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!
Did study abroad completely change your personal, academic, and professional goals? For our ninth installment in the “30 Years, 30 Stories” series, read the story of JCMU summer 1993 alum David Janes, and discover how his time at JCMU pushed him as a professional to continue strengthening the cultural ties shared between the U.S. and Japan.
After taking a class in Asian Art and Architecture at Mary Washington College (now University of Mary Washington) in Fredericksburg, Virginia, I was convinced that my growing interest in Japan was no passing fad. After making that realization, I knew that I had to go there myself to see the country and experience its culture first-hand. This desire to live in Japan led me to search for a long summer study abroad program with a focus on Japanese language.
JCMU emerged as my top choice for study abroad because of their focus on language immersion, their location in a smaller town where I felt I could meet local people more easily, and its significantly longer length compared with other programs. I still remember the excitement I felt when I was told I was admitted. I remain indebted to my parents and to a scholarship from Mary Washington College for their support in allowing me to participate, for I had no idea at the time that this experience would shape my entire life.
I was at JCMU in the summer of 1993 and while this is now 25 years ago, three memories remain vivid:
- The first is that I befriended a local Japanese Rinzai Zen monk at a temple located relatively close to the JCMU campus. As my language ability improved and I could communicate in more depth with him, he invited me to attend zazen sessions and to spend time with his family. This deepened my interest in Japanese religions, which led me to pursue graduate study in this field.
- The second memory was meeting Hiroko Yanase, a JCMU volunteer that took students to the local grocery store while teaching them how to shop for Japanese foods. I had no idea that she and her family would become life-long friends and to-date we remain in touch.
- The third was my occasional escapes to places like Kyoto and Seki (Gifu-ken). While I loved my fellow classmates and teachers at JCMU, a mentor of mine suggested that I should spend time trying to engage with Japan and Japanese people individually. In Seki, where I traveled to learn more about traditional Japanese sword making, I ran into a family with whom I spent the day with. In Kyoto, I fell in love with the gardens, temples, and overall atmosphere of the city.
My time at JCMU fundamentally altered my life and inscribed within me a love for Japanese people and culture. Academically, my time in Hikone led me to first complete an M.A. in Asian religions with a focus on Shingon Buddhism at the University of Hawaii. After this, I returned to Japan to live in Kyoto as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and graduate student at Doshisha University.
Professionally and personally, I think my aim has always been to allow other people to experience the profound transformation I experienced by studying abroad. To this end, after returning from Doshisha University I started an 18-year career with the United States-Japan Foundation, where I served as Director of Foundation Grants and Assistant to the President. This opportunity allowed me to go out into the community, and I spent a significant amount of time expanding opportunities for youth in the U.S. and Japan to travel to the other country. In March, I became Vice President, Japan and Short Term Programs, at the Laurasian Institution. The institution works to deepen and enhance U.S.-Japan understanding through education and grassroots programs, which perfectly aligned with my own personal goals. Finally, I am a Trustee of several Japan-related organizations including the Japan ICU Foundation, the LEX Language Project, and the American Friends of the International House of Japan.
Without a doubt, my entire career and life has been shared by the passion for Japan that JCMU cultivated in me. For that, I am eternally grateful.