Name: David Reeves
Location of Study: Hakodate, Japan
Program of Study: Hokkaido International Foundation Summer Japanese Program
Sponsors: Justin Liu & Bruce Broillet
A brief personal bio:
I am currently a junior at Notre Dame, double majoring in chemistry and Japanese. I enjoy the ability to have two majors that are completely different because it gives me the opportunity to learn by way of two different thought processes, as well as opening doors for potential careers that may require a combination of these two particular sets of skills.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
The SLA grant is important to my education because it provides me with opportunities that I would not otherwise have. I want to maximize my college educational experience, and I feel strongly that using the SLA grant to attend a Japanese program would be an excellent way to do this. It has always been my desire to go beyond the classroom experience and study Japanese in a Japanese environment. This will afford me a higher level of skill in the language while at the same time gaining a more intimate understanding of the culture by living in the country itself. I have not yet settled on a specific postgraduate goal for myself, but an ideal situation would be one where I could put my chemistry degree to good use while also having the opportunity to read and converse in Japanese on an everyday basis. I would be interested in an opportunity where I could pursue chemical endeavors, maybe in a situation where Japanese skills would be needed in order to interact with my business counterparts. Using the SLA grant to aid in my Japanese education is critical to me being able to attain these types of opportunities, and because of that, I am grateful for being able to use it.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
Using the SLA grant, the obvious answer is that I hope to be able to vastly improve my skill with the Japanese language; however, there are other things for which I hope that the grant will be useful. Being able to spend time in Japan is something that I have desired for a long time, and through this grant, I am able to accomplish a lifelong dream. The grant is also aiding me in my desire to be able to spend time abroad in an academic context. My unique combination of majors has resulted in challenging scheduling and course planning; because of this I was unable to work out an abroad study program during the academic year. The grant is aiding me in being able to study abroad despite these semester scheduling restrictions.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- By the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate in Japanese at a level that allows me to speak fluently and interact confidently with native Japanese speakers.
- By the end of the summer, I will be able to utilize the Japanese language to a level equal to at least two semesters beyond my current coursework completed at Notre Dame.
- By the end of the summer, I will be able to understand the Japanese culture in a new light and be able to more easily discern the differences and similarities between the Japanese culture and mine.
- By the end of the summer, I will have a greater tolerance and appreciation for all foreign cultures, languages, and peoples – not only on campus but in my life as I move forward.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I plan to be extremely active during my free time in Japan so that I can both improve my language skills and be able to experience as much of the Japanese culture as possible during my time there. The main reason I was interested in the HIF program was because it appeared to be the most culturally intensive program of the ones I could choose from, in addition to providing an excellent Japanese language education over the summer. I plan to participate in as many extracurricular events as my schedule allows me to, including the field trips to Onuma and the Jomon archaeological site. The program’s setup appears to be a healthy mix of classroom activity and extracurricular activities that encourages students to experience Japan on many levels for themselves, and that really was what appealed to me about this program. Looking over the comments from the past participants just reinforces how much the program puts an emphasis on being able to interact with the Japanese people every day, a prospect that holds great appeal for me.
Reflective Journal Entry 1: Approaching the trip to Japan (5/29)
When considering how to approach my trip to Japan, it was a difficult process. On one hand, I felt like that I had experienced enough of Japanese culture through my language studies at Notre Dame and my own personal ventures that I had a decent grasp of what to expect. On the other hand, I had no experience in a foreign country before, and frankly the thought of spending two months in a country where English was a secondary language (if that) was scary. Therefore, I had to make some decisions about what I wanted to achieve while in Japan.
First of all, I want to do my best to improve my skills in the Japanese language through living amongst the people and the culture. My belief is that if I coexist with the Japanese people in a native environment where I am forced to test myself daily, my abilities will drastically increase. Also, I want to experience as much native Japanese culture as I possibly can. From what I understand, there are many cultural classes offered through my program at Hokkaido International Foundation, and I intend to take advantage of every single one.
Now, as I prepare to leave, I’m attempting to think of everything that I might experience that will be a shock. Because I have, up to this point, no experience whatsoever with summer school and the challenges it brings, I don’t really have a yardstick to measure the difficulty of two semesters’ worth of coursework compressed into eight weeks. I also have never experienced jetlag in any capacity, so I fear that might be a possible problem, as well as splitting my time between classes, cultural/school activities, and my own free time.
On the whole, though, while I, like everyone else, fear the unknown, I am tremendously excited for the opportunity that I have been given. It has been my dream to undertake this venture since middle school, and I intend to take full advantage of this trip to learn and to enjoy the Japanese language and culture.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:Ijime (6/24)
A hot topic issue in Japan right now is ijime, the act of bullying that is prevalent amongst students in Japanese middle schools. From some of my Japanese culture classes from Professor Shamoon at Notre Dame, I had a decently extensive knowledge of ijime, such as the problem’s history, source, instigators, and resolution (or lack thereof). Some of my fellow study abroad students, however, had never heard of ijime until the news broke on a couple of murders and suicides that had resulted from excessive bullying, and upon hearing of it were rather disturbed by this revelation. I was shocked as well, but not by the act so much as the fact that it actually happened.
My class and my Japanese teacher shared a brief discussion at the beginning of class because of the subject being brought up during our daily morning routine. I was surprised to hear my teacher confess that she had been a victim of ijime in her youth. This was shocking to me, as she is one of the nicest people that you can meet, but to hear her admit that further cemented the dreaded fact that ijime was a real problem and had been for a long time in Japan.
I didn’t really feel comfortable asking someone about his or her experience with ijime for various reasons, but when I was at home, I could definitely gauge my host family’s reaction. Because my host grandmother and grandfather both enjoyed watching the news during meals, I also got to see much of what was on television as well. Therefore, I could tell that my host grandmother was not too pleased every time the report on ijime came onto the news.
We also had daily conversation tables at HIF where we discussed this and that with local Japanese people, and the topic was avoided completely. No one ever brought it up, and no one ever started a conversation where the topics moved towards that subject. This indicates to me that not only is ijime a serious problem, but it is something that affects more people than an outsider may realize. My hope is that because of the recent problems that have stemmed from this bullying issue, steps will be taken to cut down and eventually stop ijime for good.
Opinions about the United States are varied amongst the people that I have been interacting with in Japan. Age appears to be a major factor in how our country is viewed amongst the Japanese people. During my time here, I have been able to interact with people of all ages: my homestay parents are a married couple who were alive during World War 2, many cultural events involved high school or college age students, and volunteers at HIF were often middle aged Japanese. Because of this, I was able to obtain a decent sample size about some opinions on the United States.
My host family didn’t really express any opinion on the United States on their own, so I had to observe their reactions to the news whenever American-related topics appeared. Because American news has a certain amount of impact in Japan, that was quite often. For people who were alive during the chaotic World War 2 era Japan, they have a surprisingly neutral outlook on America. The main issue that they seem to have an opinion on is politics. My host grandmother has no use for politicians, Japan and other countries, and her opinion on American politics is much the same. She believes it to be a convoluted mess that is hard to understand and hard to sympathize with.
The high school students that I had a brief chance to interact with seem to have a view of America that is slightly skewed towards the negative side. There was nothing ever overtly directed towards us, but in conversations with them, it was apparent that they did not seem to have a good view of America. My thoughts on why that might be the case is that they haven’t been exposed to American culture as much, combined with the assumption that the only American exposure that they have had is potentially from history classes.
My most positive interaction with Japanese people involving America was most likely with the many college students with whom I became friends. Because college affords many more opportunities to see the world and experience various cultures through class and study abroad, many of my friends were well versed in the ways of American culture just like I am with Japanese culture. It is an interesting feeling to know that a foreigner takes such interest in your culture, and I was definitely intrigued by what my friends had to say about America. To the best of my ability, I gleamed that they truly enjoyed the change of scenery that American media and culture provided and had no real problem with the United States as a whole.
It has been an interesting experience thus far, seeing what my Japanese neighbors feel about my country. It’s interesting to observe because it is probably a similar experience for Japanese people viewing me as an admirer of their culture. I can now better understand myself as well as the image that the United States exhibits through pop culture and social media.
Reflective Journal Entry 4: Food (7/13)
Being an island nation, Japan is heavily reliant on preexisting natural resources in order to sustain its people. Therefore, almost every city in Japan has the unique feature of a food, or more generally animal, specialty that is only available in that particular region and is enjoyed by the locals. Because Japan is a rough equivalent in vertical height to America as well as having approximately the same latitude boundaries, one could imagine that there would be a lot of diversity throughout the country, and that assumption would be correct.
The town which I am staying in for the summer, Hakodate, is located right on the southern coast of the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido, and being a port city, everyday countless numbers of fish and other aquatic life are hauled in and sold. In fact, one of the main attractions of Hakodate is the morning market, or asaichi, where you can purchase seafood that was literally caught as you were in transit to the market. Hakodate’s main specialty, though, was ika, or as it is better known in the United States, squid.
As one might expect, eating habits in the United States are completely different than those in Japan, and that was one thing I had to get used to (and am still getting used to). One of the big things is how breakfast is conducted. Only in Japanese hotels (and even then, usually only the international ones) can typical American breakfast foods be found, and because I am living with a host family, I never see them. That’s not necessarily a problem, but the concept of fish as a large component of morning meals is still hard for me to wrap my head around, and the introduction of squid was one of the more shocking moments I’ve had in Japan.
In Hakodate, squid is revered as a pop icon and as an important cultural delicacy, so I feel that not partaking in it, like not eating a certain item in a meal in Japan, would be seen as rude, so I heartily dig into it each time. The taste is interesting. I don’t have a problem with the taste itself (in fact, it’s quite tasty if cooked the way that my host grandmother usually prepares it), but with a consistency similar to rubber, it’s always an adventure eating it. However, like all of the foods I have tried while in Japan, I approached it with an open mind, and like most of the things I’ve tried, it turned out to be quite tasty.
When I asked my host grandmother why squid was such a popular food in Hakodate, she really didn’t have a concrete answer for me. I found that to be the case with most of the people that I asked, so my take on the matter is that back in ancient times, because the Japanese placed such importance on nature and the existence of otherworldly beings communicating with humans through natural imagery, the importance of squid arose from a connection similar to that in the Hakodate area. Therefore, being able to experience the native cuisine is a sort of historical and cultural lesson, and because of that, it gives me new motivation every time I try a new food in Japan.
Reflective Journal Entry 5: Festivals and Holidays (8/4)
Japan is known for a lot of different interesting things, not the least of which is the sheer volume of festivals and holidays that are celebrated every year. This is an interesting contrast with the United States. There, we celebrate many different occasions, but often times, those sorts of celebrations are limited to a more private celebration, not a public display of affection and adoration for the holiday. These are also often accompanied by vacation days, such as Christmas, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving, and are celebrated amongst family and friends.
In Japan, festivals and holidays are taken much more seriously and to a much greater degree. Vacation days that are not lengthy seasonal holidays from school are not a common occurrence in Japan, but what is extremely common are large public festivals, called matsuri, where the community of a city or prefecture come together to celebrate a cherished holiday, state supported or locally derived.
I have been fortunate to participate in one of these festivals while in Japan, the Hakodate Port Festival that just wrapped up last night. It was a multiday celebration, but due to the restraints that classwork imposed on the students at HIF, we were only really able to participate in a day of the weeklong festivities. However, I discussed with my host grandmother what the importance of that particular festival was. According to her, the Port Festival is a celebration of the port of Hakodate as well as the gifts of the sea, namely the squid that Hakodate has become synonymous with. Because squid, and seafood in general, is so important to the Hakodate community, a festival celebrating those resources doesn’t seem as out of place as an outsider might view the festival as.
My participation was really only limited to the fireworks display, which I viewed from my host family’s house as I studied for the final exam, and the main event of the Port Festival, the Ika Odori, or squid dance. True to the name, it is a dance that involves a lot of wiggling in the fashion of a squid, and it is a deep-seated Hakodate tradition. For the Port Festival, a 1-2 mile long stretch of the main street and tramline are shut down to traffic for a hours-long parade that features nothing but colorful floats adorned with a ton of speakers blasting the theme for the Ika Odori. Accompanying the floats is, literally, the entire population of Hakodate, segmented into various work or school related groups, dancing the Ika Odori for a couple of miles. Many of the HIF students, myself, included, were able to participate, and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. Because of this, I cannot wait to be able to travel to other parts of Japan and experience the many varieties of festivals that I am sure are present in this wondrous country.
Reflective Journal Entry 6: Returning Home (8/9)
Returning home from my trip to Japan has been interesting. The culture shock that I was expecting was minimal, only really occurring a bit when I first got on an American flight service and a little in O’Hare. I have never really had trouble with transitions, but looking back on my travels, I really did experience more of a “culture shock” than I had first believed. Being in a country that is completely different than the one you are used to really does deliver a true “shock” to the system, but it was a positive sort of feeling.
As I am reliving all that I have done over the past two months, it seems like a dream. The fact that I was able to go to a foreign country, one that I have admired and wished to go to ever since middle school, just seems impossible, yet all that I have learned and experienced on the trip only cements into my mind that a return trip is a necessity. What I have learned and what I have experienced thanks to the nation of Japan, its people, and its culture cannot be described adequately in words, but I will make my best effort to articulate my true thoughts.
First, I would like to talk about what the people and the culture have done to influence my life. Through popular culture media, such as Japanese anime and manga as well as J-pop, the works of many Japanese art masters had already heavily influenced me, but I really didn’t have a true appreciation for the cultural meanings behind the art. I really only appreciated the media at face value: for the story and for the art, not what the artist was truly trying to convey through their particular medium. Now, after visiting places that were likely inspiration for those very same artists and absorbing small cultural nuances that I would never have known had I stayed in the United States, I have a more complete understanding of Japanese media, and putting the two halves together gives me a excellent representation of Japanese culture.
The people had an immeasurable impact on my experience in Japan. Before going, I was fully prepared to get the stares due to my height and obvious foreignness, but what I don’t think I was expecting at all was the welcoming attitude that the Japanese people exhibited once used to my presence. It was a welcome surprise to be in the company of such outgoing and friendly people that I was able to quickly and easily become friends with. All of the friends that I made are ones that I will make efforts to keep in contact with as the weeks and months pass by, and I will cherish the memories of Japan that they helped to create.
Due to my experiences in Japan, I believe that I have become a more complete person, not simply because I escaped the cultural boundaries of the United States, but because I made an effort to take a potentially once in a lifetime trip to a different country and learn about things I would never have had the chance to learn if I had stayed in the United States. This experience has taught me more than I could ever have imagined, and I cannot wait for the next opportunity to return and learn more.
Postcard(s) from Abroad:
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Thanks to the SLA Grant, I received a wealth of knowledge and experiences over the summer that cannot be quantified in any way, shape, or manner. Having undergone some personal firsts for myself in the forms of a study abroad program and summer classwork, I now have a better appreciation for my own personal study of Japanese language and culture. Having to quickly acclimate to an extremely challenging classroom environment, far different than what I had been used to at Notre Dame, I quickly came to appreciate the bonus of being in the native country of the language that I was studying. The difficulty in getting work done on a daily basis was nicely offset by the practice I received through interacting with the local Japanese people and learning more about the culture of Hakodate as well as that of Japan. For me, the challenge of cultural differences was just another opportunity to interact and gain valuable practice in the language while also picking up on the slight nuances that make Japanese culture different from American culture. I definitely believe that the goals that I set for myself before going abroad have been achieved in full and then some. Because of my experiences, I have elevated my language abilities to a whole new level, and my understanding of the culture and history of Japan has grown tremendously as well. This was an unbelievable experience for me, and if I was given the opportunity to do it again, I would in a heartbeat.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
My experience with the SLA grant has changed my life in ways that I cannot even begin to describe. For anyone who is considering a study abroad program but is unsure whether they would like it or whether it is a good decision in the scope of their college career, I would advise them that what you can take from a study abroad program is worth its weight in gold and then some. As a result of going to Japan, I now have a much better global perspective and can tackle post graduation plans much more aggressively and with a wider focus. Not only have I now had the experience of an intense work environment, but I also now have experience with living in a country that is vastly different than what I am used to in America. I am hoping that I can use what I have learned through my experiences in a future job and/or graduate program in Japanese studies. Again, if someone was questioning whether or not a study abroad experience was a good idea, I would do my best to convince them to go because it can be a life changing experience.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
A big reason why I decided to study abroad was because I was not sure about what I wanted to do after graduating from college, and my hope was that by doing a study abroad program and experiencing the world outside of the United States, my post-graduation plans would become clearer. While that has not been an immediate success, I would say that my experience through the SLA Grant has given me a wider outlook on possibilities that exist in the world. I know now that there are many possibilities available to me as both a chemistry major and as a Japanese major. I now look forward to discovering what types of jobs or post-graduate study programs are available to me now that I have used the SLA Grant to broaden my knowledge of a foreign language and culture.