Students take worldly approach to study abroad

by Sang Woo Kim

Staff Writer

A University of Tokyo student set to spend a year as an exchange student in Illinois this summer doesn’t think English skill is the only thing that matters when going to the United States.

He thinks curiosity, knowledge and a spirit of adventure also carry weight when representing Japan in a new country and new environment. So he launched a study group to get just that kind of experience before leaving Japan.

The Japanese International Student Society, set up by Yoshihiko Kichikawa, 20, and other friends who plan to study abroad this summer, is delving into current events linked to Japan to get a grip on issues seldom discussed in class and gather international input that might prove helpful in the future.

Last April, five members of JISS stayed in Fukushima Prefecture for two days to visit the deserted village of Iitate, whose residents fled during the March 2011 nuclear crisis.

They also visited the city of Fukushima to meet a Buddhist monk who collected radiation-tainted soil and offered land at Joenji Temple to be used as temporary storage for it.

The students also paid visits to tsunami-hit port towns to meet the volunteers who are devoting their time and energy to those affected.

“I wanted to know the situation that the people of Tohoku have been facing,” said Shunsuke Mizuno, 20, a fellow student who will be attending University of British Columbia for a year. “Also, I wanted to understand the volunteers’ ideas and motivation.”

“We JISS students want to think deeply about Japan before going to study abroad,” said Kichikawa, who will attend the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. “I want to be prepared to answer any questions from future classmates who might never have visited Japan before.”

JISS, launched in February, consists of around 20 students, all of whom are planning to become exchange students this year. The group meets regularly and holds seminars to discuss issues rarely mentioned at the prestigious school.

The students asked a professor of Chinese politics, for example, to give a guest lecture on the Senkaku Islands dispute with China, he said.

And after the Fukushima trip, the JISS visited the tsunami-hit port of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture. They also plan to visit Wakayama and Ibaraki to study the deterioration of regional economies and how to revive them.

“By going on study trips to places where we usually don’t go, we discover different things we want to get involved with,” said JISS member Koshi Takatsu, also 20.

“After visiting Fukushima, I could clearly see for myself what to learn abroad and what to do when I come back to Japan,” Mizuno said.

“Rather than just trying to learn something new abroad by broadening my academic horizons, I want to find what I can bring back to Japan to apply to the problems that I want to solve in the future.”