Casey Lee

Casey Lee '05 (Chinese Major and English and Asian Studies minors)

Q: What made you interested in studying about Japan or studying the Japanese language?
A: My interest in Japanese language and, eventually, Japanese literature and culture, grew out of my study of Modern Chinese Literature. Japan seemed to be very present in May 4th era consciousness, history, and language formation. It made sense to begin studying Japanese language. Encounters with contemporary Japanese literature and film as well as a very positive homestay experience in Hakodate have also boistered and sustained this interest.

Q: How did you decide on your major and minor? If Japanese/Asian Studies was not your major, how did your study of Japan or Japanese complement your major?
A: I have always known I would study literature. After arriving at Swarthmore, I found the interdisciplinary coursework required of an "area studies" major much more stimulating than, I guess, a traditional course of literary studies. Also, the literature of China (and, I would find, East Asia) just seemed so immediate to me, the relationship between narrative and history so intimate and relevant. So much had happened in the last few centuries that the resonances of them are still found in contemporary narratives, visual and textual. The course I took with Professor Ezawa on Japanese Society and Culture, especially, equipped me with a theoretical base from which I still draw to analyze many issues in modern and contemporary China and Japan.

Q: Describe a memorable classroom or extracurricular experience studying Japanese or Japanese culture.
A: During the second semester of first year Japanese, we began to write journal entries. The senseis responded to each of the journal entries and it really felt like we were writing letters to a friend. It really gave a context, a lived quality, to the language we were learning. Once, I talked about how much I enjoyed poetry in a journal entry and Jo-sensei brought in a poem which began "Iruka iruka inaika iruka." I remember those lines very fondly.

Q: How would you describe the experience of learning Japanese language to someone who is thinking about studying it for the first time?
A: I think the study of Japanese requires equal portions of discipline, organization (both in life and in the mind), patience, and a sense of humor. There is just so much going on all the time: character systems, grammar (particals, verb conjugations, sentence structure, usage), vocabulary, kanji...integrating all of it and becoming accustomed to the sound/pronunciation can be a long and awkward process. For me, the most challenging and fun aspect of Japanese is expressing oneself accurately and appropriately. There are so many ways to say one thing and so many set-phrases, knowing when and how to use which one is, for the most part, neither intuitive nor apparent. When I learn and express something well, however, it is probably one of the most exhilerating moments in language learning...I can almost hear a "click" in the air affirming that I'm getting somewhere.

Q: Describe your study abroad experience in Japan.
A: I participated in the Hokkaido International Foundation program in Hakodate. The high point of my experience there was the time I got to spend with my host family. There are really not enough positive things I can say about them. They made me feel as though I was really living at and returning to a home each day for the 2 months I was there. The low point, ironically, was that some of my classmates in the program had serious problems with their host families. . . I would recommend studying in Japan and, especially, participating in a homestay or at least being in a position where it is possible to befriend/have consistent exchanges with native speakers. If there is a homestay, however, I would also recommend asking about how they are arranged, conducted, and what is done if a potentially damaging conflict should arise.

Q: What are you doing now? How has the study of Japanese and Japanese culture affected your life?
A: I am currently continuing my studies in East Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The study of Japanese language and culture has quite directly affected my life since I am challenged to put everything I've learned to use on a daily basis. In deciding to explore Japan in my undergraduate years, I have already begun to benefit from the sometimes unexpected doors that have opened in terms of the courses I can take, the people I can work with, as well as options for future research and career prospects. As just one example, my knowledge of Japanese and Chinese allowed me to work with/for and gain access to a preeminent, retired film scholar. I have no doubt that the study of Japanese and Japanese culture will continue to play a positive and challenging role in my life.