When Cornell College professor Carol Enns arrives in Tokyo next year to be the 2012-13 Resident Director for the Japan Study Program, she will be returning to a visiting faculty position she enjoyed a few years ago.
Leading the program in 2006-07 was “an exceptional experience,” recalled Enns. “I came back [from Japan] wondering how I could manage to spend more time there.”
Her trip will be more than just a return to Japan Study. It will also be a chance for Enns to spend another year in the country where she was born and raised. “My parents were part of that huge group of missionaries that went over [to Japan] immediately after World War II,” Enns explained, “so I was fortunate to grow up there.”
Enns left Japan in her late teens to go to college in the U.S. The years slipped by as she found her career path in counseling and psychology, went to graduate school, and joined the Cornell faculty. “Sometimes life gets in the way of getting back things that are really important to us, at least that was the case for me,” she said. “So there was almost a 30 year gap between the time I left Japan and when I returned.”
Her first trip back was courtesy Japan Study, when she received a travel grant from the program in the late 1990s. Since then, she’s returned frequently on research sabbaticals, as a visiting professor, and to lead Cornell students on a short-term course in Japan.
Japan Study participant Roy Wimer with members of his host family.
“Japan felt more familiar than I thought it would, in the sense that although everything was so much more modern than it had been when I was a child, there were a lot of familiar customs, ways of relating to others, and ways of negotiating the city that I found comforting,” said Enns. “So, in a way, I found that Japan felt like home.”
The program’s partner is Waseda University in Tokyo, where students take classes in Japanese language and choose among a wide range of electives taught in English at the School for International Liberal Studies (SILS). Students also live with host families and – depending on which of several calendar options they choose – participate in a cultural practicum, an internship-style experience at a location outside of Tokyo.
Enns will be involved in all aspects of the students’ experience. “Being the Resident Director is a cross between being a regular faculty member, such as we are back on our own campuses, plus a little bit of a dean of students’ role, because we need to help students take advantage of their cultural learning opportunities and help them take good care of themselves,” she explained.
Gary DeCoker, the Japan Study Director at Earlham College, which manages the program, said he is looking forward to working with Enns again. “Carol’s background in counseling and psychology made her an especially successful Resident Director,” he said. “Student comments from the 2006-07 program pointed out the way Carol was able to lead students to make significant personal as well as academic growth during their year in Japan.”
Jen Meyers with her host father at the Tookamachi Kimono Festival in Niigata.
The last time she was at Waseda, Enns taught two classes at SILS related to her research interests and to Japanese culture, one with a psychological focus and the other on women’s roles in Japan.
“A typical class will have a good chunk of Japanese students, but also students from China, all over southeast Asia, students from Europe,” said Enns. “Our students from North America not only gain exposure to Japanese students, but also this intermingling and intermixing that’s really productive for them.”
“Many [Japan Study] students just want an intercultural experience, but others want to take courses in their subject area,” she continued. “Students who gain the most from their academic experience tend to be those who focus on more Japan-specific courses, whether literature or politics or whatever.”
For the cultural learning aspects, Resident Directors rely heavily on long-time Program Associate Michiyo Nagayama at Waseda University, who arranges the home stays and cultural practicum placements. She is instrumental in helping the students settle in at the university when they arrive and in supporting them throughout the program.
Japan Study participants, along with Michiyo Nagayama (second row, at right), gather before the program’s fall retreat.
A key to Nagayama’s success, Enns noted, is “trying to identify what particular living and learning environment is likely to be most useful for the individual student. We really encourage students to become as independent and assertive as possible in claiming their education. As is often the case on our own campuses, the more active and curious a student is, the more likely he or she is going to really get what is most important.”
Language study is a central aspect of the program’s curriculum, and occupies most of the students’ morning class time. Although students come in with varying degrees of ability in Japanese, according to Enns, the program “is a great place to learn language, because you’re not only learning language in the context of living with a host family, but learning a lot about customs, traditions, behaviors, and all of those kinds of things.”
Sarah Macdonald learns how to use an abacus during the cultural practicum in Shimane Prefecture.
The cultural practicum, during the break between fall and spring semesters, is a chance for cultural immersion in a different environment than the daily routine in Tokyo. “Students have defined [the practicum] as a real highlight of the program,” Enns said. “In terms of language skills, it’s another context in which to be learning Japanese – a more professional and working context.”
Reflecting on the country she has reconnected with in recent years, Enns noted the high level of interest in other cultures that she’s seen in Japan. “Younger people are really world travelers,” she said. “One of the things that surprised me was how many Waseda University students travel abroad and very, very savvy about getting around.”
“A culture of volunteerism and activism is emerging, and I think it’s going to be a time of change and development,” she concluded. “This is a particularly intriguing and exciting time to be in Japan.”