Program Spotlight: Summer Intensive Language

The Summer Intensive Language program is perhaps JCMU‘s most popular offering, with over 40 students participating in it each year. The purpose of the program is to provide students with an opportunity to better their language skills while also enhancing their individual understanding of Japanese culture and society by letting them experience it firsthand. This only covers some of what the course entails, though! We asked Maaliek Harris-Carter, an alumnus of the 2015 program, about his personal experiences in Hikone in order to help provide a more personal account of life at JCMU.

As a mechanical engineering major from the University of Michigan-Flint, Maaliek’s academic schedule was packed during the school year. However, he still wanted to study abroad in Japan in part due to his longstanding interest in Japanese media and video games, and in part because of his desire to learn more about Japanese technology and history. The summer program worked for him because it gave him a chance to go abroad without interfering with his normal engineering coursework.

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The shoreline of Lake Biwa, right behind JCMU’s campus

He also believed that “knowledge of another country would make me a better engineer and person.” Many of our students are looking to build their resume by going on a JCMU program. Studying abroad in Japan and learning the language greatly enhances your marketability following graduation, even if you aren’t a Japanese major. This is especially true for our Michigan students, as Japan is one of the largest foreign investors in Michigan and hires nearly 40,000 locals to work at their companies. In fact, many of the Japanese companies we work with are specifically looking to hire engineers and other STEM graduates with Japanese study abroad experience, even if they aren’t fluent in the language! This knowledge has encouraged more students like Maaliek to travel to Japan in the summer and learn about Japanese culture.

As Maaliek and his fellow summer program participants arrived in Hikone, they noticed how tranquil the city is. “There were times were you would go outside to absolute silence, and I loved that about the city,” he told us. Hikone was able to offer them plenty of excitement as well, as there were various festivals and other activities going on throughout the summer. The town is also conveniently located on train lines that allow for direct travel to large hubs such as Kyoto, Nagoya, and Osaka. Because of this, many of our student say that JCMU’s location is the perfect mix of fun and peaceful for foreign college students. “Hikone is the kind of place I would like to live, close enough to large cities but somehow worlds away.”

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Downtown Hikone

True to its name, the Summer Intensive Language program is challenging, but effective. As the program teaches students an entire year’s worth of college-level Japanese, students are expected to spend most of their time improving their language capabilities. Maaliek echoed the sentiments of many other summer students when he stated that the speed and the stress of the program were sometimes hard to work. However, he says that “the classes were effective enough though, as I still remember many of the things I learned.”

Students also have plenty of opportunities to explore Japan on the program. Maaliek and his friends took advantage of some of their free time by traveling to Tokyo, where he explored places such as Shibuya and the Tokyo Skytree.

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View from the Tokyo Skytree

You don’t have to go far to explore the country though, as Hikone offers plenty of its own unique areas and sites that you can visit. One big draw to JCMU is the fact that we are on the shores of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan and one of the oldest lakes in the world. The tranquility offered by resting by the lake is a popular spot for students to relax after a long day of studying. “On occasion we would go there at night and hang out, and sometimes I would go there at night and sit looking out over the lake.” Hikone offers plenty of other exciting areas to visit, including the historic Hikone Castle, the entertainment mall Viva City, and various restaurants serving traditional Japanese food.

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Hikone Castle

JCMU students have the option to live in a homestay or at JCMU’s on-site dorms, each with their own distinct benefits. Homestays are a unique experience available to JCMU students that allow them to live with a Japanese family and provides them with the opportunity to speak Japanese outside of the classroom and in a real-world setting. It gives them the chance to interact with Japanese people and the surrounding community, as well as to experience what everyday life is like for a Japanese person.

On the other hand, living at the dorms offers more independence and flexibility, as well as no commute to class. Students living at the residence hall also have access to nearby department stores and restaurants for delicious Japanese food. Maaliek chose to live in the dorms and really loved the fact that it helped him become closer with his fellow classmates. “When we finished [with class], we would go out or play games together. Us being together like this allowed us to form close bonds very quickly.” Especially due to the intensive nature of the summer program, many students appreciated that the convenience of the dorms allowed them to better utilize their free time and work together on homework with others in their class.

maaliek-harris-carter-1Food is also easily accessible from the dorms. Several affordable restaurants are located near JCMU campus, including a Coco’s family restaurant inside JCMU facilities that offer student discounts. The convenience of Coco’s was alluring for many: “there for lunch a lot because there was not often enough time to cook” during the lunch period between class. Maaliek also noted that while he does not like sashimi or seaweed, he found Japanese ramen (Chinese noodles), tonkatsu (pork cutlet), and gyoza (pan-fried dumplings) to be “amazing.” For students looking to make their own food, JCMU dorms are equipped with cooking utensils, pots, pans, and a rice cooker for our students. All of our spring students are familiar with the nearby grocery shops where they can buy their own food to cook, including Beisia, Cains, and Heiwado.

Tori Tempura0.jpgThe Summer Intensive Language program is an academically challenging study abroad experience, but also a very rewarding one. As any student who has studied abroad can tell you, studying in another country can be a lot of different things—fun, surprising, stressful, exciting—often all at once! Yet it is always life-changing and worth the effort. We would like to thank Maaliek for his responses, and we hope that his words have inspired you to consider studying abroad in Hikone.

If you are interested in learning more about the Summer Intensive Language program, please visit JCMU’s main website. The deadline to apply for the 2017 Summer Intensive Language program is February 10th. If you have any questions about the application process or the program itself, please do not hesitate to send us an e-mail at jcmu@isp.msu.edu. We look forward to helping many more students like Maaliek go to Japan in the future!

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