New study tour to introduce UW–Madison students to Japan

Many of them are studying Japanese language. Others had simply taken a Japan-related course to fulfill a requirement. Most have never been to Japan, and several have never traveled outside of the United States.

Together, 23 undergraduates from the University of Wisconsin–Madison — accompanied by a professor and a graduate student — are venturing across the Pacific Ocean for a newly created 10-day Japanese study tour, called the “Kakehashi Project – The Bridge for Tomorrow.”

The program was launched by the Japan Foundation with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan  “to encourage greater understanding between the youth of Japan and the United States and to foster long-term and ongoing interest in one another by providing firsthand experiences with the culture of the other.”

Charo D’Etcheverry, associate professor of Japanese literature, pursued this serendipitous opportunity as soon as she caught wind of it. As a result, UW–Madison is among eight U.S. universities initially chosen to participate in this fully funded program.

“Travel to Japan is so expensive,” D’Etcheverry says. “I thought it would be wonderful to be able to take a group of UW students there, especially those who weren’t planning on study abroad to begin with.”

Charo D’Etcheverry, right, and UW students going on Japan study tour
Charo D’Etcheverry, right, and UW students going on Japan study tour

Participating in this program also will involve hosting a group of Japanese students in Madison sometime this fall, she says.

The UW–Madison group will depart for Japan on Monday, May 20. Over the course of 10 days, the students and their chaperones will visit the Tokyo and Kyoto areas, where they will get glimpses into both the high-tech and traditional aspects of Japan. The students also will get a chance to mingle with their peers at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

The 23 undergraduates — four freshmen, six sophomores, nine juniors and four seniors — range in age from 19 to 24. Their majors include Japanese, East Asian studies, biology, computer sciences environmental studies, linguistics, strategic communications, theater, and international studies – with many pursuing combined majors. Also, 15 study Japanese, 17 have never been to Japan, and seven are new passport holders.

“I’m so excited to get the students into a country where they haven’t been, to a place where they were unlikely to go,” D’Etcheverry says. Perhaps the trip will inspire students’ further studies and/or travel, whether to Japan or elsewhere in the world.

Adding to the excitement has been the unpredictable way that plans for the trip have evolved, she says, adding that Japan’s reputation as a safe country has tamped down any concerns about security.

The Japanese sponsors of the tour have worked to ensure that both Japan and the United States are presented to each other in the best possible way. For that reason, the rules are strict, which has been a lively topic of discussion.

For example, the program information says: “Japanese schools typically require that students, including visitors, remove jewelry, hats, baseball caps, and makeup when in the school. Chewing gum in the school is also not permitted. Dyed hair (unnatural colors such as green, pink, purple, etc.), tattoos and body piercings are not viewed favorably by Japanese schools.”

The instructions also say: “Participants may choose to bring personal stereos for the plane ride to and from Japan. However, once you deplane, these items should be packed away for the duration of the study tour. Visiting a new country is an experience in observing, listening, being aware, and being sensitive to everything around you. Personal stereos, earphones and other such gear isolate participants from their surroundings and hinder the purpose of this program.”

And: “Foul, demeaning, and rude language and behavior is not acceptable. Participants should be more polite than they might ordinarily be and take more time to listen.”

As part of their preparation, the students have discussed manners and been taught standard phrases.

In their applications, students also were asked if they could ride a bicycle and told that “extensive walking and stair-climbing are part of everyday Japanese life and culture,” so they need to be physically and mentally prepared.

In addition, the students have been advised that “Japanese meals may be smaller in portion than U.S. meals. Those with heartier appetites may require more frequent snacking.”

Rules aside, D’Etcheverry says, “It should be just a fun experience.”

– by Kerry G. Hill