Over the spring break, a group of MCLA students traveled to Japan with history professor Dr. Kailai Huang for an intimate experience of that country through visits to historical sites, temples and shrines, museums and national parks in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Okayama-Kurashiki.
"The best thing about the trip was just being able to immerse ourselves into the culture - to interact with the people, visit sites that are important to the Japanese, try the food, and appreciate the beauty of many of their traditions," said Bridgette Reiss '11 of Chicopee, Mass., who, before she graduated, gained special permission from Huang to go on the trip.
"I had wanted to go to Japan for a long time, so when the opportunity to take the travel course came up, I knew I had to take advantage of it. I have always been intrigued by Japanese culture and history, so this was really the trip of a lifetime for me," Reiss said.
Francisco Lichauco '14 of Belmont, Mass., also had a longtime interest in Japan, which started with his partiality for anime and manga. "From these, I learned about and got exposure to the Japanese culture. When I found out about this trip, I immediately thought that I had to get on this. When was I ever going to get to go to Japan and see all that we saw?
"During class meetings I learned about Japan's origins and history," he continued. "Actually flying halfway across the world and seeing the country was so surreal. I remember when we were walking through the airport in Tokyo, I was thinking to myself, 'We're in Japan. We're actually in Japan!'"
Timothy Range '12 of Brooklyn, N.Y., took Japanese in high school. "Speaking the language and having a vague understanding of - but strong interest in - Japan, I felt it was absolutely necessary to take the trip."
Megan Cronin '12 of Rochester, Mass., wanted to immerse herself in an unfamiliar culture. "Being in another country creates a very different social atmosphere than our campus. It was fun helping each other with the language and exploring together."
"I was able to see sites that I have read about in history books, such as Hiroshima," said Rebecca Ramos '13 of Ashland, Mass. "It was moving to see just how well they were able to rebuild after the atomic bomb, while not forgetting the past."
Intrigued by its culture, Kristen Young '13 of West Newbury, Mass., figured the trip likely would be her only opportunity to see Japan.
"The best part of the trip had to be all the shrines we went to. I can't begin to list how many there were, but they were breathtakingly beautiful," Young explained. "The most surprising thing to happen had to be in Miyajima. There were 'wild' deer that were lounging around on the sides of the street and you could go up and feed them."
The experience made Young more aware of the clothes she wears. "Both women and men dress up every day, even if they're running to the corner store to pick up ice cream. Now, I take time to plan my outfit every morning before heading off to class, instead of picking out the first T-shirt and jeans I see."
"The best thing about the trip was to truly understand the Japanese lifestyle, as it is very different from America in general," Range said. "This experience has certainly opened my eyes to the possibilities of a lifestyle outside of what we consider 'normal' culture."