When I came to Lewis & Clark College as a freshman, my Japanese was not great. I had been studying online for two years but could only speak a few sentences because I never had any conversational practice in the online course. I was determined to place into the 200 level of Japanese class, so that I could improve more quickly and be able to speak with Japanese exchange students who I had met at Lewis and Clark, and be better set for my study abroad. There was a lot of review and catchup work for me to do, but my Japanese professors were patient and encouraging and I was able to catch up to the class within a few weeks. Because of that I was able to spend my entire junior year at Waseda University in Tokyo. My courses at Lewis and Clark had prepared me well for this experience and I was able to navigate the city, work a part-time job, do volunteering, and conduct research for my senior thesis, all in Japanese!
This past year I had many wonderful opportunities thanks to the devoted staff of the Japanese department. In the fall, I was coaxed, prodded, and cheered into taking the dreaded Japanese Language Proficiency Test and was able to pass the 2nd highest level. It was not nearly as terrifying as I thought, and I am planning to attempt the highest level in the next year. I visited Hitachi Hi-Technologies in Hillsboro along with my professor and two other students to learn about what it is like to work in a global company. Finally, I competed in the upper division of the Toyama Cup Speech Contest. The Toyama Cup is a contest hosted by Oregon’s sister state Toyama prefecture, in which students from all around Oregon write speeches in Japanese and present them in front of a panel of judges. Although it sounds intimidating, I had so much support and advise from my Japanese professor that I was confident and tried my best. I was chosen for the first prize which is a trip to visit Toyama prefecture! I feel very grateful for all the support I received and am very excited for this trip, which I am sure will be another amazing opportunity to improve my Japanese abilities and learn more about Japanese communities and culture.
As I write this I am preparing to depart for a year-long contract as an Assistant Language Teacher with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). I will be living and working in Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu. If anyone had asked me when I first came to Lewis & Clark College as a freshman if I could envision myself four years later as a graduated senior about to begin working in Japan with so many priceless experiences and memories to encourage me, I would have said no. To my professors and fellow students of the Japanese department, to all my Japanese friends and my Japanese roommate who helped and inspired me along the way, thank you for being by my side. I would not be on this journey without you. To current and future students of Japanese: do your best, and never forget that help and opportunities are all around you.