Elise Tillema, Summer 2015 ESJ Alum

Study abroad is for students in the STEM fields as well! As one student on the Environment & Sustainability in Japan (ESJ) program explains, going to Hikone in the summer benefited her academic and professional goals while also helping her become a globally aware academic.

What is your name, and what is your major?

My name is Elise Tillema, and I am an Environmental Studies & Sustainability and English double major at Northern Michigan University.

Which JCMU program and year did you participate in?

I participated in the summer 2015 Environmental & Sustainability in Japan (ESJ) program.

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

I noticed a pamphlet with a bright pink flower on it in the Earth, Environmental, and Geographical Sciences (EEGS) department office. I asked our head Dr. Ziegler a few questions and the rest is history.

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

Studying abroad was an unattainable luxury to me until encountering JCMU. I was certain that I would fall behind in my classes, could not afford the travel, and that there would be no science classes abroad that I could take in my native tongue. I was shocked to find that I could perhaps realize my dream, and even in a country as unique as Japan. The abundant scholarships available made my financial worries far less, and the summer semester afforded me the time needed. In short, I chose to study at JCMU because it was the perfect fit for my needs.

Kyoto Gardens - Elise.jpg

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

Classes in Hikone were more laid-back than my classes at Northern. I learned a great deal, but at a slower pace and with more field trips. I enjoyed having local experts come to my classes to lecture on everything from Japanese cinema to economics to carrom. I got a taste of the thousands of years of history, and studied environmentalism on a global scale – two things I could not do at NMU. I enjoyed my classes in Hikone a great deal, in particular my internship with Hayashi-sensei. He was not only a gifted instructor and academic, but put great effort into making sure that I experienced Japanese culture and enjoyed my time in Hikone.

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

I adored the people: those in my program, the JCMU staff, my mentors at the University of Shiga Prefecture (USP), and even just the kindness of strangers I met while out in Hikone.

I will remember and cherish even some of the more mundane outings because of the people I shared the experiences with. I also was blown away at the opportunities JCMU provided me. I visited Kyoto and Nara via JCMU organized trips, and was lucky enough to be shown amazing world heritage sites. Within the ESJ program, our classes reached far outside the USP campus. We hiked mountains, found microorganisms in rice paddies, and visited marvelous museums. Furthermore, I was individually lucky to be included on a few trips with individual classmates and their mentors. The Samegai Trout Farm and Kawachi wind cave (both pictured below) are some of my favorite places I visited in Japan, and it was only through the generosity of JCMU and the USP faculty that I could take part.

Did your experiences abroad help you when you returned to NMU? When you entered the workforce? How so?

Studying abroad gave me a whole new perspective for my classes at NMU.

Global conservation and sustainability means a whole lot more when you have gone out and experienced some of the many forms they take. I also saved money and time, as some of my JCMU credits counted for core courses within my environmental major. Additionally, I managed to help a friend find his way to the summer language course with JCMU, an amazing opportunity regardless but crucial given that NMU does not offer Japanese. Last summer, I landed an internship with the Department of the Interior: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (DOI:OSMRE). My supervisor, who had started the program from scratch and run it for nearly twenty years, told me during my time with OSMRE that international study was an important factor when hiring interns.

Studying abroad with JCMU has not only made me a global citizen, but a better scholar with brighter employment prospects for the future.

What would you say to prospective students considering JCMU?

I would say go for it! If you want the chance of a lifetime to study in an unparalleled area of beauty and culture, look no further. In particular, for students in the sciences who may think that studying overseas is impossible or will put them behind in their degree programs, a summer course can boost your career while also changing your life. There is plenty of scholarship money, and if I can go tuition-free then anyone can. Hikone is a wonderful place, and you will never be bored exploring the shores of Lake Biwa. If you want to travel, JCMU isn’t far from the train station and Hikone is close to several major cities. I would encourage anyone considering to check out the JCMU website and find the program that is best for you. You won’t regret it.


We would like to thank Elise for taking a chance and studying abroad at JCMU! We hope this shows future STEM students that study abroad can both be affordable and tie directly into their degree programs. For more information about Elise’s program, please visit the Environment & Sustainability program page.

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