Jennifer Lopez '14

Q: What made you interested in studying about Japan or studying the Japanese language?

I started studying Japanese my third year of high school, when a spot opened up for an elective. At the time I was studying French, a language that was challenging in and of itself but at least not too dissimilar from my native Spanish. At the suggestion of a few friends I decided to give Japanese a try, as I thought it would be a great challenge to try something completely outside my comfort zone. Rather than feeling uncomfortable, I found that in such a position I became more aware of the cultural nuances embedded in language, a lesson that started the very first class with the simple greeting of 「お元気ですか。」

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?

When I was looking for universities to apply to, I had a few conditions to narrow down my search. For example, I knew I wanted to be out of state, and wanted a school that would be academically rigorous. But my first and probably most important condition was that the school had to offer Japanese as a major. More specifically, I wanted to double major in Japanese and Linguistics; the perfect combination, I thought, for someone who loved languages as much as I did. The Linguistics major didn't end up happening, but by simply following my interests, the Asian Studies major came quite naturally. I thoroughly enjoyed having such an interdisciplinary major, and loved that I was also able to include my Korean studies as well. While my year abroad made it difficult to elect Japanese as a major, I was just as happy with my minor in Japanese.

Q: Describe a memorable classroom or extracurricular experience studying Japanese or Japanese culture.

With all the Language Table events, curry parties, and overall class times, it's hard to pick just one memorable experience. But if I have to chose I'd say that Japanese Movie Night really stands out. The idea is really simple. Japanese students and friends gather in a classroom in Kohlberg and watch a Japanese film while munching on some kettle corn and pink lemonade. We watched classic films and contemporary films, from genres ranging from dramas to comedies. There were usually only a few students that would attend, but because of this we had more freedom to chose what we wanted to watch. During the movie we would often share comments, and ask the Japanese tutor that was in charge of the event questions about some language or cultural cue we didn’t quite understand. Japanese Movie Night was a very simple way to spend a Friday evening, but I remember it quite fondly as a time to hang out with good friends all while learning more about Japanese language and culture through films.

Q: How would you describe the experience of learning Japanese language to someone who is thinking about studying it for the first time?

I strongly believe that no language is any harder to learn than another. At first Japanese can seem intimidating because of all the characters you need to memorize, as well as the completely different grammar structures (the verb goes that the end! and particles?!), but don't let that discourage you! There is so much more to learning a language than getting everything correct. Let yourself make those mistakes and just keep going. Homework, for example, is not graded in the traditional way. If you have mistakes you will simply get it back and correct what you had wrong and then submit your revisions. There is really so much support from the Japanese instructors, and they are always willing to meet if you have any questions. One thing I want to talking about in regards to taking Japanese at Swarthmore specifically, is the shadowing assignments. If you are confused at first, it's okay. If you do your assignment, go in for your meeting and get told that you are doing it completely wrong, it's okay. Shadowing may seem like the worst thing in the world but after a few tries you'll find that certain phrases will roll off your tongue. You'll be watching anime or a Japanese movie and will be able to keep up with a good amount of the dialogue. So just keep practicing, you'll be surprised by how much you'll know and understand by the end of it.

Q: Did you study abroad in Japan? If so, please tell us a little about your experience.

I studied abroad in Korea for one year but during my program, we had an excursion to Japan in order to better understand Japanese influences in Korean culture and society, as well as learn about the Korean diaspora in Japan. During our trip we traveled to Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. Besides the special lectures on history, we were able to visit several shrines and temples, ate a traditional kaiseki meal, and visited Koreatown, among other activities.

Q: What are you doing now? What are your future plans? How has the study of Japanese and Japanese culture affected your life?

After graduation I got an internship at a Japanese cultural center, which has both martial as well as cultural arts. Currently I am in charge of our blog and newsletter, as well as coordinating in-center events, as well as those around the city. Through my work I have had the great opportunity to interview and interpret for two Japanese film directors, as well as a shodo artist from Fukushima. Since starting my internship I have been studying Chado (The Way of Tea) and through my studies have been learning more about Japanese history, art, literature, and etiquette. I also recently had my first class in Aikido!

In the near future I hope to work as a literary translator and also have a career in publishing, preferably working with Korean and Japanese literature.