Japanese Culture Class Brings the World Closer Together

Posted: April 29, 2013 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: April 30, 2013 at 6:53 am

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By Rashad Mulla

Mason students met with visiting Japanese students for a true cultural exchange. Photo courtesy of Sufirmi So

Mason students met with visiting Japanese students for a true cultural exchange. Photo courtesy of Sufumi So

Students who signed up for Professor Sufumi So’s JAPA 310: Japanese Culture in a Global World probably didn’t realize that the course title would be so… literal.

This semester, the 26 students in the class got to meet face-to-face with a group of 30 students from Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan, who joined them for a class discussion.

The Japanese students were touring several cities in the United States as part of a two-week spring break program organized by the American Information Service.

For this special class, the students broke into five- or six-person discussion groups that had three Ryukoku students and two or three Mason students. The class ended with 90-second presentations by each of the groups. The students later had dinner together at Samurai Sushi and Hibachi Grill in University Mall.

“When the students from Ryukoku visited, everything we talked about in class became authentic,” says So, assistant professor of Japanese in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages.

“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 United States. 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 anime and cinema.

“There is a certain osmosis that takes place when you talk to someone from that part of the world,” Smith says. “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, signed up for the class to learn more about the country.  Raised in Italy and engaged to a Japanese citizen, Della Queva planned to move to Japan and work there, at least for a couple of years. 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 says. “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. I actually wanted a longer program.”

So has previously invited students from Ryukoku to visit during the spring semester. The experience is tied directly to the JAPA 310 class, but So strives to provide extraordinary experiences for Mason students in other ways.  In 2008, she founded the Polyglot Performances at Mason, an annual showcase of artistic performances in different languages. And each spring, she encourages Mason students to apply to become Cherry Blossom Festival Ambassadors.

This article previously appeared on the College of Humanities and Social Sciences website in a slightly different format.

Write to Robin Herron at rherron@gmu.edu

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