Study Away Experiences

Ethan Barkalow '18Ethan Barkalow '18

The summer of 2017 before my senior year I lived in Hakodate, Japan while participating in an 8-week long program in Japanese language and culture offered by the Hokkaido International Foundation (HIF). For anyone who is interested in studying in Japan for the summer in a small quiet city, this is definitely a program worth looking into! For a very long time, I knew that I wanted to study abroad in the UK. However, by the time I began taking courses in Japanese language and history at the beginning of my sophomore year at Bowdoin, I also felt a strong pull to study in Japan. Because HIF is a summer program, I was able to go to Japan in the summer after having studied in the UK the previous semester.

At HIF, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in many aspects of Japanese life. All students at this summer program live with a host family in addition to taking courses in Japanese in the morning. I was fortunate to have a host mother who took me to wonderful places in and around Hakodate. One particularly memorable concert featured shamisen, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument. This, in addition to the countless Japanese cultural activities arranged by HIF staff, allowed me to gain an appreciation for traditional Japanese culture. My host mother and I also shared an interest in the outdoors and together we hiked Mount Hakodate and Mount Komagatake, a dormant volcano. I was so grateful for the chance to become acquainted with the landscape of Hokkaido through these hikes.

I began HIF after studying Japanese language at Bowdoin for three semesters. I was able to make simple requests and ask questions but I was far from conversational when I arrived. Over the course of the summer, however, I gained greater skills along with the confidence to have more detailed and lengthy conversations. Developing a close relationship with my host family really contributed to improving my Japanese speaking and listening skills.

Lastly, studying in Japan allowed me to become very close friends with other international students in my program as well as with people in Hakodate. One of my friends from Hakodate kindly hosted a party and cooked takoyaki—a delicious fried octopus dish—for me and other students at HIF. During this party and on many other similar occasions I was able to experience how people in Hakodate spend their free time and celebrate. I am so grateful for all of the wonderful experiences that I had and the many things that I learned. If you are interested in studying in Japan but aren’t able to go during the semester, HIF is a great alternative!

Marty Dang '18Marty Dang '18

My name is Marty Dang and I studied abroad at Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan during the spring of my junior year. I was nervous about my Japanese language skills and living in a country halfway across the world but I went anyway. And I am glad because while I learned a lot about Japan I learned so much more about myself and who I am as a person. 

At Nanzan University I took five classes including Japanese language. Because Japanese schools follow a different schedule all of my classes were with other foreign exchange students. I stayed in a dorm that was about a half hour commute from school. My roommates came from all over the world and we had some hilarious exchanges. Nagoya, the fourth largest city, is located in the middle of Japan and is known for the plethora of delicious food options. Everyone there was incredibly nice and willing to help a lost foreign exchange student. My program, IES Nagoya, took us on many trips to places like Hiroshima, Inuyama, and Nara. We stayed at fancy Japanese-style hotels, ate fancy multicourse Japanese dinners, and saw amazing sights. The IES staff was incredibly supportive and made my time in Japan very enjoyable. 

Being in a foreign country where you don't quite speak or completely understand the language can be a very intimidating experience. Of course traveling to places like Tokyo and Kyoto was easy since many people spoke English. However, the real adventures begin when you veer off the well-traveled road and start exploring. The moments of personal growth and development don't happen while watching Netflix in your room. They happen while trying to find cheap Kobe beef at 8 pm or while climbing a mountain instead of taking the cable car or while trying to communicate with a barber about how you would like your hair cut. It is during these uncomfortable times that you grow and create lasting memories. What better way to test out my Bowdoin education then by going to a foreign country and trying to survive for five months?

Overall, I had an amazing time in Japan. I traveled to 16 different towns and cities during my 17-week stay there. I made so many fantastic friends, ate so much good food, got lost more than once, and sang too much karaoke. Of course not everything was butterflies and roses while I was abroad. I was quite homesick for Bowdoin and I felt quite isolated at times. However, looking back I am very happy that I went abroad and would do it again if given the chance.

Justin Ehringhaus '17Justin Ehringhaus '17

Hello. My name is Justin Ehringhaus, and I am from the small but beautiful state of Maine located in the most northeastern reaches of the United States. I graduated from Bowdoin College majoring in government and East Asian studies, and I have been passionate about Japanese language, culture, history, and literature since my days as a high school student. It was a great honor to receive the “Japanese Language and Studies Scholarship” from Japan’s Ministry of Education, which has enabled me to spend a year living and studying at Hiroshima University—and what an incredible journey it has been thus far.

Choosing a university to attend in Japan was not an easy task. I knew very little about the climate of higher education in Japan, and my resources were limited to searching the internet and consulting with professors who had studied abroad before. One mentioned Hiroshima University for its excellent education program, and from there I began looking into the campus as well as its academics, sports clubs, and students’ voices. Something just felt “right” about the humble beauty of the school, and I was not disappointed—when first arriving to campus I felt taken aback by the amount of nature, wildlife, and adventure to be discovered and enjoyed in this rural area of Japan. The academic environment, as well, is rigorous but rewarding. The professors are always open to discussion and questions during class, and regularly invite students to visit their office to talk further about homework or research. The student body is also extremely open and friendly, and there is no feel of pompousness that may exist at larger, city schools.

Most importantly, such an environment has served as grounds for me to develop meaningful, lifelong friendships. I decided to join the Hiroshima University Sumo Team months before coming to Japan, and my goals at the time were threefold: to try something new, to learn a traditional sport, and to push myself physically. However, being a member of the sumo team has turned into so much more. We are family—practicing together, eating together, laughing together, and sharing memories that each of us will carry throughout life. The team currently consists of five Japanese and three American members, but we are always open to newcomers.

Thank you, Hiroshima University! I would encourage anyone with an interest in studying abroad to choose here and to get involved. The school has much to offer.

Ashley Talbot '15Ashley Talbot '15

This summer, thanks to the Japanese department, I interned at the LLBean office in Tokyo. I was assigned a variety of projects involving mostly data and product performance analysis, and I worked with the Inventory Team and the Direct Marketing team members. Even though I initially had no interest in retail, I truly enjoyed learning about the industry, and everything that goes into it—especially on the consumer side. It was also interesting to learn about and see how a company is received overseas.

What made this experience truly remarkable, were the employees. They were kind, willing to help and teach—and most of all—were some of the kindest, most generous people I had ever worked with. As a Japanese student, this internship was really fulfilling, and I think that it definitely helped my language skills greatly. I’m so grateful to both Bowdoin and LLBean for giving me this opportunity, and I hope that another Bowdoin student will benefit from this internship just as much as I did!

(The photo on the left is from a group trip to the top of Mount Fuji.)

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.