Thirteen Joliet Junior College students’ lives were forever changed this summer when they studied abroad in Japan for three weeks. According to Eric Gorder, a JJC fine arts professor and facilitator of the study abroad group, the students not only gained a new, global perspective on the world, but studying abroad also helped them become more aware of what they learned about Japanese culture.
Gorder, who has also been a facilitator for the college’s study abroad trips to Japan in the past, taught Introduction to Global Studies to the JJC students through Ehime University, a school that JJC has a partnership with in Matsuyama, Japan. He also acted as a guide when the group went exploring in Matsuyama, Kyoto, Tokyo and Hiroshima.
Gorder said that students who study abroad get to learn in a different way than other students do – many social norms in the United States are different in Japan, and being integrated into a new lifestyle is the most authentic way to experience a new culture.
“Within JJC’s study abroad program to Japan, you get to learn about a new culture in an exciting way. It’s a short time frame – two weeks in the classroom during the entire three week trip,” Gorder said. “But you get to learn about a different culture firsthand by looking around, digesting it all, learning to navigate around the country and talking to others. It’s so vital to learn about different cultures in our global economy.”
One big cultural difference is that Japanese adults have an obligation and responsibility to the community to keep the neighborhood in which they live neat and tidy. Recycling is also taken very seriously – with different items needing to be recycled and separated in ways U.S. citizens would not be familiar with.
In Gorder’s Global Studies class, students took what they were learning outside the classroom and applied it to what they were doing inside the classroom. They also had time to reflect – Gorder asked them to keep a logbook of their experiences.
While the students were in Japan, they also had an opportunity to stay with a Japanese family for a weekend. JJC student Joshua Bermejo of Romeoville said that he would never forget the unique experience he had.
“I stayed with the Morishima family. It was a fun learning experience because I learned the traditional life of a Japanese family,” Bermejo said. “I admit I was nervous at first, but they were very kind.”
During the weekend, he stayed in the Morishima’s guest room, which included a tatami mat (typical flooring for a traditional Japanese room) and futon. The family taught him more about Japanese home cooked meals and table manners. He went grocery shopping with them, accompanied them to a family barbeque in rural Japan, and visited a Shinto shrine in the Ishite-Ji temple, where he was introduced to how the family practiced their religion together.
The Shinto shrine was only one of many shrines and temples Bermejo got to see in Japan. The group visited several throughout the country, including one temple that Gorder had never heard of before – the Ryogen-in temple. Gorder decided to make the unexpected trip when the group was eager to explore something different.
“It was such a small temple, maybe four feet by 20 feet, but it was really interesting. This place was really unheard of and the 14 of us were there by ourselves for most of our stay,” Gorder said. “It was really interesting, the history and the culture of this temple. I think we’ll definitely go back to that one again.”
Gorder’s major goal of the trip was to teach the students how to navigate through a foreign country – learning how to get to places, order food, and explore through the language barrier. This was important to Gorder because once the students started to understand this, they became more confident in their surroundings.
Bermejo said he was glad he decided to study abroad. “It was easily affordable, and because of my experience I am now more aware of what I’ve learned,” he said.
According to BestCollegesOnline.com, the average student in the United States chooses to study abroad in his or her junior year. Thanks to JJC, there are study abroad opportunities for freshmen and sophomores, and because JJC is a community college, it’s often cheaper.
In addition to the three-week study abroad trip to Japan every summer, JJC offers study abroad opportunities in China, Austria, Costa Rica, England, France, Ireland, Spain and more. The college works with the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs (ICISP), so if a student wants to study somewhere that JJC does not specifically offer, they can do so through the ICISP.
“As a campus, JJC wants to broaden their students’ minds and show them how there are so many different cultures that you can experience,” said Tamara Brattoli, JJC’s international education coordinator. “There’s much more outside of where you are now. There’s so much more to see.”
Students who would like to study abroad in Japan should apply through JJC’s International Education program by October.
For more information about studying abroad in Japan or for the study abroad program at JJC, visit http://www.jjc.edu/academics/divisions/arts-sciences/english-world-lang/international-education/Pages/study-abroad.aspx, or contact Brattoli at firstname.lastname@example.org.