Japan makes students happy

Each year, three lucky Capilano University students swap places with students from Aichi Gakusen, a university in Japan. This exchange program is extremely rare, and has been in place for over twenty  years. One of this year’s fortunate students is Capilano’s Sarah Bischoff, who has been attending Aichi Gakusen since September. Bischoff noted that “Many others universities are extremely envious of this program and some students transfer to Capilano for the opportunity to apply for this program specifically.”

The opportunity is a richly rewarding one that pays off culturally and educationally. The Capilano students who are chosen are given their round trip, accommodation with host families while in Japan, and the opportunity to attend an educational program tailored to the student’s interest.

Students are welcome to get involved by applying for next year's exchange. To be selected, the committee is looking for students with an avid interest in Japan and its culture. Bischoff adds “Previous interest in Japan is the most important factor in the application process, as far as I can tell. For instance, I have studied some Japanese Art History, through Capilano, and am a co-director of a Buddhist organization in Vancouver. The other students I came with studied Japanese history and language as well as having a large interest in Manga and Japanese fashion. Grades are also significant. In Japan, you’re expected to be the top of your class.”

After being selected, students are asked to complete a 100 level Japanese class, and submit a selection of Japanese book and film reviews to show upkeep in interest. “Once accepted, you are required to give monthly updates on your experiences and development,” Bischoff mentions. “Failure to meet any of these requirements results in you losing your scholarship.” It sounds severe, but remember that this program is an honour that very few are given the chance to experience.

Of course, the more Japanese language you have under your belt, the better. This was the case for Sarah Bischoff.  She noted that “Every day is a challenge in communication with those other than your teachers who speak English and the two other students you came with,  so you rely on them heavily, regardless of whether you get along or have anything in common.” Although her time has been rewarding and life changing, she adds “the most difficult part of the exchange [for me] so far has been the initial feelings of isolation and loneliness.”

The opportunity has pushed her to step out of her shell. “I’ve learned a lot from this so far and it also has helped me to be more courageous in starting up conversations with people with my very limited language skills.”

Other benefits of the program add to its unique nature and attention to detail on Japanese culture. In addition to the aforementioned, “the program pays for most books, as well as 50000 yen a month (roughly $550 CDN) for travel and expenses. Some extra classes, such as Fashion or Tea Ceremony require you to pay for materials. One school study trip is also covered which is the student's choice. We will be going to Hiroshima for one week this December.”

In return for the rewards of the program,  students are asked to do their part with assisting teaching English to other students one day a week. All in all, Bischoff feels like her work has paid off: “I’m amazed at how much I am able to communicate with my limited vocabulary and ability to determine meaning due to context. Japanese language is heavily dependent on context, so your attention to it is crucial.”

//JJ Brewis

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