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Japanese exchange program impacts students

For more than 40 years, the partnership between Ibaraki Christian University in Japan and Oklahoma Christian University has allowed students to experience different cultures.

Currently, there are 13 Japanese exchange students on the Oklahoma Christian campus, but not all of them are here for the same amount of time. Six students are long-term and stay in the United States for eight months, throughout the entire school year. The other seven students are on campus on a short-term basis during the month of February.

Long-term exchange students come to America to study language and improve their understanding of spoken English language.

Students staying the whole year are required to take 18 hours of class a week, but the typical exchange student is enrolled in 21 hours, including core classes and Bible courses.

Long-term exchange student Kawaski Shota said he would like to meet new friends from different countries and be able to communicate with them.

“I want to improve my English, I want to get good experiences here and I want to live here eventually,” Shota said.

According to Director of the Language and Culture Institute L.J. Littlejohn, short-term students’ main goal is to gain cultural experience by visiting museums going to different Oklahoma events. Rather than a focus on learning English, short-term exchange students are more focused on getting their feet wet with international travel.

“We try to make them have this wonderful American experience where they leave and they’re starry-eyed,” Littlejohn said.

Ibaraki Christian is a commuter campus; so living in dorms is typically a new experience for the exchange students.

“They have to deal with life just like you have to deal with life as a student,” Littlejohn said, “They’ve got boyfriends, girlfriends, roommates, cafeteria problems – everything that you have, they have, but they’re doing it in their second language.”

Students who were on the long-term program three years ago returned to Oklahoma Christian for a one-week visit.

“Every year people come back, so obviously there’s some fundamental change in who they are,” Littlejohn said. “Two long-term students and one short-term student came back just to OC, just to say hello. That speaks volumes.”

Returning Ibaraki Christian student Asami Tadokoro said she enjoyed her experience as an Oklahoma Christian student.

“I have great memories here when I came here three years ago and was a Christian student for seven months, I wanted to see my friends and come home together,” Tadokoro said.

On the other side, the Summer Asian Program exists for Oklahoma Christian students who want to study in Ibaraki. Students enrolled in the program live with a Japanese family for three weeks.

“They incorporate them into their family so they get to function as a part of that family,” Study Abroad Coordinator Mendy Kooi said.

Oklahoma Christian student Madeline Decker went on the Summer Asian Program study abroad trip last year.

“The best part was staying with host families because you get to be immersed in the culture, you’re not just being a tourist you’re actually living there and going to school with them,” Decker said.

According to Kooi, students return from the trip with more confidence in being able to be on their own, and have a higher sensitivity and understanding towards other cultures.

“It may stretch their faith, it may strengthen their faith,” Kooi said. “It’s a very different culture, religiously, in Japan so it has them ask a lot of self questions about their relationship with God and how is God at work in Japan even if it might not be quite so obvious as it is in other cultures.”

For more information about the Summer Asian Program, visit the study abroad website.

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