Each year, Baylor University’s intensive summer Japanese language program allows its students to spend time in Japan honing their skills and adding to their knowledge of the country. The program, directed by Yuko Prefume, a lecturer in Japanese in Baylor’s Department of Modern Languages and Cultures in the College of Arts & Sciences, combines both intensive Japanese language study and service learning experiences.
Eric Sumlin took part in the Baylor in Japan program during the summer of 2014 before graduating from the University in December 2014 with an undergraduate degree in psychology and neuroscience. In this essay, Eric looks back on his time in Japan and reflects on what he learned through the program.
I’ve been interested in Japan and its culture since I was a child, and for the greater part of my years, travelling to Japan and experiencing the culture, both traditional and modern, has been a life-long dream of mine. After my study abroad experience through Baylor, I can honestly say that my hopes and expectations have not only been met, but have been exceeded by a wide margin.
My experience studying abroad in Japan was far from leisurely, but that’s precisely what made the venture enriching and worthwhile. The rigor of class followed by an extensive agenda of activities served to impel our understanding of the material in a way that simply cannot be fully reconstructed in a classroom setting, and made for an experience like no other.
There was never a dull moment, as we experienced Japan and what it has to offer more thoroughly than I ever would have imagined possible. One day we would be taking Taiko lessons, another we would be watching an authentic Kabuki performance, and another we would be touring a historical museum; and all the while we would be communicating using the language we were learning, and experiencing the culture presented in the textbooks first-hand.
In addition to the plethora of activities that we partook in, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the most good-natured people I’ve ever encountered. Everywhere we went, people greeted us with smiling faces, generosity and understanding. Be they tour guides, college students, or even convenience store workers and local heroes, the hospitality of the Japanese people made me feel at home in a country on the other side of the world, and immersed in a culture that was completely different from my own.
Studying abroad in Japan was my first encounter with both travelling overseas, and travelling such a distance without the supervision of my parents. While my professor was an excellent supervisor, the exposure to such an unfamiliar situation fostered personal growth in such a way that I lack the words to accurately describe.
After my study abroad program, I returned to the States a different person — changed both by the amiable and proud spirit of the Japanese people and by the emergence of aspects of my own character that I, myself was unaware of. The growth I underwent over the course of my trip in Japan not only served to enrich my experience overseas, but will also have a significantly positive effect on my future. I gained a sense of initiative, independence, and confidence that not only enriched my experience overseas, but has begun to manifest itself in a more positive and rewarding lifestyle back home.
Although I was initially apprehensive about taking such a large step outside of my comfort zone, my experience in Japan has left me with an indescribable sense of fulfillment, and I would encourage anyone who is considering studying abroad to take the opportunity should it present itself; you will not be disappointed.