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Japanese Experiences Open New Worlds for Students

March 30, 2012

Year after year, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology students discover their college experience can take them well beyond the United States.

Established relationships with Japanese universities have long been a benefit offered Rose-Hulman students. This year has been no different, and many took advantage of the opportunity to participate in a wide range of activities overseas. 

   Learning Japanese Culture: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology students have fun learning the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming during a recent two-week trip to Japan's Ishikawa Prefectural University.

Chris Taylor believes the recent two weeks he spent in Japan were not only good career preparation, but quite memorable.

"It's a very positive atmosphere," says the sophomore mechanical engineering major. "I miss the personal service most from Japan.  They have amazing service everywhere.  Everyone wants to do a good job."

Taylor spent February 21 to March 3 travelling throughout the island with a team of 20 students, helping produce tourist maps for European travelers. Given the task at hand involved tourism, Taylor was sleeping on futons and buckwheat pillows one night, and dining in downtown Tokyo the next. 

"I'm very proficient with chopsticks now," he laughed, explaining that noodles are the toughest food to eat with the traditional Asian eating implements. Rice, on the other hand, was much easier. All of the food was good, he said, but a particular specialty that mixed pork and chicken deep-fried in a cracker batter was his favorite when dipped into sesame seed syrup. 

Taylor was happily recounting his travels about the same time that three of his classmates were starting their own Japanese adventures. Donna Marsh, Kelly Macshane, and Dylan Kessler are participating in a three-month academic program this spring at the University of Aizu as part of an educational exchange between the two leading engineering and science institutions.

Kessler, a sophomore majoring in software engineering, reported by e-mail that he is ready to begin classes in computer science, while making time to learn about the people there.

"I have always been interested in Japanese culture, ever since I was a little kid," he writes.  "Also, when I was first looking at Rose-Hulman, I spoke at length with Dr. (Cary) Laxer (head of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering) about study-abroad opportunities. He told me about his time on sabbatical at Aizu. When the opportunity came around to apply for the program, I jumped at the chance and I got to go for the program."

Starting International Journey: Students (from left) Donna Marsh, Kelly Macshane, and Dylan Kessler have started learning about Japanese culture and lifestyles before beginning studies this spring at Japan's University of Aizu.

Likewise, Taylor became interested in travel early in his college career. At the end of his freshman year, an e-mail promoting the mapping project was sent to the student body, and he immediately jumped at the chance. To qualify, he had to complete a number of required courses, including those covering Japanese culture and geography. Once finished, he and 20 fellow students were on their way.  The journey was led by professors Scott Clark, professor of anthropology, and Mike Kukral, associate professor of geography.

Both Kessler and Taylor remarked at how the experience improved their language skills, as cultural immersion necessitates quick learning.

"Basically, we got over there and we were talking with the Japanese students," Taylor recalls. "I got a piece of paper out and started writing down the phrases I knew we'd use most."

In less than two weeks, Taylor tripled his vocabulary. One of the first words he learned was the Japanese word for "Yes," which sounds similar to the American expression, "Hey." Japanese students would come up to him and speak in their native language, and as Taylor nodded, responding with a casual, "Hey," they assumed he was answering "Yes" to their question of whether or not he spoke Japanese. 

"The best way to learn a language is to just immerse yourself in it, and then you have to learn it," says Taylor, who served as master of ceremony for the Rose-Hulman group's final presentation on the mapping project in front of students and faculty members at Japan's Ishikawa Prefectural University.

A Japanese official reported by e-mail: "RHIT students were very considerate splendid students . . . I think that IPU students came under a very good influence of RHIT students. We are pleased with this project having been possible very much."

Kessler and Taylor believe becoming familiar with Japanese will help them later in life, whether their careers take them into the field of mechanical engineering or software development.

"It's very beneficial," Taylor says, pointing out the number of American manufacturing companies with plants in Japan.  The fact that it's fun just makes it better.