Left: A mall in Akihabra, Tokyo, where every floor displays and sells anime. Right: A statue of a manga character on one of the floors of the mall.
In his first week on campus, transfer student Enrique Garcia made his way to the Study Abroad Office, knocked on the door of the director – Gersende Chanfrau and said, “Hey, I want to study abroad in Japan.’”
“I picked Japan because ever since I was a kid, I’ve been heavily into anime,” he said, which automatically immerses you in Japanese culture. “When I finally got the chance to actually learn the language I grabbed it.”
With a $6,000 Shinn Study Abroad Scholarship, Garcia was able to enroll in a three-month-long Japanese language program at the KCP International Japanese Language School in Tokyo. The program cost $6,300. Garcia only needed to come up with $300.
Language classes were held five days a week and on Saturdays he had a Japanese culture class. The instructor would first teach on a topic for an hour and then take the class on a field trip to reinforce what they had learned.
Among the sites they visited were a Kabuki theatre, where actors performed a dance-drama in white face; the ancient Buddhist temple Sensō-ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo; and the city of Akihabra, considered the center of modern Japanese popular culture and a major shopping district for anime, video games, manga (Japanese comics or graphic novels) and technology.
“Akihabra is like anime heaven,” Garcia said. “Going there is like taking a special pilgrimage.”
The streets are covered with anime and manga icons, buildings are designed like anime and billboards are like flat-screen TVs that constantly play anime.
Left: A building in Akihabra, Tokyo, designed like a cellphone. Right: A statue of Spiderman in a mall in Akihabra.
Garcia and his classmates also spent a two-day weekend at a ryokan (inn). Built in traditional Japanese style, the walls are made of rice paper, with sliding panels for doors and reed mats. Hotel guests wear the yukata (kimono) and are treated to an amazing spread that included sushi and tempura.
And, of course, Garcia did his own exploring.
“Looking back, I didn't feel a big culture shock when I arrived in Japan because I had been readying myself for this for a while. But it was still eye-opening to experience something different,” he said.
The junior encourages other students to take the plunge before graduating.
“Some people are on the fence about studying abroad because they're afraid of not being able to make it in a foreign country,” he said. “But when it comes to study abroad programs, Rhode Island College really structures everything for you. You're not just thrown into the wild. And there are a lot of financial resources. I say, ‘Go for it.’”