Soka University Student Shares her Short-Term Program Experience

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For the past several years, the College of Charleston English Language Institute (ELI) has been offering Short Term Programs (STP) to groups of students from participating universities.

The STP offers a language-based cultural exchange, where students are integrated into the regular English proficiency program, sharing dorm suites with American students, and participating in a variety of cultural outings. The program curriculum is adapted to the group’s interests, with themes including Charleston history, Southern US history, Charleston architecture, and engineering.

In March 2018,  a group of students from Soka University in Tokyo, Japan, participated in the STP program.

Soka University previously held an exchange agreement with the College of Charleston, and were interested in re-establishing a relationship.  Alice Hamilton, Director of the CofC Center for Continuing and Professional Education, connected with Soka University representatives several years ago at the NAFSA (Association of International Educators) conference, and in 2017, met to discuss forming a short-term cultural exchange.

Soka University ultimately sent 10 students to Charleston, to attend the three-week program.

Naomi Miura was one of the Soka students selected to participate in the STP.  In an interview with ELI Short-Term Program Coordinator Akari Ueoka, she described her experiences, and her recommendations for future participants:

What led you to participate in the Short Term Program (STP)?

I met and interacted with several international students at my home campus; they came to study Japanese. I was impressed by their effort to study a new language in a foreign country. When they were able to express themselves in Japanese, I was even more impressed. In my eyes, they were shining, and I thought, “I want to be like them!” So when I saw that there was an opportunity to go to the USA, I thought I would sign up!

Can you describe your daily life as a student at the College of Charleston?

Most classes were held in the morning; there were about 2 or 3 classes in a day. Everyday was different, so it was never boring; there was always something new. Afternoon was more open, and I often had lunch with ELI students from various countries, such as France, Taiwan, Ukraine, Mexico, and Korea. Our group had the only Japanese students, and maybe because we were younger than them, I felt like they looked after us, which I appreciated.

What was your favorite subject?

Speaking! I really appreciated the teachers’ patience and effort to understand me. There was a time when I realized that what I was trying to convey was not fully understood by the teacher, so I tried different ways to explain. She listened attentively and patiently, and when she finally understood what I was trying to say, she taught me how I should say it. I think that my perseverance also grew, too, and I think it was due to the teachers. I liked that there was no aloof distance between the teachers and the students. I noticed that the ELI teachers smiled often, and their passion to teach was noticeable. They made eye contact with each student, and gave us opportunities to speak in class. I want to improve my English, and hope to repay the favor someday.

What were your favorite excursions during your time in the STP?

What left the greatest impression on me was visiting the Slave Market. By actually visiting there, I understood about slavery at a different level. I understood that it really happened… and it taught me the importance of equal rights and world peace even more. The visit made me eager to learn more about the world history, as well as my own country’s history.

Did you have an opportunity to engage with native English-speakers?

Yes, I spent time with College of Charleston students who were studying Japanese.  We went to eat Mexican food, went bowling, had ice cream together, and we chatted about our cultures at the park. I am still in touch with them. I heard that they are coming to Osaka in the near future, so we are hoping to see each other.

You participated in a Home Visit during your time in the Short Term Program, what was your experience?

At first, I was quite anxious, wondering if my English would be understood by the hosts; however through sheer will and determination, we were able to communicate. This experience made clear that the most important aspect in communications is one’s desire to communicate. Seeing that so many things in the house were different from what you find in Japan, I realized how small Japan and my awareness were: when we were taken to the sea, I saw such vast ocean for the first time, and I cried. I am still in touch with the hosts with whom I visited. I now have my second “home” in the land far, far away from my home country. I hope to improve my English before I see them again.

What part of the program did you enjoy the most?

I enjoyed every single day, but what stands out most is the excursion to a shopping mall. Everything there was stimulating; everything caught my eyes. My friend and I were saying, “Wow, look at this stationary!”… “What kind of smell do you think this detergent has?” … “Wow, there are so many different types of fragrance for deodorant!” I felt like I was really in a foreign country.

How did participating in the STP change your life?

I am no longer afraid of speaking in English.

I have learned that a path before me can be opened up widely and limitlessly if I put my mind to it; it is all up to me. The difference of cultures and languages were not limiting factors, the limiting factor was myself. I have experienced first-hand that people will understand me…even with my broken English.  No one made fun of me.  I cherish the memory of sharing a belly laugh with my classmate from France. I was astonished by the fact that we could laugh so hard although I did not speak fluently at all. We understood each other. It amazed me. This whole experience made me want to challenge myself more, and I feel more confident in doing so.

Do you feel that your English proficiency improved after participating in the STP?

Yes. It may not show up immediately in test scores, but the biggest improvement is that I am no longer afraid of speaking. That’s huge for me.

What tips would you give to future Japanese students?

Pack your suitcase lightly with only minimum items. You can buy most things once you get to Charleston. A half of your suitcase should be empty when you come. I had a hard time packing everything up when I left Charleston.

While I was in Charleston, I thought numerous times, “I wish I had studied speaking and listening a bit harder before I came!” There were things I really wanted to explain, yet could not. So, I recommend studying speaking and listening [ahead of time].

Bringing extra souvenirs from Japan is a nice idea, because you meet new friends and may wish to give them something from Japan. [Souvenirs] don’t have to be expensive or fancy; something simple, light, and fun would be nice.

Would you recommend this program to other international students? 

Yes, definitely.

More than anything, the teachers are wonderful. They told me that they respected me for the fact that I was learning a foreign language. In Japan, no adult ever had told me that he or she respects me. That was a touching experience. I want other international students to experience what I experienced. They will also have a cherished life-long memory.

Thank you to Akari Ueoka for her assistance in conducting and translating this interview. 

For more information about the English Proficiency programs, please contact the English Language Institute.

To arrange a Short-Term Program for a student group, please contact Akari Ueoka, Short-Term Program Coordinator.