Overseas exchange sends UH Hilo students to prestigious Tokyo university

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Date: Monday, September 11, 2006
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

Two University of Hawaii at Hilo students have recently returned from Japan after spending eight months studying at Tokyo Gakugei University (TGU) in Tokyo.

The study abroad exchange, which brought two students from TGU to UH Hilo, was coordinated by Yumiko Ohara, assistant professor of linguistics and Japanese, and marked the first time ever that UH Hilo had sent students to the prestigious university. For both, it was their first time out-of-state and an experience that changed their perception of the world.

“Interacting with people from other countries and seeing how easy it was to become close friends made me feel like the only barrier separating people is people,” said Chad Hanashiro. “Studying at TGU and immersing myself in another culture was one of the best experiences of my life,” added Palani Francisco.

Hanashiro, a Japanese studies and linguistics major, said the experience improved his fluency in Japanese. But more importantly, it helped him gain a better understanding of his own ethnic background, and several other cultures he came in contact with.

“The majority of students in our dormitory were from Japan, but we also had students from China, Korea, Germany, France, Thailand, Taiwan, Bulgaria, Sweden, and Australia,” Hanashiro explained. “We all became really good friends and I felt extremely lucky to have been placed in that dormitory.”

Francisco, a linguistics major, concurred. He found the combination of his classes and the international dorm he roomed in, which houses over 1,000 international students from all over the world, to be an ideal setting for learning.

“This provided a great study environment because we all studied together the same way,” Francisco said. “I also found the teachers to be really easy to talk to and they helped out any way they could.”

TGU was established in 1949 when four existing schools in the Tokyo area dating back as far as 1873 were merged. Since then, it has established a reputation as a highly regarded comprehensive university with undergraduate, masters, and doctoral programs in various areas of liberal arts and education. The university has produced able educators nationwide and established its reputation as a leading teacher-training institute.

Study abroad was financed in large part by the Japanese government through Japanese Student Service Organization (JASSO) scholarships. Last year, the organization provided a monthly stipend, arrival allowance and roundtrip airfare.

UH Hilo students have a distinct advantage over others interested in studying at TGU. TGU has international academic exchange agreements with 34 universities worldwide, but only three from the United States. As a result, UH Hilo students seeking JASSO scholarships only have to compete with Carthage College and Ball State University.

“Getting into the program is one thing. But earning a full government scholarship to pay their airfare and expenses will help them get the most out of this opportunity, and writing an excellent essay is crucial to their chances,” Ohara explained. “This is also a very prestigious scholarship, so being a recipient will have an extremely positive impact on their future.”

While Hanashiro and Francisco are UH Hilo’s first students to attend TGU, they won’t be the last. Helmy Faisal Bayasud and Justin Kauhl will be leaving for TGU in October where they will study Japanese and various linguistics courses until next July. Both admit to being a little nervous, given their limited fluency in Japanese. But what fear they may have of the unknown is easily eclipsed by their excitement.

This will be the second time Bayasud has studied overseas, having previously spent a month in Italy. In addition to learning more about the sights, language and culture of Japan, he plans to build on some earlier research.

“Specifically, with help from Dr. Ohara, I am planning to investigate the use of honorifics and how it impacts the way the Japanese view their own culture and the rest of the world,” Bayasud said. “Those results will then be compared with a study looking at how Japanese honorifics impact those views among Indonesia's population.”

For Kauhl, it’s his first time abroad. He’s hoping the experience will help him gain a broader understanding of the world at-large by studying a culture that is vastly different from his own.

“There are many wonderful things to be found in Japan that are absent in my own culture so I greatly look forward to the experience,” Kauhl said. “I think the contrast between the two illustrates what a society needs to sustain itself and grow by comparison.”

For more information, contact Dr. Yumiko Ohara at (808) 933-3191 or the Center for Global Education and Exchange at (808) 933-8810.

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