathizing with the problems they’re facing, designing solutions, and keeping the users in the loop in all steps of design.

Why did you decide to take Japanese?

When I came to college, I had no intention of taking a language. But I found out I could complete a HASS requirement by taking a language class during IAP. I noticed they were offering Japanese. I was exposed to anime in middle school and got obsessed with it! So, I thought I would try a Japanese class.

And I wasn’t sure if I would continue with language classes after IAP. I just wanted to take Japanese over IAP to free up space for other classes during the semester.

I was initially worried that the class would be super-intense. IAP classes are very accelerated. You complete a semester’s work in three weeks. Classes are three hours each, with five hours of homework. But I loved it! I loved that I could concentrate on the class and fully focus on learning the language. During the regular semester you might have three or four other classes – so it tends to be in your spare time you’re working on your language assignments! But over IAP the Japanese class was my fulltime job.

By the end of IAP, I was completely hooked. After that, I would put Japanese into my class schedule first. Literally I pushed around other classes in my major to take Japanese III. I was “all in.” I found it was just a good experience.

Can you describe the classes?

The classes have a lot of conversation. Instead of a long lecture you would have short bursts of instruction and lots of conversation. Mostly dialogue. You really spend a lot of time listening and speaking. Because there’s so much conversation, you end up learning a lot about the other students in class. You talk about how your day went, what kind of music you listen to, what you think about the world. You build a lot of relationships. It feels like a community. The teachers are sensational. I’ve taken classes with Aikawa-sensei and Maekawa-sensei. They are very welcoming, and always interested in talking with you. It’s nice having teachers who can be mentors, who will give you advice, and go out of their way to find you resources. They take time out of their schedules to just to talk to you.

How do you use your Japanese?

When I took Japanese II, it felt like my understanding reached a whole new level, and opened up new possibilities to use the language I was learning. I did that partly through Japanese media, but also in other ways. I met some Japanese friends at MIT and had a chance to talk about what life is like there. Even though I was originally motivated by my love of anime, taking Japanese helped me come to a deeper appreciation of Japanese culture beyond anime. I am able to dive deeper and see more of Japan beyond its media and what pop culture has to offer. I really want to go to Japan one day. I applied to MISTI-Japan for the summer of 2020 and study abroad at the University of Tokyo for the spring of 2021, but those plans were cancelled due to COVID. I’m not sure how it will happen that I could visit Japan, but I have to go there!

How do you see learning a language helping you as an engineer?

I’m hoping that my learning Japanese would allow me to better connect with a culture from across the world and generally help me to view day-to-day lifestyles and customs from multiple perspectives. Learning a new language helps to reveal innate biases or assumptions I hold, and it reminds me of the different thought processes and experiences other people have. As an engineer, it is valuable to be able to switch the lenses in which I approach user challenges and desires.

Do you have an anime tip for the uninitiated?

I think I would suggest the Samurai Champloo TV series. It has a phenomenal sound track. And beautiful visuals. The characters are unique. It’s cool because it’s very robust. It has humor, but also portrays serious themes. I also really liked Katekyo Hitman Reborn! TV series. That one is 200 episodes long! I liked the way the plot progresses and I boldly claim the show has one of the best character development for its main characters.