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Saint Mary’s introduces Japan summer study abroad program

| Monday, April 29, 2019

Saint Mary’s has teamed up with Ochanomizu University (OU) to provide students with new opportunities in Japan.

The program was first proposed two years ago by Dr. Alice Yang, associate director for international education at the College.

“[The Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership] has been trying to offer more study abroad opportunities for our students,” Yang said in an email. “Some students expressed interest in Japan and the Japanese language in the past.”

Yang said the process Saint Mary’s went through to set up its partnership with OU included a fair amount of communication with representatives from Japan.

“I attended the Generation Study Abroad Summit of the Institute of International Education (IIE) in November 2016 and met Mr. Hideki Yonekawa, the [vice president] of JASSO (Japan Student Services Organization) at the conference,” Yang said. “I consulted with him and asked him to recommend a Japanese partner to us. I received an email from Ms. Noriko Watanabe, the Exchange Program Coordinator of Ochanomizu University in January 2017 telling me that Mr. Yonekawa recommended Saint Mary’s College to them.”

The process to bring the schools together continued over the next couple months.

“Ms. Watanabe and Dr. Yasuko Sasaki, [vice president] for International Relations of Ochanomizu University visited Saint Mary’s College in March 2017,” Yang said. “They met with the president and were impressed by our beautiful campus. They sent us their sample [Memorandum of Understanding] right after their visit and would like to sign an exchange agreement with Saint Mary’s College. After a couple of years, the agreement has been officially signed by both parties.”

OU has historical significance that makes it appealing to Saint Mary’s, Yang said.

“OU is located in Tokyo [the] capital of Japan. It was Japan’s first institution of higher education [for] women and is one of the top 10 national universities in Japan,” she said.

There was a period of time when representatives from both OU and Saint Mary’s met to iron out the details.

“The CWIL director, Dr. Mana Derakhshani, and I attended the 2018 [National Association of Foreign Student Advisers] Conference in Philadelphia and met with OU’s [vice president] for International Affairs again and her two staff members,” Yang said. “I visited OU for the site visit in October 2018, and Mr. Derek Matsuda, OU’s exchange program coordinator also visited SMC in November 2018. The Global Education Advisory Committee discussed and approved it. President Nekvasil signed the agreement in January 2019.”

Yang said the exact specifications of the agreement involves the number of students that can be sent by both schools and what they’re doing.

“The agreement allows Saint Mary’s to send up to four students to attend OU’s summer program while OU can send one student to study for a year at Saint Mary’s or two students study abroad at Saint Mary’s for one semester per year,” Yang said.

OU has already sent several students to Saint Mary’s.

“We hosted five [of] OU’s STEM students in March this year,” Yang said. “They stayed at Saint Mary’s for nine days, audited some science and math classes and attended some academic and cultural events. This was our first time to offer the International Women in STEM Program per the request of OU. The students had a great experience at Saint Mary’s College and had made friends with some Saint Mary’s Peace Belles. OU plans to send more students to study at Saint Mary’s College next year and extend the short-term program to two-weeks long.”

The Japan program is open to all majors and class years. There are no Japanese language requirements, but students are welcome to take classes in Japanese, Yang said. Students are allowed four course options over the summer.

“Four courses are offered over the summer,” Yang said. “Students can earn three credits by taking the Intensive Japanese course or one of the three English courses: Gender Equality and Leadership, Life Style in Japan and Evolution in Natural Science: From Being to Becoming. The English courses can fulfill some Sophia requirements [like] historical perspectives, intercultural competence A or B.”

Student reactions to the Japan program have been positive, like that of Emily Tobias, first year math and computer science major.

“I think it’s probably very useful for people who are interested in Japanese culture,” Tobias said.

Some students, like first year environmental studies major Hannah Toepp, are also excited for the learning opportunities in Asia.

“I think that’s a great opportunity to learn about a culture so different from our own, experience traditions that would seem out of the ordinary here and to learn about the advancements in technology that Japan is constantly developing,” Toepp said.

Yang placed her own emphasis on the importance of studying in Japan.

“Asia is one of the non-traditional study abroad destinations. The Japan summer program helps diversify our study abroad offerings,” Yang said. “The study abroad alumnae will bring back the knowledge and skills they learned in Japan and share their study abroad experiences with their peers on campus, which enriches students’ international and intercultural learning on campus.”

Yang also said her main hope for students studying abroad in Japan is they make friendships and help contribute to the sharing of experiences.

“I hope students will take the opportunity to learn the Japanese culture and Asian values,” she said. “I encourage them to make friends with Japanese students and international students from other countries and serve as cultural ambassadors by sharing the U.S. cultures with local students.”


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