It’s 5,404 miles from Osaka, Japan, to Moraga—a ten-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean to a different time zone, language and culture. Twenty-one science students from Osaka University took this journey to come to Moraga from September 6 to 27 for a Science and Society Seminar program that emphasized their English speaking skills.
Members of the Saint Mary’s community helped to ease their transition. Each student was paired up with an SMC student who took them to class and guided them through their stay. Communicating with their buddies also helped the visitors perfect their language skills. Kristine McCracken, who was a buddy to one of the students, said that her buddy “had become a lot more confident in speaking English.”
Faculty members Carla Bossard, Steve Bachofer and Chris Jones from the School of Science created special lectures for the students. Brother Martin Yribarren gave them a tour of the Chapel, where he played the organ in the choir loft. One of the students, Jiro Shimaya, who is an accomplished musician, took a turn on the organ as well. “It was an unexpected treat,” said Susie Miller-Reid, director of the Center for International Programs.
They also explored life outside the campus on sightseeing trips around the Bay Area to the Chabot Space and Science Center, California Academy of Sciences, Intel Museum and Stanford University. The students ended their stay with a presentation of their final projects on how science can help solve a specific problem in Japanese society, ranging from sustainable food development to biofuels.
Aside from culture shock, the biggest adaptation for the students was the weather. “They are very used to humid weather in Japan. Everything here is very bright,” said Miller-Reid. They even had to don hats to protect themselves from the California sun, especially when they spent time in the Legacy Garden, where they worked on sustainable agriculture projects and harvested produce for the weekly farmer’s market.
Many of the students will go on to graduate school and careers in the science field, where the ability to communicate in English is imperative. Keita Tanaka, sophomore chemistry major, plans to attend graduate school in the United States and become a chemistry professor, so he said that this trip was a great opportunity to practice his English skills. He was impressed by the hospitality and support of the SMC community.
On his return to Japan, he says, “I want to convey everything about my experience, but mostly about the people – they’re very kind and very friendly.”