Name: John Crumpler
Location of Study: Hokkaido, Japan
Program of Study: Hokkaido International Foundation
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies
A brief personal bio:
I am a sophomore accountancy major at the University of Notre Dame, and am also minoring in Japanese. I’m also a member of the varsity fencing team at Notre Dame. Because of fencing, I have traveled across the US and seen many of the country’s great cities. I have been to very few place outside the country however, having only visited Quebec and France.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
Learning the Japanese language has been a goal of mine since my early high school career. However, this is the first true opportunity to achieve that goal. Even when I began studying the language here at Notre Dame, I was not expecting to have a chance to actually travel to Japan and learn by truly immersing myself like this. When my teacher first suggested the idea to me, my greatest and perhaps only hesitation was the possible financial strain this could put on my parents, beyond what the are already providing to allow me to study at the University of Notre Dame. This grant will remove a great deal of the burden that worried me so.
Additionally, for every person or organization that invests in my future or provides a way for me to accomplish any worthwhile goal, I feel that much more motivated to pursue my task with the utmost diligence. I refuse to allow the effort or sacrifice of my family, friends, or anyone invested in me, to be wasted on me.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
I hope to attain a level of proficiency in speaking and communicating with the Japanese language that I might not be able to reach were I to pass on this opportunity. Every subject I have ever studied, languages, mathematics, literature, etc requires continual practice, just to avoid losing current skills. How much more exposure must be required, when studying a language so different from the English or German or Latin, to truly become adept at communicating through it? By aiding me in attending this summer program, this grant allows me to study Japanese at the most intense level possible. It also gives me a chance to see the culture of the language first hand, and I will doubtlessly gain a deeper understanding of the language through that experience.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to communicate at a level in Japanese at least two semester beyond my current level of study here at Notre Dame.
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to live an function with ease in an area where Japanese is the primary language of communication, whether written, spoken, or heard.
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will feel comfortable engaging in conversation about academics, activities, and professions using Japanese.
- At the end of my summer study abroad, I will have a grasp of linguistic nuances that are not necessarily taught through formal classwork, and learn new language skills that will compliment my formal studies.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I have never been to Japan, I have only been out the USA twice. But, I feel that this is chance to experiment, and I intend to leave any preconceptions behind me as I immerse myself in a new culture. I’m very excited and look forward to being amazed and surprised over and over again as I take in the sights, sounds, and activities I observe during my stay in Hakodate.
I hope very much to foster a wonderful relationship with faculty, fellow students, and hosts I meet during my time there.
During the time between my spring semester and when I leave for Japan, I plan to continue studying and/or practicing my characters and writing to maintain the proficiency I have achieved until I began studying formally again in Hakodate.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
So, for my first blog, I’ll begin by talking a little about my family, followed by an entry from a significant experience I had earlier this week on Monday, and some discussion of classes too.
My host family is incredibly nice. Both the father and mother are in their sixties, but are still very healthy and lively. The mother, Mizue, works part time at a local clinic or medical center. I’m not sure where the father, Haruo, works yet. I need to look into this the next time I have a chance. I have a housemate, Leon, who is fun to have around, we get along well. I actually roomed with his college roommate, Martin, earlier while we were staying at a hotel for orientation. Martin is also a great guy, so that was another fun experience. We have fairly regular meal times. Breakfast at 7 am, lunch right after class at HIF, and dinner at 6 pm. We are not allowed to stay away from our homestay families overnight, which is perfectly okay to me.
Class so far has been challenging. We were given a very large amount of homework on the very first day (Monday), so I didn’t get as much sleep last night as I had hoped. But a lot of it was initial reflections and planning documents for our large IS projects. I’ll talk more about this in a later blog I expect. We have quizzes every day, which is fine with me, they encourage me to memorize the content faster than I might otherwise. Next week I have a short show-and-tell project. I haven’t decided what I’m going to talk about yet, but I’ll need to write a script for that so that will be small challenge. So far I have enjoyed my classmates very much. They are all very committed to learning and we help each other with questions and grammar et cetera. The Senseis (teachers) are also very nice, and are genuinely invested in their students, so the support group here is very strong. I’m excited to continue to study here for the next seven and half weeks!
I wanted to post the following experiences the day they happened, but as I wrote above, we had a lot of work to complete on Monday so I didn’t the time to prepare my blog post yet. However, they are very significant experiences to me so I am including them in my blog anyway. Part of what makes them special to me is my interest in physical health, and athletics. I expect I will use what I have learned here in my IS project going forward too.
6/15/2015: This morning, while out running, I found a park with a small calisthenics course. This was very interesting to me, I haven’t seen these set up in most of the parks I see in the American northeast. I stayed a little while and worked out there, but as simple as the set up was, I wasn’t sure exactly how to approach parts of it. I will look in to this.
Today I also went to watch my host father practice Keiko (Karate) at a local training room. He was training with two others, a Sensei from Sapporo who seemed to be teaching, and another black belt, whom I assumed is another Sensei. Having a background in fencing, a highly timing/coordination intensive sport, I quickly understood the physical skills the practitioners must possess to execute their techniques well. Additionally, they were practicing a situation that requires a high level of space and time awareness. Although I couldn’t understand most of what was said, I could follow the corrections and see sound reasoning behind the Sapporo Sensei’s critiques. It is rare I find myself so engaged that I can sit comfortably observing something for an extended period the way this experience was. After they finished training, my host father told the Sensei from Sapporo that I am a fencer. He seemed very interested, and I wished very much to be able to communicate with him more easily. I would very much like to exchange ideas with these men, and find the overlaps between their art and fencing, and to see how these ideas might apply more holistically. They invited me to train with them on Wednesday, and I jumped at the offer. I am very grateful and blessed to have this unexpected opportunity, this will probably be one my most memorable experiences in Hakodate this summer.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
Well, it’s been a while since my last blog post, so I think it’s time for an update.
I’ve been incredibly busy with studying both language and culture for the last two weeks. Right now, I am not happy with where I am with my mastery of the material we have covered so far. Because of this, I have redoubled my time management efforts and am determined to not only catch up, but try to be ahead by the end of this week. We have our first semester final next week, and I am determined to be better prepared for it than I have been for any of the previous exams I have taken. Well, that’s about it for the tedious stuff. Needless to say, I am absolutely improving my ability to communicate in Japanese as a whole. My listening comprehension seems to be improving the fastest. Writing and speech construction still feels difficult, especially when I’m trying to use new grammar. I hope periodically reviewing the material I have learned will help.
I have had a little bit of time to explore Hakodate, but that has mainly been in search of food. Every restaurant I have eaten at has had excellent food, but many of them cannot accommodate a large group of us students when we go for lunch together, so we end up needing to find several places before we can all eat. Some interesting things I’ve gotten to eat include raw squid, grilled squid, “Chinese chicken burger”, and several types of ramen. And of course, we eat rice very often, which I enjoy.
This past weekend, there was an organized trip to an area north of Hakodate called Onuma. It is supposed to be a beautiful area with excellent sight seeing opportunities, the park sits at the base of a small mountain range that include a mildly active volcano. Unfortunately, it was raining heavily all weekend, we were not able to explore and see the area. It was an excellent opportunity to get to know some of the different students though, I was glad to be able to go.
Some of the after class cultural activities I’ve participated in are Kendo (Japanese fencing) and Kyudo (archery) trial classes. Watching the teachers and their students perform these arts was quite impressive. They absolutely require a tremendous amount of skill and training to be able to perform well, and I respect their practitioners immensely. One additional challenge I encountered was that they only ever allow people to perform these disciplines in a right-handed manner. I happen to be left-handed, but I imagine since I’ve never done them before either way, that makes little difference.
We learned three different strikes/targets at the Kendo trial, as well as moving forward and backward. We never sparred or competed in any way. Given all of our inexperience, I’m sure that was for the best.
The Kyudo was quite difficult. Japanese bows are quite strong, and hold one can be tiring. The process of shooting is fascinating though. It involves several ceremonial-like movements that are simple enough, but the students and teacher performed them with meticulous attention to every small detail.
Both experiences were quite fun, and every time I attend a cultural activity, I am reminded how fortunate I am to be here. I will never take this opportunity for granted, and I will always be thankful for this experience.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Good Morning! Or good evening…
Well, the intensive language study program here in Hakodate is half way over. All classes took first semester final exams last week, as well as everyone giving a short speech which we composed leading up to the exam. Having those two tasks simultaneously was quite difficult, but we made it though. I successfully reached my goal to be better prepared for this exam than the others. Going into the exam, I was afraid I still had not studied enough. But as I moved from section to section in the exam, I found that worry was unfounded.
Most of the HIF students went to Sapporo this weekend, a city to the north of Hakodate that is a bit larger. The was an exchange event with university students there which was quite interesting. I enjoyed the trip very much. There are several landmarks there that are important. I visited the first brewery ever founded in Hokkaido, and a very famous candy factory. There is also zoo and a nice park which were fun to see as well.
Going to and from Sapporo was a long bus ride. I was able to take advantage though; I have already studied a chapter ahead in our textbook and memorized most of the new vocabulary. I am very excited to start the second half of this program feeling like I am ahead, rather than trying to keep up every day. I expect that the next few weeks will be very busy, as we prepare to present our findings from our independent study projects we have been working on throughout the program. Hopefully there will still be time on weekends to relax and write though.
One final note. Nearly every day, I get to experience something that I did not expect and appreciate very much. I am always reminded of how fortunate I am to be here in Japan right now. I expect I will never take that for granted as long as I am here, and it just seemed appropriate to mention that again.
Thanks everyone and take care.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
Well, it’s been a while since my last post, and quite a lot has happened in the last couple of weeks. I’ll do my best to remember the important events and details. It will probably be hard because there is so much, but that is a good problem to have.
Where to begin…
Two weeks ago, there were some Japanese culture events where students had a chance to learn to make some Japanese cuisine. We learned how to make beef “don”, which is a dish where beef is sautéed with onions and mushrooms in soy sauce/sake/oil. After it has cooked for a little while, you poor beaten eggs into mix and let them cook just enough to stick to everything else. This is all then served over white rice and egg noodles. It was quite delicious.
We also went to a class to make manju and nerikeri. Manju is a confectionary food, the outside is a kind of rice cake, and the inside is red bean paste. Actually making the dough was pretty easy. The hard part was getting the portions of dough to red bean paste correct and then rolling the balls of bean paste in the dough. The dough was very sticky and we used a lot of flour just to keep from having it stuck to hands. After it was cooked, they were delicious. Nerikiri is not very different. Ours was also a rice cake with bean past inside. But the dough was less sticky, sweeter, and more dense. I think the important thing about nerikiri is that because its consistency is like play dough, it is quite often molded into beautiful shapes and patterns. We made morning glory flowers and peach shapes.
The next big event was the speech contest. Several weeks ago, all the students in HIF were required to give speeches they had composed and memorized in Japanese. This was just before our program semester break. Afterwards, two students were selected from every class (2 from 6 different classes), twelve in total, to give a speech at a famous hotel in Hakodate later on. I did not know I was selected for the contest until the week of, which may mean I was a runner up and the person ahead of me was unable to do it. In any case, when my teacher asked me if I could do, I immediately said yes, and my stomach flipped. It was probably one of the most excited experiences I have had here. To be among 11 other peers selected for their abilities was a great privilege to me. At the contest, we were all very nervous. But we made it through. I forget as single word in the middle of my speech, which frustrated me terribly as I reflected, because I felt that my actual speech was excellent, and I was complimented many times on how I handled the instance on the stage as I tried to remember the one word I needed to continue. I learned something about myself, well I suppose I learned it again. At times like this, I may be nervous, shaking, sweating, and uncomfortable. But somehow, my voice remains steady, my ability to speak seems to improve under that kind of stress, even if my composure feels compromised.
The last big event was our presentations for our independent study projects. My project was about how Japanese martial arts are similar, or different, to fencing. My host father is a very skilled Karate practitioner, so I had many opportunities to talk to him at length about some of the principles behind karate and other martial arts. The first presentation plan/script I submitted, my teacher claimed was too short. I thought in the allotted time we were given, even what I had might be too much. But I took my teacher’s suggestion and added more to the performance. Needless to say, I was not able to discuss everything I had written down. As a matter of fact, I only got through about half of the information I had. What I learned from that is, I should be not hesitate to trust my own instincts about presenting materials. No one know one’s own presentation style, better than one’s self. I know mine, so I should plan for mine, not someone else. Luckily I was able to improvise well enough to cut my presentation short in a reasonably coherent manner.
Now the final week is beginning, and students are preparing for our final exams and any last minute travel arrangements. It will be a very busy week, but there are likely still many exciting experiences to come.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
Well, I have finally arrived back home in the United States. The last 36, or 48 hours (I don’t know for sure) have been rather tedious. I have changed from a car, to a train, to a bus, to a subway, to a plane, to another plane, to one more plane, to a car again. It has been a very busy day, or two days… I started my trip home the evening of August 7th, but actually departed Japan August 8th in the afternoon. I landed in the States on August 8th, in the morning. That’s different… But I had to fly from the West coast to the East coast so I didn’t get back home until about 12:00AM Eastern time, August 9th.
I am very happy to be home, to see the familiar sights and be among my family again after being half a world away for two months. But there are things about Hakodate and Japan that I am already missing. The country was beautiful. Hakodate feels like a large beach town, and is surrounded on two sides with water. On its other two sides are mountains, and when I looked around on clear days I could see beach or mountain or both; it was one of my favorite things about living there, and it’s not something you see in many other places. I’m also going to miss my host family very much. They were very kind to me, and our frequent conversations were always fun and lively. Also my instructor, who was very patient with all of her students and really worked hard to help us learn. I am incredibly grateful to her. And of course, I will miss my classmates from the past two months. I feel like we became very close in the past few weeks. It is hard knowing that we will rarely see each other again from now, and I already miss many faces I’m used to seeing every day. But the whole point is that we became close enough that we feel it when we are separated. That is proof of the excellent time we spent together, and I am very grateful to have met all of them.
This program has been one of the most educational experiences of my life. Of course, I was able to learn about a lifestyle and culture that differs from my own. I did not find the change at all difficult to grow accustomed to. I’m sure some aspects of it will stay with me even after returning home. I also feel like I was able to revisit the time when I was learning basic skills in my own native language. I remember what it was like learning English in the very beginning: the alphabet, vocabulary, basic sentences. And I remember learning more complicated structures and grammar later on, but I do not remember very much of what came in between the very basics and higher level composition. Was it similar to how I was studying these past two months? Was it easier, harder? I do not know, but one thing I am sure of is, I have learned a lot, but still have a tremendous amount left to study. As I person, I know I grew tremendously. I took on opportunities and volunteered for projects I know I would not have taken on before. And I had the privilege of making many friends among the people living in Hokkaido. Because of my limited ability (so far) to communicate in Japanese, I needed to be able to communicate using more than just speech. Body language, context, intonation, empathy, countless ways to communicate exist that allow us to interact with each other that augment language, and I am very glad I was able to practice those skills as well.
This has truly been one of the most valuable experiences of my life, and I do not think I can properly say how grateful I am to have it. I thank the Notre Dame Japanese Program’s staff for their excellent teaching and working with all of us students so we can learn about Japanese language and culture. I also want to thank all of the donors from SLA program. I know that their donations are a blessing to all of us traveling students. For my part, I would not have been able to attend the Hokkaido International Foundation language program without their aid. Finally I cannot have enough gratitude for my parents, who have supported me tremendously throughout this experience. There are a great many things I have been able to do, that would have been impossible without them. This is certainly one of those occasions. I am also grateful that they were able to send me so far away from home for this extended period of time.
To everyone who reads this blog, to the donors, to all my teachers, classmates, and to my parents: This program has been an enormous blessing to me. I can never fully repay the value of what I have received through this experience, but I pray with all my heart that one day I will be able to help others have the same valuable opportunities. Thank you all, so much!
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Learning a new language at an accelerated pace is a tricky process. It is a whirlwind of new words, sounds, and even ideas, that make communicating in a new language totally different from any previously learned. For my part, I found that learning new grammar structures and learning to use those new structures were always separate events. Learning something and memorizing in can be done from a book. But then knowing the proper context to use it, comes from hearing others use it correctly. Which is why, the intercultural events and time spent with host parents plus other native speakers was crucial to my improvement over the two months I was in Japan.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
Although cultural differences absolutely exist between America and Japan, I did not find these to be difficult to understand, or inconvenient to follow during my stay in Japan. Indeed, many of their norms actually seem to be for the sake of greater convenience, and make things more organized and relaxed. Thanks to the people and experiences I had in Japan, I believe I have become more quiet minded, but also better at moving from work, to enjoyment, to work again as needed in a given moment. My advice to someone planning to study abroad? Do a some research. Find out some of the cultural norms that may be different from their own culture. Check two or three sources to be sure. But don’t expect to be surprised, many of what they discover will actually make a lot of sense I expect.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
First and foremost, I will continue to study Japanese language. Although I improved vastly during my time studying in Japan, I still have a very long way before I reach a satisfactory level of mastery. That being said, I truly hope to be able to employ my knowledge of Japanese on a professional level. I know it will be difficult to become this skilled, but I met many non-native speakers in Hakodate who prove it is not impossible. The great thing about it is that the rewards for studying a language are endless. They begin on the first day of class, as all the new students meet for the first time and begin bonding over a journey that is likely to last at least two years together. The relationships are invaluable, and as you share milestones and overcome challenges together, these friendships can become stronger and stronger. I truly believe this is one of the greatest blessings I have received during my time studying Japanese.