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R-MC Hosts Virginia Governor’s Japanese Academy

Aug 08, 2017


Japanese Academy outside of US capitolRandolph-Macon College recently hosted the Virginia Governor's Japanese Academy, a three-week residential summer program for high-school students from across the Commonwealth. Randolph-Macon College has hosted Virginia Governor's Japanese Academy since 2011.

R-MC Japanese Instructor Yoshiko Himata directed the Japanese Academy, and R-MC Classics Professor Bartolo Natoli served as program coordinator.

A Unique and Challenging Experience
"The Japanese Academy has a tremendous history of offering a unique and challenging experience that leads to a lifelong love of language and long-lasting friendships with students and staff," says Natoli. "Through a wide variety of activities, students were immersed in the culture of Japan while studying topics—including art history, religion, current affairs, and history—that are rarely taught in secondary schools or college." Participants posted photos of their experiences on a blog on the Virginia Governor's Japanese Academy website.

Immersion, Language, Commitment
In addition to receiving rigorous language instruction, students watched films, cooked special foods, practiced traditional customs such as calligraphy and a tea ceremony, and took field trips—including excursions to the Japanese Garden at Maymont Park and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Students also ventured to Washington, D.C., where they gave a presentation at the Japanese Embassy, including a traditional tea ceremony and an explanation of the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program. Students then enjoyed a tour of the Capitol building arranged by U.S. Senator Tim Kaine. The Embassy's Keiko Morito was impressed by the knowledge the students demonstrated during their visit to the Japan Information & Culture Center.

"I love the fact that so many young people really want to learn Japanese, but I'm always amazed at the level of commitment they show to their studies once they get a chance to try it," said Morito. "I hope these talented students keep pushing ahead, and I hope some of them participate in exchange opportunities like the Official JET Program USA in the future."

A Memorable Experience
"I think the immersion in Japanese language and cultural activities is what makes the program special," says Himata. "Participants have a truly memorable experience."

One of the highlights of the Academy, says Himata, was a Skype meeting with students from Toyama University of International Studies High School (TUINS) in Toyama, Japan. Academy participants prepared a presentation about what they had learned about Japan and shared it with their new friends.

"Interacting with native Japanese high school students was a wonderful cultural exchange experience," she says. "One of the Academy students commented on an evaluation that the Skype project was 'educational and fun, and it was great way to build interest in Japan.'"

Academy participants also celebrated the Japanese Star Festival by wearing the Yukata (a style of kimono); learning a traditional dance; and making Tanzaku (wish cards).

Different Perspectives
Kaitlin Hoagland '19 was one of several R-MC students who served as a resident assistant (RA) during the Japanese Academy. Hoagland, an Asian studies major and Japanese studies, art history, and studio arts minor, assisted professors with their assignments and helped students with their Japanese-language studies.

"I also helped maintained a lively atmosphere for the students, as they were without electronics for three weeks," says Hoagland, who was a student in the Academy in 2013. "Having been a high-school participant, I was excited about going through the Academy with an RA's perspective. It was amazing to help the students practice their Japanese-language skills as they communicated with professors and each other. It was a fun three-week experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Hoagland says her 2013 Academy experience was a rewarding, challenging time that helped her polish her language skills in a unique setting.

"The vocabulary and grammar we learned were equivalent to one semester of Japanese at college," she recalls. "It gave me the chance to experience being around other people who spoke the language, without distractions. As an RA of the 2017 Academy, I saw just how much planning and preparation went into organizing all of the classes and activities. I never realized the amount of care that the senseis and senpais took in planning the Academy."