Students get personal look at life in Japan

An annual short-term study abroad opportunity gave Trine University students the opportunity to experience life in Japan up close.

Four students joined Mari McHenry, director of international community services, and students from the University of Hawaii for the 2018 Hakuoh International Study Program at Hakuoh University in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan.

The program took place June 6-15 and included two days where students stayed with host families to see what normal life in Japan is like.

The experience also included Japanese language and culture workshops, a shopping trip to practice ordering skills in the Japanese language, events with Hakuoh University students, sightseeing in Nikko, a World Heritage Site, as well as Utsunomiya and Tokyo, and a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

Students said staying with their host families was the highlight of the trip.

“Even though we only had two days and one night together, I bonded a lot with my host family,” said Cole Yagodinski, a sophomore from Angola, Indiana. “They not only accepted me into their home, they were extremely kind, caring and giving.”

“The activities with my host family were all themed around exploring the ‘normal’ life of what a Japanese family would do for fun,” said Jarod Davis, a junior from Angola, Indiana. “We went to an aquarium, the underground Oya stone museum, to Utsunomiya shopping, and a humongous park that stretched at least a mile or more with adorable ponds scattered throughout it. The hospitality and friendship I experienced make me want to return.”

Andrea Ramon Vargas, a graduate student from Ecuador, said being with her host family truly made her feel at home.

“Having breakfast, going shopping and eating together while using Google Translate to communicate are experiences I will always remember,” she said. “I really appreciate the kindness each member of the family had for me and the love and time they shared with me.”

“Each day brought something different to admire, from going sightseeing to historic Japanese temples, shrines and cities, to visiting more modern aspects of Japan and witnessing the daily lives of its people,” said Cameron Brown, a junior from Taylor, Michigan. “There was always a lesson to take away from every day.”

Brown said he also enjoyed the opportunity to develop friendships with other students from Japan and the United States.

“From waking up every morning and having breakfast together, walking around the train stations and Harvest Walk in Oyama City, to getting together and heading to dinner together, it felt like a happy family,” he said. “It was those little moments that helped us all bond as a group which, to me, made this trip even more enjoyable.”

Yagodinski said the program even allowed him to develop new tastes.

“Before this trip I actually hated fish,” he said. “Since that’s all they served us the first half of the program, I not only got used to it, I found out that it was more of a childish mental block and I actually like fish.”

Ramon Vargas was able to share about her experiences as an international student living in the United States with Japanese students planning to study here.

“It was fantastic to encourage them to take the risk, go study abroad, and get out of their comfort zone,” she said.

The program closed with students from Trine and Hawaii giving presentations on their experience to members of the Hakuoh University community.

“The students we take on this trip always do a fabulous job of representing Trine University,” said McHenry. “My hope is that those who participate in the program each year will have a broader perspective of life, and will understand the importance of being embraced in a host community. No matter where you are from, inclusion is a universal feeling.”

Participants also received certificates of completion at a closing ceremony. Trine undergraduate students are awarded two hours of humanities electives for participating in the Japan Summer Study Abroad Program.

Cameron Brown
Cole Yagodinksi
Cameron Brown (top) and Cole Yagodinski with their host families in Japan.