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Home away from home

by Sarah Haghi & Mia Noren,
Staff Writer & Contributor

Do you remember the nervous excitement building in your stomach as you walked around the Willamette campus for the first time? Seeing all the unfamiliar faces in an unfamiliar place, wondering what your new life will be like.

Now, add intense culture shock and the lengthy hibernation of the sun in the first week of newfound independence and adult responsibility.

Put yourself in the shoes of the 98 new American Studies Program (ASP) students that arrive in less than a week on Feb. 8.

The 2016 ASP class is made up of 47 males and 51 females and represents a wide range of majors, including language communications, international relations, business and commerce, economics, human sciences and social sciences.

While all of the ASP students come from the Tokyo International University (TIU), the partner university of the Tokyo International University of America (TIUA) here at Willamette, not all come from Japan. One student hails from China and another is from Peru.

Within Japan, the ASP students are from places as widespread across the country as Willamette students are from across the U.S.

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A change of pace
The TIU is largely a commuter campus, where many students live at home and some even commute two hours to the university, said Shinn.

“There is not really a sense of residential life on campus. Coming to Willamette is almost like being a freshman again, [speaking almost exclusively] in your second language, and on top of that, learning to live with a roommate.”

While cross-cultural interactions may be intimidating for most people, the ASP program provides a valuable opportunity for both Willamette and ASP students. Every person you meet, no matter their nationality, comes from a different background; everyday you run into intercultural conversations and meeting the ASP students is only another chance for more diverse conversations.


Will the smoking ban affect new ASP students?
It is significantly less common to see people lighting up a cigarette in public today in both Japan and the U.S. than it was just 10 years ago. As of 2014, Japan’s smoking rate has fallen below 20 percent for the first time since 1965, as reported by The Japan Times. However for some, tobacco remains a significant aspect of life in Japan.

“Japan has long been a smokers’ stronghold. Cheap cigarettes sold by a government-controlled tobacco company and lax antismoking laws — smokers have almost total freedom to light up at bars, restaurants and even schools and government offices — have long encouraged the habit,” said Hiroko Tabuchi, a Tokyo business correspondent for The New York Times.

According to The Guardian, tobacco sales in Japan surpassed those in the United States. Further, laws against public smoking in Japan are not nearly as restrictive as those in America, raising the question of whether or not the smoking ban will significantly affect the arriving ASP students.

“Students have chosen to come to Willamette knowing that campus is now smoke-free, and [TIUA and Willamette University] will continue a lot of education around smoking and being respectful of the community rules as is done every year in orientation,” said Sarah Shinn, the associate director of student life at  TIUA.

Shinn also noted that she does not think that the ban will impact ASP students’ decision to study here– no more than if a student smoker in the U.S. had to decide whether they wanted to go to a smoke-free university.


“We didn’t talk, but we communicated.”
Abby Bernhard, the community mentor of Terra Residence Hall, shared her experience when she roomed with an ASP student during her first semester at Willamette.

“Honestly, I was really not looking forward to having an ASP student as a roommate. I thought there would be too many cultural differences and that we wouldn’t have anything to talk about or have anything in common.”

Bernhard said she could recall thinking, “How can we be best friends if we can’t even really talk to each other?” However, she and her roommate grew closer over time.

“It ended up being a really wonderful friendship,” Bernhard said. She described their adventures together: trips to the Kaneko pool, going to Safeway for the first time and spending Thanksgiving together at the Bernhard household.

Communication was difficult, but that didn’t stop the roommates from connecting.

“We didn’t talk but we communicated,” Bernhard said.  The two continue to keep in touch and send each other pictures and updates on their lives.

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Bridging the gap
Shinn addressed the potential concern of finding ways to break language barriers.

“In some of the schools at TIU, particularly in the School of Language Communication, the professors teach in a style similar to Willamette professors; discussion based and smaller groups. Some of the students are more used to speaking English depending on the English language requirements of their major. However, many of them are a little shy speaking English with native speakers because they want their English to be perfect.”

First year Ilana Mass offered an explanation as to why there may be a disconnect between the ASP and Willamette students, drawing from her own experience with an ASP roommate last semester.

“It’s the way the system is set up. When we get here, the ASP students have already been here for a semester and then when they get here, we’ve already been here for a semester. In the first semester, people start to establish friendships and connections, so coming into that situation as a new person can make it even harder to connect with others,” she said.

Mass also explained her perspective, as someone who took a gap year and went abroad between high school and college, on why it can be so hard to come to a completely new environment.

“When I was traveling, I found myself being drawn to those who spoke my language. Immersing yourself in a second language is so scary.”

The ASP students are in a challenging situation as a wide ocean separates them from their family and friends, and they must speak almost exclusively in a language that is not native to them.

Bernhard shared some advice on how to make communication with the ASP students easier for both parties.

“The basics are speak slowly and use [simpler] words. Also be more expressive– you can use hand motions. But overall just be patient with them. Know that they are in a completely foreign environment and  know that the language may take some time but they know what’s going on and they’ve been studying a lot to come here.”

Bernhard suggests doing things outside of class or dorm rooms to bridge the cultural gap with the ASP students.

“Go tour the Capitol. Or explore Bush Park. Or go to the riverside. Or go have a meal,” she said.

“It’s easier to get to know ASP students because there’s so much you don’t know. With an American student you’re taking the same classes and living in the same space but from an ASP student you have so much to learn,” Bernhard said.


Transitioning to life at WU
For many ASP students, this is their first time living away from home, as well as being in a new country. To add to the already mounting apprehension, they are arriving in winter when dreary skies rule the week.

Shinn said that what many of the ASP students remember from their first week is all the students at the chicken fountain. She said that many students commented that it was really cool that everyone was there to say hi to them and welcome them.

Risa Kikuchi related her experience as an ASP student and what people did that was most helpful for the adjustment period.

“We had some tutors, roommates and friends. They helped us with things such as studying and lifestyle. Also, they taught us about American culture. We could stay at some friend’s houses. So, we got real American culture like food, language and family life. It was a really great experience” said Kikuchi.

The ASP class is scheduled to arrive around 12:30 PM on Feb. 8, though Bryan Schmidt, Director of Campus Recreation, will be sending updates to a special e-mail Listserv if the arrival time changes.

A welcome party featuring speeches and a capella performances will be held that night in Goudy from 4:30 to 6 p.m. to greet the new students. Willamette students are encouraged to attend the event and make some new friends.

ASP students are also Willamette students. While they are here, this is their home, their school and their community. We hope you welcome them with open arms and a friendly “Kon’nichiwa” (hello).




For students without a meal plan who are interested in attending the welcome event at Goudy, a limited number of spaces are available. To reserve a space, email Sarah Shinn at <sshinn@willamette.edu> by Thursday, Feb. 4.

For more ideas on how to connect with the new ASP students or to be added to the ASP arrival e-mail Listserv contact Bryan Schmidt at <bschmidt@willamette.edu>.