'Ultimate Lifetime Experience'
Eight students traveled to Japan over the spring break with their professor, Dr. Kailai Huang, to discover Japan's intricate blend of ancient traditions and cutting-edge modernity through visits to historic sites, temples and shrines, museums, and national parks in Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kanazawa and Tokyo.
Although the students already had some knowledge of Japanese culture, "This trip allowed them to experience in person the real context that makes Japan known for her arts, aesthetics, religions and diverse foods," Huang said.
Interested in Japan's fashion and technology industries, after she saw the movie, "Tokyo Drift," Ciara Gerena '15 of Harlem, N.Y., had long dreamed of traveling to Japan.
Once there, visits to historical temples, palaces and castles "made me feel as though I was walking through a Japanese movie," she said.
Andy Martin '14 of Glendale, Mass., became interested in visiting Japan after he saw the photos and souvenirs his father brought home from travels to that country with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Because of the "unbelievable price" of the trip, Martin decided the opportunity was just too great to pass up.
The best part of the experience, Martin said, was the sense of adventure he felt at seeing so many new things, and being in a country where the language - and the writing - was so completely foreign to him.
"It really got me excited and appreciating every little thing that happened, from missing our train stop to a maple leaf blowing across a newly paved street," Martin said.
Like Martin, Connor Robbins '15 of Wakefield, Mass., who describes himself as a "huge anime and manga fan," felt he could not miss the opportunity the travel course presented.
His favorite part of the trip was a visit to Miyajima Island.
"It was so peaceful and aesthetically pleasing," Robbins explained. "Nothing but a clear sky, sparkling ocean water, amazing mountains and shrines, and free, roaming deer resting and being pet by visitors. The natural environment there had a really powerful effect on me, and I had never felt so at peace in my life.
"The most surprising thing I learned on this trip was how many shrines and temples there are in Japan," Robbins continued. "Despite having modern technology and cities, they are still devoted to their ancestral practices and worship of 'kami' - deities or spirits - in the Shinto faith. It was really inspiring and amazing."
For Nikki Kratounis '15 of New York City, the trip sparked her interest in travel.
"Being bombarded with a culture in many ways different than the one I was previously accustomed to led me to constantly critically analyze my experience," she explained.
Going to Japan marked Gerena's first time to step outside the United States. She encourages other students to take advantage of the travel courses MCLA offers.
"They get to go out of the country and learn about how the way life is in another part of the world. Going with someone who knows the area and how to travel is a great advantage," she explained. "If I went to Japan alone, I would not have been able to visit the places we went to."
Martin agreed. "I think it is a fantastic experience. I would most definitely recommend any student with the means to take a travel course. Even if you know nothing about the country beforehand, learning so many new things before going and applying the small amount of knowledge you gained, then building on it as you go, is a really great experience."
"It was the most ultimate lifetime experience," Gerena added.