Studying in Japan is more than a textbook experience – by Gretchen Shinoda
Studying in Japan is more than just a textbook experience. As an American coming to this land with very little background, every day has been an adventure, and I have been here for over 20 years now!
I first experienced life and studies in Japan as an exchange student from Lewis and Clark College to Hokusei Gakuin in Sapporo. Living with a Japanese family, struggling with the language, and experiencing life within a small university was really exciting. The feeling was more like going to a big high school than a university as most universities here in Japan do not have residential campuses: students tend to live at home or live in apartments with a commute to their university.
The delight of studying the language which is very wrapped up in the Japanese culture, plus learning about the deep and rich history, was very eye-opening back then as a 20 year old. It sincerely helped me see myself and my country in a new way.
After graduating from my undergraduate program, I felt drawn back to the land of the rising sun, this time for graduate education on an international campus. I chose IUJ, The International University of Japan. IUJ is in Niigata, the heartland of the country, and well-known as “Snow Country” (a la the famous novel by Yasunari Kawabata, an awardee of the Nobel Prize in Literature – 1968). At IUJ I could continue learning about Japan, and US-Japan relations at the graduate level, but also had the opportunity to meet people from over 50 countries on a residential campus. Dorm life here is so rich it feels like living IN a textbook.
It seemed like for everything we were studying in International Relations someone in the class had a direct connection or experience with the incident. IUJ’s motto is “Where the World Gathers,” and it is true. But I could study in my native English while learning Japanese and all about various parts of the world.
Studying abroad is not just about learning about a new country. It is about learning about yourself and your own country, culture and history by contrasting it to what you are experiencing and seeing right before you. It is a double bonus. As an Oregonian, I had never thought to consider why Thai people use forks, but the rest of Asia uses chop sticks. I never considered the need to manage time around daily prayers. I discovered a whole new way to appreciate language and think about language through picture words (kanji) and not just the alphabet by learning Japanese.
I am so glad I chose Japan as my destination because it is such a different place so the contrast is easier to experience. The added bonus given to me by an extremely culturally diverse campus of IUJ enhanced my internationally-minded development. That said, the longer I live here, and the more people from all over the world I meet, the more I feel people are all the same. We just express things differently because of our religious upbringing, cultural and family traditions and the way we use language. This is deep culture. It is so exciting to live in it each day now that I work to support IUJ graduate students.
I encourage everyone in North America to study abroad in a fascinating land, be it Japan or wherever pulls you. It is the best way to learn about yourself, and of course about the world. The world needs Global Leaders more than ever: people who can work outside of their own comfort zones to lead diverse groups of people to help the world develop in a sustainable way. One point of view is not enough to find the best solutions. And studying abroad is one wonderful way of helping us all discover NEW ways of thinking, new ideas for problem solving, and increase our sensitive communication skills. So get out of just textbook learning, and embrace differences first hand.