Bridging West and East
Posted on Tuesday, July 21, 2009
"There are times when you go places and you say you must go back some day. Japan is one of those places," reflected Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Neeta Bhasin, who recently participated in Technos International Week, a cross-cultural exchange program sponsored by Technos International College in Tokyo and the Tanaka Ikueikai Educational Trust. Annual sponsorship of Technos International trips for two first- or second- year students and a faculty member is the outgrowth of a vital friendship nearly two decades old between the Colleges and the Tanaka family. This year, Bhasin and students Sasha Miller '12 and Morgan Williamson '12 were given the opportunity to participate.
Though Williamson had traveled extensively with her family, she had never been to Asia. "It has always been my dream to go to Japan. I grew up a couple blocks from an Asian market, and my mother taught English to Asian immigrants, so Japanese culture was in my life from a young age."
In contrast, Miller was going abroad for the very first time through the exchange program. "I'd never even been on a plane before!" she admitted. "That my first real flight lasted 12 hours was kind of a shock."
Miller and Williamson agreed that there were many similarities to New York City, as they passed Coach, Armani, and Gucci stores. "But there are parts where it's very ‘Japanese,' with lots of shrines and Buddhist and Shinto influences," said Williamson.
They were welcomed to Technos International College with a ceremonious introduction, complete with confetti and a red carpet. "We were treated like rock stars!" exclaimed Bhasin. "There were hundreds of students waving in the audience, giving us 'high fives,' cheering for us." Williamson concurred that "All the Technos students were absolutely fabulous. They wanted to talk to us in English and field our questions about their language, and if you knew even a little bit of Japanese, they were amazed. I expected more shyness from students, but they were so excited to get to know us. It was not as hard to make friends as I'd thought."
The women recounted that the food was a positive part of their experiences, both in restaurants and with their host families. "The food was wonderful," Williamson gushed. "My host father made a traditional western dish, kind of like a pancake...vegetable..." she paused, fishing for the proper descriptive term. "...thing," she conceded with a laugh. "Definitely the most memorable dish of the trip."
Miller and Williamson each spent a weekend with their host families who spoke little English. "We always had the electronic dictionary out and had conversations with charades," Miller recollected. "It was fun, interesting, and an experience I'm glad I had."
"I wish I could have stayed longer with host family," agreed Williamson, who discovered a shared interest in Anime with her host and even got to try on her coming-of-age ceremonial kimono.
As an intended art history major, Williamson's trip to Kamakura with her host family was particularly remarkable. A Buddhist and Shinto neighborhood, Kamakura is most famous for its "Big Buddha." Also enlightening was calligraphy, which she studied at Technos. "It's so precise; you must hold the brush completely straight, maintain perfect posture, and it's still hard! But it was a lot of fun."
Miller, who plans to double-major in Asian languages and culture and English, said that taking an Asian music class piqued her interest in the kabuki play, which she attended with her HWS companions. "It's based on how costumes are presented and the way things look. The stories are significant and come from traditional legends."
In addition to the kabuki play, activities included enjoying tempura, making pottery, going on a Tokyo bus tour, visiting the Anime Museum and taking courses at the International College. "It was a wonderful, wonderful experience to go to Tokyo with Sasha and Morgan," said Bhasin warmly. "The Japanese students, too, were lovely. They seemed genuinely interested in getting to know us. Some even cried when we left. We developed a strong attachment in only two weeks, and many of us are keeping in touch," she said, a testament to Technos International Week's ability to bridge the gap between East and West.
Technos International Week came to fruition in 1992, thanks to the generosity of the Tanaka family and the Tanaka Memorial Foundation, whose gifts established the Tanaka Asian Studies Endowment and annually supports the Asian Studies Program, the Tanaka Lectureship in Japanese, and more. In addition to the endowment, 1992 marked the beginning of two exchanges with Technos International College (sponsored by the Tanaka Ikueikai Educational Trust), the exchange of International Prices for Academic Excellence and International Understanding, and the Technos International Week.