By Julia Di Simone
It has been over one month since this year’s class of 117 American Studies Program (ASP) students from China, South Korea, Thailand, Peru and Japan arrived on campus. Keisuke Nakajima, Ayaka Ishikawa Taiga Hakoyama and Mao Inoue are four Japanese students studying abroad at Willamette to make American friends, experience life in the United States and reach English fluency. I sat down with each of them to learn about their experiences transitioning to life at Willamette and bridging cultural gaps to make friends on campus.
Nakajima was first inspired to travel to the United States when he watched the first “Fast and the Furious” movie as a child.
“I thought it was awesome,” Nakajima shared. 15 years later, as he planned to study abroad, Nakajima wanted to travel to either the U.S. or Canada. Hakoyama and Ishikawa also shared that it was their dream to study abroad in the U.S.
Most of this group selected Willamette because of its close relationship with Tokyo International University (TIU), their home university. Inoue and Ishikawa learned that the ASP program is excellent for learning English, which is their main goal in studying abroad. Inoue shared, “I come to improve my English skills. So this program is a good program for me.”
For Nakajima, classes at Tokyo International University of America (TIUA) are “totally different” from classes in Japan. Here, the classes are smaller and based on discussions rather than the lectures he is used to. All four students said they prefer this style of learning, even though TIUA classes are generally more difficult. While TIUA has a reputation in Japan for assigning plenty of homework, there is even more work assigned here.
These ASP students are constantly challenging themselves to practice English throughout each day. Inoue is working on her pronunciation skills so she can be even better understood by Americans. To that end, she watches English-language television shows on Netflix. She is also joining intramural indoor soccer on her own, without any Japanese-speaking friends in order to fully immerse herself in English. “If I join with a Japanese friend,” Inoue explains, “I will speak Japanese.”
It takes bravery to immerse oneself in local student life while studying abroad. While it’s nerve-racking to approach strangers and introduce himself, Hakoyama shares that “the biggest chance is maybe Goudy, during dinner” to make new friends. Therefore, every meal at Goudy, Nakajima and Hakoyama sit with an American student they don’t know, making new acquaintances every day. After sitting with someone new at Goudy, Inoue makes sure to connect with add them on Facebook Messenger so they can stay in touch.
“I have to say,” Nakajima expressed, “Americans are so nice.”
Nakajima hopes to make friends with someone he can make summer break travel plans. Ishikawa loves making friends at the Community Service Learning (CSL) office’s weekly Service Saturdays. Her favorite volunteering experience thus far was painting the gym at the La Casita youth community center. Hakoyama loves playing with Nerf club on Saturday nights in Smullin and Walton. He says he is grateful to have more free time at Willamette, since he does not have to commute to school. He gets to spend that time playing sports with friends at Sparks Field, working out daily at Sparks Gym and doing his homework.
When I asked the students what they enjoy about life in the U.S., each student expressed their love for Oregon’s natural beauty and the kindness of people here. Each of them love immersing themselves in nature on and off-campus, and love that cars let pedestrians cross the road here. Ishikawa loves living with roommates and Nakajima loves eating cafeteria-style at Goudy. Nakajima also remarks that gender-neutral restrooms are new to him, and he was awed that LGBT people’s sexualities and gender identities are openly expressed here, “instead of hiding,” as Nakajima said they often are in Japan.
This year, Ishikawa wants to continue volunteering and embrace a leadership role at the CSL. Inoue will continue being active on campus when she dances at Lu’au this April.
Inoue shared, “my goal is to speak English fluently and make a Willamette student friend who is a best friend.”
Nakajima and Hakoyama aim to take Willamette classes this fall, which becomes available to some ASP students after taking spring classes at TIUA. Nakajima hopes to stay on at Willamette, not only for the year-long ASP program, but also through graduation. Nakajima wishes to study business and economics at WU and eventually work in the U.S. Inoue and Hakoyama are both aiming to earn jobs which require fluency in English. Hakoyama shares, “my dream is to work at an airport. So I have to speak English. So I come here to practice English.”