Voices from Our Students
Morgan Thweatt (JPAN012, 111/112; internship in Tokyo; JPAN311; senior year at Hitotsubashi University)
My journey studying Japanese really started when I studied Japanese for one semester in the third grade as part of my school’s gifted program. That summer, I went to Disney World with my parents and introduced myself in Japanese to one of the women who worked in the Japan section of Epcot. She was surprised and delighted, and the excitement of that moment stayed with me. When I went to high school, I had to pick a second language to study as per the graduation requirements of my school and Japanese was an easy choice.
I went to Japan on a short exchange the summer before college and started taking Japanese at Penn my freshman spring with JPAN 012, as I had studied it for two years but was a bit rusty. To be honest I maybe should have started from JPAN 111, but the review was nice. The summer after I completed JPAN 112 in my sophomore year, I interned in Tokyo at a Japanese NPO through a Penn program. By the end of the first month I was almost exclusively speaking Japanese at work and needless to say, I improved a lot that summer. Enough that upon my return to Penn I skipped 200 level and went straight to JPAN 311! I was unable to take JPAN 312 due to schedule conflicts, but to make up for it I spent the entirely of my senior year at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. I was honestly a bit sad to not take Japanese at Penn my last year, since I had developed a really close relationship with some of the professors, but Penn’s Japanese program definitely prepared me for living, learning, and working in Japan.
Japanese became such a big part of my life and allowed me opportunities to connect with people and learn new perspectives I wouldn’t have been able with English alone. I don’t think any of my experiences in Japan would have been as fun or enriching if I didn’t speak Japanese. I was even able to interview for a number of Japanese companies over the past semester, although COVID got in the way. I’m not quite sure what’s next, but I hope that I will end up somewhere I can continue to use Japanese and hope to stay connected to the people I have met because of it.
Wesley Chow (JPAN 021/022 – up to 312 )
Growing up in Hong Kong, I have always been infatuated with Japanese culture in the form of anime and design due to its strong influence on my home city. However, it was not until when I went solo backpacking in Japan for three weeks without knowing a single word of Japanese after Freshman year, that I realized the importance of learning the language to be in touch with real Japanese people.
I decided to take the Intensive Beginning Japanese the following semester. Thanks to the heart and soul poured out by caring professors, I was able to develop a strong foundation in kana and grammar, greatly complimenting my existing knowledge in Chinese kanji. Through the immersive classes, I was also able to get exposure to different aspects of Japanese culture and mannerisms that I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed.
Armed with the foundation I gained from Japanese classes (up to 312), I traveled frequently to Japan in the past two years and realized my new ability to communicate fairly fluently with native speakers, even making a few friends around the country. Most recently, I made the leap of faith to attend Boston Career Forum, a recruiting event meant for Japanese-English bilinguals, and managed to snag a job offer in Tokyo through rounds of interviews conducted in business Japanese. I would highly recommend going through the Japanese Language Program, no matter if you just want to understand more nuances of Japanese culture, or seriously considers pursuing a new life and career in Japan.
Allison Capron (JPAN 011/012, 111/112, 211)
I first became acquainted with Japanese when my older brothers exposed me to Japanese movies and music. After developing a strong interest for Japanese entertainment, I wanted to study the language. Unfortunately, my high school did not offer Japanese so coming to Penn and learning about the Japanese program was a huge plus for me.
Learning Japanese has been a wonderful experience and it has been one of my favorite classes at Penn. The professors are wonderful and really care about the students. They incorporate teachings on Japanese culture into daily lessons in order to give a holistic learning experience. They are kind and supportive and will answer any questions and ensure that everyone understands the content. In addition, the class is always interesting because of the engaging discussions and funny conversations. Except for test days, I always look forward to class and practicing my Japanese.
Furthermore, I’ve been able to practice Japanese outside of class. I have a conversation partner through the English Language Program and I can speak with a native Japanese person. In addition, I was able to go on a subsidized spring break trip to Japan through a Wharton program. I believe that I was accepted into the program because of my interest in Japanese and the courses I took. The trip was really fun and helpful as it solidified my decision to study abroad in the spring. While I think that my Japanese is still bad, I have learned a lot and I am excited to learn more. Even though it is difficult, I am working hard to improve my language skills.
Barbara Chen (JPAN 021/022, 311/312, 481)
Learning Japanese at Penn has been an incredible experience. Penn’s Japanese language instructors are phenomenal, and their expertise and personality really add a new level to the learning experience.
The first Japanese course I took was Intensive Japanese. While it demanded a lot of time, it was one of my favorite courses I’ve taken at Penn. Unlike other classes at Penn, this class was always full of fun discussions and laughter, so every class was unique in its own ways. Knowing this, I always looked forward to each class. In addition, my sensei always tried to incorporate current Japanese events or unique aspects of Japanese culture that relate to the course content, so it really takes the learning experience out of the classroom to the real world.
JPAN 021/022 also gave me a solid foundation in Japanese and the confidence to really put my Japanese to use. As someone who self-studied Japanese (and I studied only hiragana, katakana, and kanji readings) in high school, JPAN 021/022 was the perfect class for me. Before the course, I knew absolutely no Japanese grammar. After that, I visited Japan for three weeks, and to my surprise, I could navigate my way through Japan perfectly well – whether it be understanding local bus timetables, asking for directions, or just casually speaking with other native Japanese speakers.
Before coming to Penn, I dreamed about learning Japanese but never had the opportunity to do so in a classroom setting. This is my third year of taking Japanese at Penn, and I have become more and more confident in my Japanese skills. Three years ago, I would’ve never imagined that I would be able to speak and understand Japanese at the level I do now. But thanks to Penn’s Japanese Language Program, I’ve accomplished more than I imagined.
Roger Lee (JPAN 011/012, 111)
Learning Japanese has undoubtedly been a highlight of my time here at the University of Pennsylvania. In high school, I took a trip to Kyoto, and fell in love with the country, so the comprehensiveness of Penn’s Japanese program was a key factor in my decision to attend Penn.
One of the greatest strengths of the Japanese program is that the professors actively tailor the course content to the wide array of student interests. For example, in my beginning Japanese course, I met students of Japanese descent, artists drawing inspiration from ancient Japanese wood-prints, as well as marketing majors seeking to enhance their professional understanding of Japanese business culture. As a result, I always looked forward to class because of the fascinating discussions we had. In fact, some of my best friends at Penn are ones I have made through Japanese class!
Outside of class, I am involved with the ELP program which connects Japanese exchange students with native English speakers. I am immensely grateful for the kindness of my professors who have even volunteered their time to help me navigate the cultural nuances of using Japanese outside of a classroom setting. The Japanese language community at Penn is definitely tightly knit, and you can find us trying out the newest Japanese BBQ restaurant, or exploring a tea garden at the University arboretum. Despite our diverse backgrounds, the professors encourage us to find ways to integrate Japanese culture into our lives, and I would say that they have been quite successful!