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Students experience cultures through exchange

Friday, February 15, 2008  
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By Curtis Elmore

Many students see college as an opportunity to have all kinds of experiences. For a group of students from Ibaraki Christian University in Ibaraki, Japan, and a few students from Oklahoma Christian University, this means being immersed in a completely foreign culture.

"One of my teachers said if you want to speak English, you must be in an English speaking country for about three months," freshman Ai Honda said. "I came before and decided that it wasn't enough time."

Honda is one of eight Japanese students that came to Oklahoma Christian University for a long-term visit. Erisa Minakawa, another long-term exchange student, came before on a short-term trip but wanted to return to Oklahoma Christian.

"There are not many people who are Christians at Ibaraki," Minakawa said. "It's nice here to be able to have a devo and worship time and to see people my age that are Christians."

Honda said before she went on a mission trip to Arizona during Christmas break, she had never read the Bible. Then, the people on the trip taught her a lot about Christianity.

"Erisa got me a Japanese Bible which I read a lot," Honda said. "They taught me a lot about Jesus, which changed me a lot. My view of Christianity changed a lot, and it was a great experience."

The two schools launched the exchange program in 1974, which includes student exchanges and the Pacific Rim trips.

"Pac-Rim is a great way to see the exchange in culture," Director of the Language and Culture Institute Lj Littlejohn said. "It was also great to see a group of people sharing their faith through Let's Start Talking."

Oklahoma Christian senior, Kate Long went on the Pacific Rim trip in the fall of 2005 and decided to return to Japan as an exchange student from May until Dec. of 2007.

"You get to see a really different side of Japan than you see on the Pac-Rim trip," Long said. "You get to see everyday life, instead of how guests are treated. It is a very rich culture presented in a more hands-on way."

Long spent eight months overseas in the exchange program. She took classes at Ibaraki Christian, had a part-time job and walked to class, much like an average college student.

"Being gone for eight months is kind of hard," Long said. "I wouldn't take it back for anything. I got a really good experience and grew a lot from being there."

Japanese students visiting Oklahoma Christian attend The Language and Culture Institute, which is an academic preparatory school for people who speak English as a second language and would like to improve their proficiency.

"Most of the things we do [in the Institute] are cultural in nature," Littlejohn said. "Obviously, they loved to learn language. I go on all of the day trips, then a large four day ranch trip."

Littlejohn, a former instructor at Ibaraki Christian, was the exchange program's sponsor for last year's group. This year's sponsor is Patrick Stevens.

"Everything in Japan is based on relationships," Littlejohn said. "It takes a while for Japanese students to open up. Right when they're ready to leave is when they develop those deep relationships."

Although the "OC Buddy" program is not running this semester, "Conversation Partners" is a program trying to connect students by building friendships.

"The Japanese are very collectivist," Honda said. "We are always together, and we speak Japanese a lot. Sometimes, it is hard to join in the American culture."

A group of sixteen Ibaraki Christian University short-term exchange students are expected to arrive on campus for a three and a half week visit on Feb. 18.

Some ways to get involved with the exchange students is to attend events such as the welcome party on Feb. 18 in the Student Center, Japanese night on March 3 in the Conservatory and Japanese movie night on March 8.

"Start talking to the Japanese students," Long said. "They are eager to learn about America, and they know everything about Japan."


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