This summer, it was my privilege to study at Akita International University, in beautiful Akita Prefecture, Japan.
I chose AIU for a number of reasons. First, AIU has a very well regarded language program, and it was my goal to study the Japanese language. Second, the six week summer course fit into my schedule, between my summer job and my courses at Binghamton University. Finally, I love plants and nature! When I heard about Akita Prefecture’s famous for rice fields and stunning cedar forests, I knew that’s where I wanted to go.
The hardest part of the study abroad program was the paperwork. Because I was applying through SUNY Oswego, I had to do paperwork for three colleges – SUNY Binghamton, SUNY Oswego, and AIU. I was determined to get into the program, so I was nervous about making a mistake in the application. Luckily, everything went well, but I often had trouble understanding the requirements of the application process. I recommend that applicants ask a lot of questions if they don’t understand something – there are many people at the host university (and here at BU) who can help.
Language courses at AIU were very similar to the courses offered at BU, although they move much faster. We covered roughly one chapter of the Genki textbook every week, as well as several essays and a weekly presentation. However, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, and the professors were all incredibly patient and helpful. Additionally, classes only took from 3 to 4 hours each day. The rest of the time we were free to explore Akita, go shopping, join clubs, or just relax with friends. There were also several day trips to scenic locations, as well as culture classes.
I’ll never forget my first visit to a Buddhist temple. The head priest instructed us on Zen sitting meditation, and showed us around the hall. The golden decorations, the smell of the incense, the tatami floors and the lotus pond all created an atmosphere of otherworldly serenity. The priest told us that the temple was 600 years old, and that the building itself was about 200 years old. He himself was the 34th in his family to be head priest. Sitting meditation itself was more painful than I expected (I’m not used to sitting in a lotus position!) but when we heard the bell that signaled the end of the meditation period, I think we all wished that we could stay longer.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t make more of an effort to make friends with the Japanese students at AIU. My roommate was very busy, so we seldom had a chance to talk. Additionally, the summer students have their own separate classes, so it’s difficult to meet Japanese students except at social gatherings. Although I made many close friends, I wish I had gotten to know many people better while I was at AIU.
In the end, I wasn’t surprised at how different everything was, but rather at how similar people are all around the world. Even though I was on the other side of the planet, everyone still had the same worries and needs. Japanese students struggle with tests and essays, just like American students. Japanese teachers are committed to their students, and those students love their favorite professors, just like we love ours here at Binghamton. Cafeteria food is still terrible, even in Japan! Under our superficial differences, everyone shares one human experience.
Halley Paulson, an Asian and Asian American Studies major, who studied abroad at Akita International University in Japan