Sora Choi, Summer of 2011

Tying off omikuji (fortune) at Shinto shrine.

As an English and Japanese dual major, applying for JCMU was a no-brainer. I knew that going for the Summer Intensive Language Program would allow me to finish an entire year’s worth of Japanese language classes in just two months. Obtaining all those credits would allow me to graduate with two degrees within the typical four years of schooling. In other words, JCMU was simply a fast-track to finishing off my Japanese major so that I could focus on other activities.

This mentality didn’t leave me during my first week in Hikone. I was placed into Level 4 Japanese and as a result, I was swamped with homework and daily quizzes. Studying for hours into the night (and occasionally scrambling to finish in the morning) became the norm. It was tough but with the small class size and pinpointed instruction, I found myself learning Japanese at a much faster pace than I would back at a typical university class.

At the JCMU Welcome Reception.

Being able to not only visit famous cultural landmarks in Kansai, but to do it with Japanese friends made me realize the importance of studying abroad. Before attending JCMU, my image of Japan was based mostly on textbooks and media. I could count the number of times I had a meaningful, face-to-face conversation with a Japanese native with one hand. Now, I had several people I could turn to ask about things I had always been curious about:

The best memories I made at JCMU, however, weren’t in the classroom. My instructor and fellow classmates were wonderful, but going out to explore Japan for myself was where I found the true value of studying abroad. I joined a student organization at Shiga University. There, I made several Japanese friends my age for the very first time. I could talk to them about my hobbies, interests, and dreams—all in Japanese! My friends showed me around the city’s local hotspots such as Lake Biwako, karaoke, and Hikone Castle. They were even kind enough to take me to Kyoto, Osaka, and Nagoya for weekend-long trips.

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Attending a festival in Hikone with a Shiga University friend.

What is it like growing up in Japan? How did Japanese people view Americans? Do you think learning another language, like English, is important? Do you want to study abroad too, and if so, why?

These conversations provided me with more insight into Japanese culture and American culture than all those textbooks and media programs that I had seen before. I realized that there were certain perspectives that came from growing up in the United States—those same perspectives were often cast in a different light in Japan. As my one friend from Shiga University put it, “I’ve never met someone so open or direct before. I’ve also never had anyone call me by my first name on such a familiar basis so quickly!”. Moments like these highlight a few of the many, many aspects of culture that I hadn’t been aware of before. The fact that we were able to freely talk about these similarities and differences showed that while there would be some surprises and maybe even misunderstandings, we weren’t afraid of making a few mistakes here and there.

With a Shiga University friend at Taga-taisha, a Shinto shrine.

The same friend whom I previously mentioned recently came to visit me in Michigan. He is currently studying abroad at New York University because the friends he made at JCMU impacted him enough to take charge of his English education. Another friend from Shiga I made just finished a year-long exchange program at Michigan State University. I think it’s fair to say that the bonds made at JCMU go far beyond just two-month language program. They foster friendships that last for years, even halfway across the world.

Without JCMU, I would not be where I am today. I just graduated with dual degrees in English and Japanese, and I will soon be interning for the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Washington D.C. to further promote U.S.-Japan relations. If you are reading this as a prospective JCMU applicant, I hope you consider joining the long list of alumni who have had life-changing experiences in Hikone. ぜひ日本で留学してみてください!

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