November 23, 2010
UPDATE: The Knox group has arrived in Japan. Photos and updates will be posted on an ongoing basis. Please click here to see more.
After spending months studying the history, philosophy, and language of Japan, 14 Knox College students are getting ready to build on that knowledge with a two-week trip to the Asian country.
The trip is part of Japan Term, an interdisciplinary program at Knox that aims to help students develop skills they will need as global citizens in the twenty-first century.
The students -- accompanied by Knox faculty members -- will travel to Tokyo, Hiroshima, and other cities. At the same time, they will practice their language skills by interacting with people who live in Japan.
"The point of the program is to connect classroom work to traveling in that country," said Michael Schneider, a Knox College history professor and director of the college's Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies. "Knowledge of another place depends at some fundamental level on identifying with people and seeing the world through their eyes."
The trip will consist of a combination of group activities and student-initiated activities, Schneider said. Students also will work on small-group projects that match their areas of interest. Several of this year's students would like to learn more about Japanese animation, for example.
While traveling in Japan, the Knox group will "do everything by the same modes of transportation the Japanese use," Schneider said. That means riding ferries, taxis, subways, and other forms of public transit, but no tour buses.
For the first time in Japan Term's history, students will keep a "logbook" that documents all of the conversations they have with Japanese people. Many of the students already possess intermediate Japanese language skills, but they haven't had much opportunity to speak with others "in a real environment," he said.
Not surprisingly, students are looking forward to the experience.
"I've been learning about the (Japanese) language and the culture for a long time," said Melissa Sher, a junior from Vernon Hills, Illinois, who has a major in neuroscience and minors in psychology and Japanese Studies. "It'll be really great to see it in practice."
Students said their classroom studies have prepared them well.
"The classwork has helped me understand what is appropriate and inappropriate in Japanese society and how to handle ourselves while there," said Brynn Ogilvie, a junior from Olympia, Washington.
Ogilvie, who has a major in elementary education and minors in dance and Japanese language, is eager to visit several Buddhist temples in Japan. "I find them intriguing and beautiful and peaceful," she said.
Shaun Kelly, a sophomore from Columbia, Missouri, said her Japan Term studies have helped her to develop a new attitude toward travel.
"I'm not going to go to Japan and just passively take it all in," said Kelly, who plans to major in Asian Studies. "I'm going to be thinking about how the things I've been studying are reflected in what I see around me, and thinking about what that all means."
"I've traveled abroad before," she added, "but I've never gone into it with that sort of analytical mindset, and I feel like I missed out because of that."
The Knox College group will leave for Japan on Nov. 29 and return on Dec. 15.
Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 45 states and 48 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.