By KRISTEN LEWERS
In the fall 2019 semester, three University of Mary Washington students will embark on the university’s first bilateral exchange program with Akita International University (AIU) in Akita City, Japan.
According to an article on the UMW website, Mary Washington alumni Kevin Hockmuth played a role in the development of this program. After graduating in 2000, Hockmuth continued on to AIU, where he is currently a political science and Korean studies professor.
Hockmuth felt that, as a fellow small public liberal arts college, AIU shared a kindred spirit with his alma mater and suggested the partnership to a colleague in the international affairs office at AIU. Hockmuth stated in the article that he is eager to facilitate a relationship between Akita International and UMW. However, he had no role in the negotiations of the specific agreement.
Through this program, class of 2020 students Tess Darroch, Rahi Taylor and Kaitlin Viloria will study at AIU during the upcoming fall semester and a Japanese student will attend the University of Mary Washington during the fall semester.
“It is very difficult to find study abroad opportunities in Japan unless you already are a fluent speaker,” Darroch said. “As someone who has had no experience with the Japanese language, but has always wanted to learn it, I thought that this program offered me a rare opportunity to do so, since there are not many places around this area of the U.S. that offer courses in Japanese.”
According to its website, Akita International University is nestled in the capital city of the Akita Prefecture in Japan. Though located in Japan, the courses are taught in English, excluding foreign languages. This environment gives English speaking students the opportunity to immerse themselves themselves in the culture and language while continuing their studies in English.
The university is ranked number one in Japan by Touyou-Keizai: Hontou-ni Tsuyoi Daigaku for their international studies program.
Darroch stated that she was excited to meet new people, explore the natural beauty, and be immersed in the culture.
“I am really excited to explore the country, especially the Akita province with all of its mountains and hot springs,” said Darroch. “I want to learn how to cook as much [Japanese food] as possible so that I can still make some dishes when I am back in the States.”
Taylor expressed excitement about the opportunities provided by the program.
“One of the things I’m really excited about is just being able to stay on campus in another country,” said Taylor. “I’m an off-campus student right now and I think that it’ll be a pretty fun experience to stay in a dorm for a semester and be able to participate more on a campus. Aside from that, I’m just excited to continue studying for my major but within a more internationalised setting.”
Taylor stated that he was looking into three different programs, but Akita was his number one choice. He found that while being accepted felt fairly easy, the paperwork for the application was extensive.
“I found out about the program when Ms. Polensky [from the Center for International Education] visited one of my classes last semester. It was a lot of paperwork making sure that I got my classes approved with my department chair, International Affairs, other stuff dealing with financial aid and things that dealt with the UMW side of stuff,” said Taylor
A big challenge Taylor faced was putting together the paperwork to enroll in the program.
“I had to make copies of my passport, I had to get bank statements, pictures taken, and I had to fill out Akita’s application which was super easy actually,” said Taylor. “At the same time I had to write short essays on why I wanted to go, my plans for the future, and other papers for scholarships. And to top it all off I had to get a recommendation or two.”
Taylor does not intend for this program to be the end of his time in Japan. His overall goal is to become an English teacher to children in Japan after graduation from UMW. It is his hope that this program will better prepare him to be successful in his future career.
Steve Rabson, a UMW adjunct professor, has also pushed for the program. An Army veteran, Rabson became intrigued with Japanese culture after being stationed in Okinawa. It was in Rabson’s class on Japanese literature, film and animation that made Darroch aware of the program in 2018.
CIE director Jose Sainz has played a role in creating this program’s partnership. Sainz traveled to Akita over the recent spring break to further explore the campus.
“Akita first contacted us about a possible partnership given the similarities between both institutions: both small liberal arts universities with a strong focus on student learning, growth and development,” said Sainz. “Akita students must study abroad at a partner university. For UMW it’s a great partnership in Japan, [and] there are already six students who have applied to spend a semester at Akita. It is a win-win for both universities.”
Sainz also hopes this exchange will foster more understanding between Japanese and American cultures.
“It allows our students to experience Japan first hand and truly immerse themselves in the culture,” Sainz said. “I am looking forward to hosting Akita students who while on campus, can share their culture with the UMW community.
Sainz went on to state, “I hope that like with any of our other exchanges around the world, we can continue to support those students who have an interest in Japan. But also, be the ideal destination for Akita students looking for a small campus in the U.S. where they can really feel at home, make new friends and learn all about American culture.”
A previous version of this article overstated Kevin Hockmuth’s role in the formation of the program. It has since been edited to clarify that although he suggested the partnership, he played no role in the negotiations.