Study Away Experiences

Heidi Cao '16

Heidi Cao '16

In the spring of 2015 I chose to study abroad in Japan at Sophia University in Tokyo. I am majoring in Government & Legal Studies and Asian Studies at Bowdoin. Japanese history and its exchanges with the rest of the world, especially in the realm of the arts, have always interested me. Having only taken one semester of the Japanese language, I packed away my fear and headed to Tokyo.

At Sophia, course load and selections were similar to Bowdoin. I took classes with American-educated Japanese professors who specialize in my fields of interest. It was fun and meaningful to absorb different discourses on familiar topics that I have studied at Bowdoin. For instance, my Japanese politics professor analyzes the current Japanese foreign policy from a geopolitical perspective and my art professor focuses on Orientalism when discussing modern works of art.

What was different about going to school in Japan, however, was that I lived with a host family instead of in a dormitory. My host mother and I became very close towards the end of my stay. We had late night chats with cups of warm tea, bonding over neighborhood gossip and fun TV programs. My Japanese wasn’t that great when I started out and I had to resort to a mix of wild arm thrashings and broken English phrases. After four months I think my Japanese has improved. More importantly, I learned to listen and made meaningful connections with fun people who had stories to share.

The most unforgettable moment of my time in Japan was a night hike to the top of Mount Fuji in time for the sunrise. Growing up, visual representations of Mount Fuji populated my memory from posters, anime, photographs, etc. To me, Mount Fuji became the cultural icon of Japan. It symbolizes “old Japan” as captured in the ukiyo-e prints I studied in art history courses at Bowdoin. It is also the attraction of a “new Japan” when it appears in tourist brochures and Lonely Planet guidebooks. With great imagination and anticipation, surmounting Mount Fuji assumed great importance. After a seven-hour uphill climb, we made it to the top at 4 am. When the sun revealed itself through the clouds and reflected blue and silver upon the surrounding lakes, I saw the “real” Mount Fuji. Being there and seeing the view from atop Mount Fuji was thrilling and meaningful. Symbolically, hiking Mount Fuji released some of my imaginations about Japan and clarified my vision of the country and why I chose to study Asian art. Atop Mount Fuji, I started to see beyond the image and icon of a place and society.

I am very thankful for the Japanese program professors and advisors who made my study abroad dream come true. If you want to study abroad, come talk to me about Japan. If you want to explore the world, talk to people, go to places you have only imagined, and make a grounded connection, consider Japan. I am sure you will enjoy it and find what you have been looking for.



Violet Ranson '16Violet Ranson '16
I traveled to Tokyo, Japan at the end of May to embark on a research internship at Temple University, Japan Campus. I have now spent six weeks conducting sociological research on the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. I traveled to Fukushima to interview city officials and 3.11 evacuees. Recently, I traveled to Hiroshima where I had the opportunity to interview four hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors). I plan to return to Fukushima again to continue collecting interview data.




Greg Stasiw '15Greg Stasiw '15
During my junior year, I became rather engrossed in my studies as I began to work towards my anthropology major and my Japanese minor with new levels of intensity and focus. I eventually began looking for a way to apply my interests and studies to a fulfilling internship of some kind. I was thrilled to hear that, thanks to the unwavering support of the Japanese department, I would be given the opportunity to help start an internship with L.L. Bean in Tokyo.

For any language student, a learning experience abroad is a vital part of building confidence and proficiency, and through my internship I gained both more than just work experience as I practiced my Japanese and begin living the language, so to speak. I cannot emphasize enough how great living and working in Japan was for my language ability. Working, conversing, and even making presentations in Japanese while I was a member of the inventory team in Tokyo was an extremely rewarding challenge.

The internship certainly helped my language ability, but it also gave me an in-depth look at how an international company conducts business and how consumer goods move about in a globalized world. As an anthropology major, I was delighted to experience firsthand both the transnational flow of consumer goods and the working culture in Japan. In a more general sense, this past summer showed me how I could put my Bowdoin education to good use in a productive, engaging, and meaningful career.




Shirley Zhao '15Shirley Zhao '15
In 5th grade when I saw my first Japanese anime, Inuyashya, I couldn't have imagined that I would become drawn to this country and eventually spend a whole year in Japan ten years later. During my sophomore year at Bowdoin, I applied and was accepted by the SILS one-year exchange program at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. Looking back, I’m confident that it was one of the best periods in my life.

The SILS one-year program at Waseda University gave me the opportunity to take a wide selection of courses. At SILS I was able to take interesting courses such as "Learning Japanese Through Traditional Folk Songs". Some of the courses, especially those taught in Japanese, were challenging. I had to study extra hard in order to keep up with my Japanese classmates but my efforts paid off. My growing Japanese skills helped me integrate into Japanese society and made my life in Japan more enjoyable. I went to Kyoto with my Japanese friends and other international students and we were amazed by the gorgeous red leaves in the fall. In the spring we went to ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) at Ueno Park. On Saturday nights we went to karaoke parties and bowling. Sunday mornings we went to local farmer's markets. Japan, especially Tokyo, offered so many interesting places to go and so many beautiful memories to cherish.

When I returned from Japan to start my senior year at Bowdoin I realized that my experiences in Japan had really inspired and changed my life. During my senior year I did an independent study focusing on Japanese youth cinema and society. My experiences in Japan helped me to take a more critical look at articles and my advanced language skills allowed me to read materials written in Japanese. Regarding my post-graduation plans, I am looking for working opportunities in Japan, hoping to go back and reunite with friends in the near future. In short, the year I spent in Japan was really wonderful and meaningful. I recommend that everyone study or live in Japan for a period of time. I bet you will fall in love with the country, just like I did.




Chandler Tinsman '16
Chandler Tinsman '16The summer before my junior year, I went to Japan with HIF (Hokkaido International Foundation). Unlike many other study abroad programs set in Tokyo or Osaka, HIF was set in the much smaller city of Hakodate. I loved the quieter atmosphere. Again, because Hokkaido is off the beaten track, there was far less tourist presence than in the larger cities. I spent every morning in the classroom, but on most afternoons, HIF offered some form of extracurricular activity. These were very exciting and really allowed me to explore Japanese culture while gaining language practice.

I was also required to do an independent study, so I decided to learn kendo, a Japanese martial art. I spent several days a week with the local high school team practicing with them and interacting with them. This was the highlight of the trip. I really enjoyed my time with them and became good friends with them. I was very intimidated talking to people at first, but we quickly became friends, and I actually met up with them over the weekends to hang out.

Because I was a science major, I didn’t feel like I could take a semester off and still be on track with my degree, but because I was in Japan over the summer, I got to have the best of both worlds. I learned a great deal of Japanese while not losing any time working toward my degree.





Ben Montgomery '14

Ben Montgomery '14
I spent my junior spring studying abroad at Nanzan University in Nagoya. I went to Nanzan through the IES Abroad program, which placed students into Nanzan’s larger study abroad program called the Center for Japanese Studies. All students took intensive Japanese language courses and most students, myself included, took two English-taught courses in whatever subject they were majoring in. In addition, Nanzan offered a variety of traditional art classes, taught in Japanese, on topics like calligraphy, tea ceremony, and flower arranging (which was what I took). During my time in Japan, I had ample opportunity to travel throughout the country, experience festivals, food and culture along the way.

Undoubtedly my fondest memory (or memories) is the time I spent with the Nanzan University ice hockey club. Just like most Japanese students do, I decided to join a club during my time abroad, and as I had played hockey for many years I chose the ice hockey club. Not only was it an amazing way of meeting Japanese people, making friends, and most importantly practicing my Japanese, but also it offered an insight into Japanese culture. I found myself the target of honorific speech from the freshman and sophomores on the team, and at a team party came to realize that as an older member of the team pouring my own drink was just plain unacceptable. While sometimes intimidating, joining the hockey club taught me things I would have never learned otherwise, and was one of the best ways of finding a group of Japanese friends with a shared interest. All in all, my study abroad experience opened up my eyes to a different culture and I could not recommend studying abroad there (and joining a club while you’re at it) any more.