Crystal Gwizdala, 2015 May Alum

In 2015, JCMU teamed up with Visiting Scholar Doug Sjoquist to offer the Japanese Religions and Art May short course. Participants had the rare opportunity to stay at Saikyo-ji, a temple located in the foothills of Mt. Hiei in Otsu City. We reached out to Crystal Gwizdala, an alumna from Saginaw Valley State University, about her experiences on this unique program.


What is your name, and what is your major at SVSU?

My name is Crystal Gwizdala, and I am majoring in Biology & Psychology.

Which JCMU program and year did you participate in?

I went on the 2015 Japanese Religions and Arts May short program.

How did you find out about this program while you were at SVSU?

SVSU’s study abroad website helped me learn more about the program.

What motivated you to study abroad at JCMU? Was it the location, the classes, or something else?

It was the uniqueness of the program. We were completely immersed in Japanese culture living at a Buddhist temple, Saikyoji. I was entranced by the idea of living among Japanese people rather than in a university dorm.

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How were classes in Hikone compared to SVSU? Did you enjoy them?

I’m used to small class sizes, but a class size of 8 people is truly a different environment. We were able to really get to know our professor and ask him questions all throughout the day. We started the day off with a 2 hour lecture at the temple and embarked to a temple or shrine for the rest of the day. It was extremely helpful and meaningful to not only learn about the material, but to see it firsthand the very same day.

What were some of your favorite things about your time at JCMU?

Every morning we accompanied the monks to the morning prayers in the hondō (main temple hall), a truly breathtaking sight. We had authentic meals prepared for us every day by the kind cooks working at the temple. We walked and rode trains to temples and shrines in the surrounding area every day. Furthermore, our instructor, Professor Sjoquist, was phenomenal. He was a down-to-earth man who really knew and understand the Buddhist and Shinto principles. He always expressed how grateful he was for how wonderful our class was to take on this trip. I absolutely loved this awesome and humbling experience and I do not believe I could have had this opportunity anywhere else or with any another professor.

Did your experiences abroad help you when you returned to SVSU? How so?

Yes, they did. Particularly in the field of psychology, studying religions was very helpful in developing empathy for people of various cultures. When you understand their culture and traditions, it’s easier to meet that person in the middle and form a therapeutic relationship.

What would you say to prospective students considering JCMU?

Do it! You’ll have an experience that you will treasure for the rest of your life. Japan is a beautiful and unique country steeped in traditions and full of fascinating oddities. For anyone considering traveling, Japan should be at the top of their list.

JCMU made everything very easy for us. They covered insurance, ID cards, healthcare while abroad, and gave us a very informative orientation on what to bring and what to expect. We also spoke to a student who had previously gone on our trip and met with our professor beforehand. It reassured my mother and got me even more excited!


Every year, JCMU offers unique short 2-3 week study abroad courses in May to provide a greater variety of students the opportunity to study a unique topic of interest while in Japan. These programs change on an annual basis to allow for various scholars and students alike to participate in unique courses every year. In 2017, we will be offering three May short courses:

  • Sport & Society, a course that will give students the opportunity to observe, explore, and research traditional and modern sports in Japan
  • Japanese Cultural Heritage, a course that offers a comprehensive overview of the sociocultural characteristics of contemporary Japan as observed in museums and monuments
  • Intercultural Business Communication, a course that will give students the opportunity to observe, explore, and practice business communication  in Japan, with a specific focus on intercultural interaction

We encourage all students to consider participating in one of our May short programs!

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