30 Years, 30 Stories: Discovering the Real Japan


2018 marks JCMU’s 30th anniversary since our founding in 1988. To celebrate, we will be posting 30 JCMU stories of 30 different JCMU alumni from 1989 to 2018 every Thursday from mid-February through September!

Why did you decide to study abroad? For our seventh installment in the “30 Years, 30 Stories” series, read the story of JCMU 2014-15 alum Patrick Mercer (originally posted on November 3rd, 2016), and learn how his multiple trips to Japan helped him discover Japanese culture and his love of international education.

As is the case with many of our alumni, Patrick initially became interested in Japan by watching anime as a kid. It was because of this that he decided to major in Japanese early on in his collegiate career. Despite this, he knew that he needed more than just language classes taught in the U.S. in order to grasp what Japanese culture was really like. “I never really understood Japanese culture beyond what the fictional worlds of anime taught me – and I was well aware of this shortcoming of mine,” he said.

As such, he began looking into study abroad programs that would allow him to actually live in Japan. His first program was the Lansing Community College Japan Immersion program in 2012. “The first few weeks were exactly what I expected of my first study abroad program: scary, fun, and nerve-wracking all at once. However, this culture shock is exactly what I needed in order to break free from the stereotypical view of Japan I held before traveling outside of Michigan.”

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Seeing the deer of Nara was an exciting experience

He then became addicted to study abroad. After transferring to Michigan State University, he immediately began looking into more programs that would send him to Japan. “I realized that actually being in Japan was the only way to truly advance my understanding of Japanese culture,” he told us.

At first, he was very concerned about the cost of study abroad. “My family couldn’t afford to give me any money for my regular schooling, let alone study abroad,” he lamented, a common (and very real) concern that many prospective study abroad students have. “But that’s when I found out about JCMU.”

At the MSU study abroad fair, Patrick met with JCMU staff and was excited to discover the Summer Intensive Language program. He committed to participating on the 2014 iteration of the program, and was even able to completely cover the costs of going to Japan through various scholarships and fellowships that he was awarded. “It wasn’t easy and involved writing scholarship essays over and over again for hundreds of hours,” he said, “but the peace of mind it afforded me made it well worth it.”

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But even this wasn’t enough to quench his thirst for study abroad.

He decided to go on another JCMU program the following summer: the Crossroads of Japan. The Crossroads program was one of JCMU’s short 2-week May programs in 2015 taught by Dr. Taylor Atkins, a Japanese historian from Northern Illinois University. “By this point in my academic career, I was a history major focusing on medieval Japan, so when I found out about the Crossroads program, I could hardly contain my excitement.” On the program, he and his classmates traveled all around Shiga Prefecture to learn about the unique history of the area. This hands-on history course furthered Patrick’s fervor for his Japanese history studies.

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Genkyu-en Japanese Garden by Hikone Castle

It is thanks to JCMU that he continued to push himself as an aspiring Japanese historian. At the urging of Dr. Ethan Segal, MSU’s medieval Japan historian, he participated as a presenter in the 2016 Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs at the University of Illinois. “Initially I was very nervous about my presentation, but the other Japan scholars really made me feel like I belonged.”

Though he is looking into attending graduate school in the future, he remains addicted to international education. As such, he is currently working as the JCMU Media Specialist in hopes of helping others like himself grow through study abroad. If you have any questions for him about his experiences, feel free to contact him at media@jcmu.org.

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Look atop Hikone from Hikone Castle’s grounds

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