JCMU offers Japanese language courses in Hikone that run throughout the year. This includes our longest program, the Academic Year Language & Culture program, where students stay in Japan for over 8 months! We reached out to Emelyn Rutowski, an alum from Eastern Michigan University, about her year in Japan on the program.
What is your name, and what is/was your major at EMU?
My name is Emelyn Rutowski, I am a third year International Trade and Japanese Major at Eastern Michigan University.
Which JCMU program and year did you participate in?
I participated in the 2015-2016 Academic Year Intensive Japanese Language program at JCMU.
How did you find out about this program while you were at EMU?
One of my friends in high school knew it was my dream/goal to go to Japan, and she happened to be a barista at Biggby Coffee. She had a customer come in once who told about her son’s experience in Japan at this university called JCMU, that he had an incredible time there, learned Japanese, and the school had a strong connection to Michigan schools. My friend thought to tell me the next day, and of course I was extremely interested. I learned as much as I could from JCMU’s website and other student testimonials online, and it seemed like a perfect match. I dreamed about studying in Japan at JCMU and made it my goal to get in as soon as I could. I was a junior in high school at the time.
What motivated you to study abroad at JCMU? Was it the location, the classes, or something else?
The thing that made JCMU stand out to me was its emphasis on learning the language. The other programs EMU offers seem fun, they give you the opportunity to live the life of an actual Japanese university student and interact with Japanese peers on a Japanese university campus. To me, though, these programs seem to emphasize the social aspect of study abroad (like making relationships, going out to clubs, travelling around), whereas I was definitely looking for a more academic experience. At JCMU your one job is to learn as much Japanese as possible during your time there. My goal for going to Japan was to do exactly that. And of course while I was there I made many friends, Japanese and American, who I still talk to every week. I also was able to travel around the country a fair amount and go out from time to time. But, I did spend most nights studying my butt off in order to keep good grades and to successfully follow along in the next day’s class. This was all part of the experience, though, because I went to Japan with the intent to learn Japanese- and that’s not going to happen unless you’re willing to put in the time and effort. JCMU was perfect for that.
How were classes in Hikone compared to classes at EMU? Did you enjoy them?
Oh gosh, the classes in Hikone are quite different than EMU’s classes. First of all, they are conducted entirely in Japanese- even level one. Not only that, but if you speak English in class (even if sensei isn’t in the room yet but they hear you from down the hallway) you can plan on getting a small slap on the wrists (all of the sensei are sweethearts though, they’re just following the rules and they truly care about your learning). Eastern’s classes are taught with Japanese courtesies in mind, so we all know it is not acceptable to eat, drink, or chew gum during class at JCMU. This may go without saying, but JCMU’s classes are also much more rigorous. Like, doubly rigorous. But that’s because you’re covering double the amount you would in a normal semester at EMU. You may feel that the pace is moving so fast that you barely learn something by the time you’re moving on to the next, but you’ll be surprised to learn how much you actually did retain from class when you find yourself at a train station or in a friend’s house or watching TV and they’re using patterns you just learned, and you find yourself miraculously able to understand. That’s when it really comes full-circle, and you recognize the value of your time in JCMU’s classrooms.
What were some of your favorite things about your time at JCMU?
There are many fun times to be had at JCMU, but I think one of my favorites was getting to know and live with the domestic study abroad Japanese students who study English for two weeks at JCMU. If you’re staying in the dorms you get assigned to a Japanese roommate, and have the opportunity to spend your time with them and the rest of the Japanese students during their short stay. This is an invaluable experience, because generally at JCMU you are surrounded by American students, but for these two weeks you’re surrounded by fellow Japanese students, who are all super fun and eager to speak in English and Japanese! Some of the best friends I made in Japan were my roommates and friends who I met through the domestic study abroad program.
Did your experiences abroad help you when you returned to EMU? When you entered the workforce (if applicable)? How so?
Oh boy, the amount of things I learned during my time at JCMU and how they have helped me back in the states are immeasurable. Before I went to Japan I had studied Japanese for three years (two in high school and one year of Eastern’s level 1), but I still didn’t really get Japanese. When I spoke I was just pulling up words and phrases I memorized from class, never actually grasping why something was being said when it was, and how it all worked. It was my goal to leave Japan truly understanding the language, and JCMU’s intensive courses did that for me and more. I am now able to speak Japanese with confidence, and fairly naturally (I hope), which comes in handy with the exchange students at EMU and other Japanese friends I made in the States. I have two friends who studied in Japan the same academic year as me, but they were at Kansai Gaidai, and before we left they were a year ahead of me in Japanese. Since coming back we are now at the same level, because I learned enough at JCMU to catch me up a whole year. They drill the language into you, and if you’re willing to work hard and learn as much as you can you will leave Japan with a whole new skill level that you probably never knew you were capable of.
What would you say to prospective students considering JCMU?
To prospective students considering JCMU, I would beckon you to ask yourself what your priorities and goals are for your study abroad, and what you want your time in Japan to look like. If you are mostly trying to meet a whole lot of Japanese college students, experience life in a big city and live the Japanese university life, while studying of course but you don’t want the main focus to be studies, then I would choose (for lack of better words) an actual Japanese University, like Kansai Gaidai or Tokyo Gakugei. If your goal is to be pushed to learn the language like you’ve never been pushed before and leave Japan fulfilled, knowing you did pretty much all you could to learn Japanese, then JCMU is the school for you. Also, if you don’t mind living in a smaller town (which has very beautiful sights, small though it is), and you’re comfortable with having to make more of a personal effort to interact with Japanese people in the community (seeing as JCMU is generally full of just American students), then JCMU will be just fine. The staff is wonderfully caring, and they do everything they can to help connect you to the people and students in Hikone. I lived with a super kind host family for the first semester and I learned so much from them, as well. Your experience is what you make it, so if you have a positive, eager outlook on things you will thrive anywhere you go!
We would like to thank Emelyn for sharing her experiences with us, and we hope this inspires future students to consider studying abroad in Hikone! For more information about Thomas’ program, please visit the Academic Year Language & Culture program page.