Rachel Thomas has always been fascinated by the Land of the Rising Sun. In an internship there this past summer, the senior finance major from Lynchburg studied the language and soaked up the culture.
She participated in the traditional bamboo craft of making flower vases, did some origami and calligraphy, tried on a kimono, and slept on a traditional Japanese mat. "It's a beautiful country. Sweet people. Culturally rich," she says.
Rachel was the first Longwood student to take part in a seven-year-old internship program sponsored by the International Communications Institute in which American involvement is coordinated by the Center for International Business & Studies (CIB). The CIB is a subsidiary of HANCOCK INTERNATIONAL, Global Investments & Exports, whose president, Dr. Samuel Lee Hancock of Richmond, is a member of the Corporate Advisory Board of the School of Business and Economics.
"The students go to learn conversational business Japanese and the culture," says Dr. Hancock, an Asia specialist. "It involves intensive language study and a cultural overview."
Rachel's internship July 2 21 was based in Nabari, a city of about 85,000 in Mie Prefecture (a prefecture is similar to a state), 45 minutes from Osaka. In the mornings she took language classes, and in the afternoons her professors took her and others to businesses and cultural sites. Her host family picked her up in he evening.
"It was me the lone American and 11 Danish students, from the Copenhagen Business School. Only one of the other Danes was in class with me; the others had had language training in their program. I still talk (via e-mail) to all of my three language teachers, one in particular, and to my host family, Jara and Natsuko Fujiyara. He's an elementary school teacher and she's a part-time translator for her father's company. She studied English in the United States about 10 years ago."
Nabari, she says, is small for a Japanese city. It's comparable to Lynchburg. Nabari has a McDonald's; I didn't like the teriyaki burger, but the french fries were pretty good. The area around Nabari is the birthplace of the art of Ninja." Nabari was chosen because it's close to Osaka, Japan's business capital, and the nearby city of Nara is "the Jamestown-Williamsburg of Japan," says Dr. Hancock.
Even though Rachel's host family lives in a modern two-story house, her sleeping arrangements bowed, figuratively, to the national custom. "I slept on a typical Tatami mat. The floor is Tatami, which is a tightly woven bamboo, and on top of that is a pallet, like a futon. Actually, it's comfortable. The only thing I didn't like about Japanese homes is there's no central air-conditioning. It's extremely hot and humid, especially since it was the beginning of the rainy season when I arrived. Sometimes during the rainy season it rains cats and dogs; one day I got caught in a pouring rain and the bottom of my jeans was soaked. I had an umbrella, but it didn't help."
She spent an entire day at a junior high school, where she sat in on English classes. She visited Japan's first commercial steelmaking company, Nabari's main cable and Internet service provider, the national nature center for children, a dam, a farm, the Danish Trade Council and the Nojima Fault, built to preserve part of an active fault which surfaced at the time of the devastating 1995 earthquake that killed more than 6,400 people in and around Kobe. She met the mayor of Nabari, the governor of Mie Prefecture, which is between Osaka and Nagoya and is home to more than 1.8 million people, and a representative of the Japan External Trade Organization.
Visiting Kyoto was one of the highlights. "Kyoto, the ancient capital, is like a foreign New York it's a big city, with shopping everywhere," she says. "I was there during the Gion Matsurai festival, which runs for the entire month of July. It's a celebration of health and happiness that dates to the 9th century, when people asked the gods to stop a plague that was sweeping the city. The festival includes a procession of 20 decorative floats which are either carried on the shoulders of several men on long poles, or pulled by men and young boys. It attracts a lot of foreigners and people from all over Japan."
She observed the Japanese work ethic ("They work six days and 80 hours a week"), learned there are nuances in how they say things ("'Yes,' for example, can mean different things"), and was impressed by their stores. "The supermarkets sell everything. It's like a Sears, several trendy clothing stores and a grocery store all under one roof. There were six or seven of these in Nabari alone."
How much Japanese did she learn? "I know than I thought I did. After I returned, I saw the film The Next Karate Kid on HBO, and there was a part with Japanese dialogue, and I understood all of it."
Rachel is a member of the Dean's Advisory Board of the School of Business and Economics, and last year she was her hall council president. After graduating next May, she wants to work in investment banking and financial planning, preferably in New York or Japan.
"Or I might want to work for a global exporting firm," she says. "I plan to attend the American Graduate School of International Management, in Glendale, Arizona (commonly known as Thunderbird), and earn both an MBA and a master's in international management. You have to wait three years before you can apply, so you can gain some work experience."
She also is interested in returning to Japan to work as a teacher or coordinator in the JET Program, which invites young college graduates from overseas to participate in international exchange and foreign language education throughout Japan.
Longwood is one of several institutions where Japanese students have studied since the CIB began in 1975 and was formally launched in 1983. "It began as a two-way exchange between the United States and Japan and now involves several other countries as well, including South Korea, Taiwan, China and Russia," says Dr. Hancock. "Over 500 Japanese students have studied in the U.S. since 1975. Three Japanese students will be at Longwood in the CIB program next year."