Oklahoma Christian University is becoming a temporary home for a group of Japanese exchange students to learn about American culture and improve their conversational English.
This year marks the campuses’ 42nd year of the exchange program with Ibaraki Christian University. According to Greg Gillham, an international admissions counselor on campus, the relationship between Ibaraki Christian and Oklahoma Christian allows American and Japanese students to understand one another on a deeper level.
Gillham said he believes in allowing students to meet people from a dissimilar cultural background, assumptions about differing ethnicities might be reevaluated.
“Our exchange programs are important,” Gillham said. “When you get to travel to another country and be immersed in another culture, it changes how you view the world. And hopefully it breaks stereotypes about your own culture and the culture you go to.”
Gillham said he thinks the Ibaraki Christian students help Oklahoma Christian students not only better understand a different culture, but also allow them to appreciate aspects of their own culture.
“When you are the ones playing the host, you think about what things about your home you’d want others to see,” Gillham said. “So you learn to appreciate the things here: Oklahoma Christian, the dorms, the cafeteria and the things that happen here.”
Freshman Chris Zawicki said she has already begun noting cultural differences through sharing a dorm with an Ibaraki Christian student.
“The students bow when they say ‘Thank you’ or ‘Hello,’” Zawicki said. “I’m used to just shaking hands or hugging, something like that. Another thing I’ve noticed is that the exchange student I’m hosting won’t step on my rug. I have a rug in my room and she won’t step on it at all. Even when she’s not wearing shoes, she always steps over it.”
Despite cultural differences, Zawicki said she’s learned how to greet the visiting exchange students.
“It is a bit of a struggle communicating sometimes,” Zawicki said. “But I’ve learned that when they bow, I should bow back. And I’ve learned how to say a couple of Japanese words. Other than that, I got a translating app on my phone so we can text when we have trouble communicating.”
Masato Uetake, an exchange student from Ibaraki Christian, said he is enjoying how friendly American students are. According to Uetake, this is a cultural difference from tradition socialization in Japan.
“Americans are very nice and very kind,” Uetake said. “The American people greet strangers. They talk to me a lot and befriend me. In Japan, nobody greets strangers. It’s weird there. But I come to Oklahoma and a lot of strangers talk to me .”
Uetake said since he arrived he has been working to learn as much about the American culture as much as he can.
“I come to America to learn about the American culture,” Uetake said. “I’ve taken in some different culture things. I learned what’s different from the Japanese and American cultures. And I have been practicing speaking English. That’s a big reason why I come here, for the English.”