Postcards from Abroad: UNO Students Spend Summer Abroad in Japan
Nearly two dozen University of New Orleans undergraduate students recently spent five weeks studying in Kyoto, Japan, more than six thousand miles from campus.
"This is our fifth year bringing UNO students to Kyoto, an experience that gives UNO students the opportunity to study in the Far East, and it is the only one of its kind in Louisiana," said Mary Hicks, program director of the UNO-Japan: Study at Doshisha University program. "We like to boast that our students come away from this program with not only knowledge, but also a deeper understanding of Japan and its language, culture, and people."
Professor Linda Blanton, academic director on the program, adds, "I would also argue that students benefit in so many more ways that cannot be quantified. They leave New Orleans with an open mind and an open heart, which are subsequently filled with such things as a sense of self in the world, self-confidence, lifelong friendships, and a love of learning that hopefully will last a lifetime."
The undergraduates arrived May 26 in Kyoto, an ancient city that for more than 1,000 years served as the imperial capital of Japan. As one of the oldest and most famous cities in Asia, Kyoto boasts more than 2,000 ancient shrines and temples, as well as serene parks, bustling business districts and sundry street markets. Students stayed in a residence hall and study in classrooms at Doshisha University, the program's host institution, until June 29. Doshisha is a prestigious private university that has educated Japanese students for nearly 150 years and UNO students are housed and educated on the University's uptown or "Imadegawa" campus.
Classes and Coursework
The UNO-Japan program's origins can be traced back to Professor Noriko Ito Krenn, of the UNO Honors Program. Krenn is a graduate of Doshisha University and was assigned by the director of the UNO Honors Program and director of the Division of International Education to find a way to offer study abroad opportunities for UNO's Honors Students. Krenn now serves as Associate Director of the UNO-Japan program and provides a crucial link between UNO and Doshisha, as well as the Honors Program and the Division of International Education.
On the UNO-Japan program, each participant takes two classes, for a total of six credit hours, and honors options are available, Hicks said. This year, the program offers two English classes, a history class and three Japanese language classes: Basic Japanese I, Basic Japanese II and Intermediate Japanese II.
English classes are designed to help students more deeply understand Japanese lore and culture. In one course, "Geisha and Other Icons: Exploring Japanese Culture and Ghosts," students explore iconic themes of Japan's cultural past though memoirs and biography in the classroom or library, then gather field observations during walking tours, dance performances,and visits to historic gardens, and interaction with local Japanese people. In the other, called "Ghosts, Monsters and Spirits: Horror and the Uncanny in a Japanese Context," students focus on Japan's rich literary history of ghosts, spirits, demons, monsters and other "supernatural" beings captured in Japanese prose, narrative, film and theater.
The history class, entitled "Mad Monks and Machiya: A Cultural History of Kyoto," takes a close look at Kyoto's role as an important cultural center and major urban area, tracking how the city's cultural, political and economic roles changed as the nation's political center shifted east to Tokyo. Students will explore representations of the old capital and its inhabitants in literature, painting, theater, food, religion and other cultural categories – and take a closer look at political, social, economic and international exchange developments – while enjoying in-class field trips to the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Shôkokuji Temple and museums.
Time for Travel
Classes at Doshisha run Monday through Friday, leaving weekends wide open for exploration. On three Saturdays, the students enjoy field trips organized by UNO's Division of International Education. The first takes students around the city of Kyoto to see primary sites the students should not miss, such as Nijo Castle, Ginkaku Temple and Kiyomizu Temple, said Hicks.
The second is to the nearby big city of Osaka, Japan's third largest city, where students see such sites as the Floating Garden Observatory, Osaka Castle and the Osaka Museum of History. They also enjoy a lunch of "okonomiyaki," a popular pancake-like dish made of flour, egg and other ingredients and topped with pork, squid, shrimp -- or some combination that is the diner's favorite -- "or other delicious ingredients," Hicks said.
On the third Saturday, students visited Nara, a small city and ancient Japanese capital known for its rolling hills and serene countryside. The ancient Japanese capital is an important site for Zen Buddhism and the indigenous Japanese religion of Shinto, said Hicks. In Nara, free-roaming deer meander unchecked through city streets and central parks – and on Saturday, "every year, our students enjoyed feeding them," said Hicks.
The field trip to Nara "is more of 'old Japan' than the other two trips, although 'old Japan' surrounds us here in Kyoto," said Hicks in correspondence.
"Tomodachi" Means "Friend"
Another unique component of the UNO-Japan experience is called the "Tomodachi Program." The program pairs UNO-Japan undergraduate students with local Doshisha students who volunteer to have lunch and "hang out" with UNO students, practicing language skills at lunchtime and touring the city during free time.
Tomodachi means "friend" in Japanese.
"It really is an invaluable way to deepen our students' experience here in Japan," said Hicks, "and provides a vehicle for them to really connect with Japanese culture and people."