Japanese Students’ Visit Highlights Spring Course

by Rashad Mulla

Japanese Students’ Visit Highlights Spring Course
Students from Mason and Ryukoku pose for a picture after their day spent together.

Students in Professor Sufumi So’s JAPA 310: Japanese Culture in a Global World probably did not realize that the course title would be so literal.

In February, a group of 30 students from Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan, spent an afternoon in the class. The students were touring several cities in the United States as part of a spring break program organized by the American Information Service, a D.C.- and Tokyo- based study abroad organization. George Mason University was the first stop in their journey.

The Ryukoku students met with Professor So’s 26 students in a special class period. They broke into five- or six-person groups, mixing three Ryukoku students with two or three Mason students. After two 20-minute small group discussions among themselves, each group gave 90-second presentations to the class. The evening concluded with dinner at Samurai Sushi and Hibachi Grill in University Mall.

So, assistant professor of Japanese in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, found the visit both unique and valuable.

“When the students from Ryukoku visited, everything we talked about in class became authentic,” she said. “This is really a direct interaction that takes place between the students from Japan and the students living in the United States. For many students, this is the first time they are able to meet a Japanese student their age, and many of the Japanese students have never visited the U.S. So this is very inspirational for all involved.”

Henry Smith, a sophomore film and video studies major, signed up for the class because of his interest in Japanese media, namely anime and cinema. He found the experience fulfilling.

“There is a certain osmosis that takes place when you talk to someone from that part of the world,” Smith said. “There is nothing that replaces being there or meeting someone who has grown up there, and getting that firsthand perspective.”

Selene Della Queva, a senior global affairs major, had signed up for the class to learn more about Japan.  Raised in Italy and engaged to a Japanese citizen, Della Queva plans to move to Japan and work there, at least temporarily. The classroom session cemented her interest.

“Originally, I wanted to live there for a couple of years and experience it for myself, but now I’m willing to give it a longer try,” she said. “I not only loved [the Ryukoku students’ visit], but I think it was really important, because it gave me a chance to interact with them here and see how they reacted to new surroundings.”

This is the third year in which So has invited students from Ryukoku during the spring semester. While this experience is tied directly to the JAPA 310 class, So strives to provide extraordinary experiences for Mason students.  In 2008, she founded the Polyglot Performances at Mason, an annual showcase of artistic performances in different languages. Each spring, she encourages students to apply to become Cherry Blossom Festival Ambassadors.

It’s all part of portraying Japanese culture in a global world.