Susanna Mitro '11

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

I actually began studying Japanese in high school because my twin brother asked me to study with him. I was then an exchange student in Japan for one month when I was 17. While I was in Japan, I was amazed by the beauty of the country and the culture. My interest in communicating with my friends from that experience encouraged me to keep studying. 

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?

I decided to be a Biology major, Psychology and Japanese minor at Swarthmore. Studying Japanese was a great experience for me and a wonderful complement to studying the sciences. The Japanese department (especially at the advanced level) does a great job of incorporating level-appropriate Japanese literature and culture into the curriculum, and those humanities-type classes were a welcome contrast to the rest of my schedule in junior and senior years, which was full of science classes. 
Studying Japanese also allowed me to make friends with a different group of non-science people. The Japanese department has a nice community of students who have chosen to put themselves through the very demanding coursework-- by the time I reached the upper level classes, I had become good friends with everyone else who was still involved. 

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

There are so many! I have many fond memories of Suda Sensei's Japanese conversation class. At one point, we had to debate one another in Japanese, on topics like the pros and cons of school uniforms. It was encouraging to be able to truly communicate opposing views in Japanese, but at the same time very funny to try to construct complex multi-phrase sentences, and emphatically disagree with one another, using our somewhat limited vocabularies. I also really enjoyed an independent reading I took with one other student on manga. We read portions of comic books like Death Note and Evangelion in the original Japanese, and discussed the themes and use of language. That was a very unique glimpse into Japanese culture that I think was really enabled by the open-mindedness and encouraging atmosphere of the Japanese department. 

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

Learning Japanese is a very intense experience at Swarthmore. You can expect to spend a lot of time memorizing words and grammar and practicing kanji stroke orders, and still feel that you are struggling to do well and learn it all. On the other hand, you will come out of each class having learned a lot in a short amount of time, and you will bond with your classmates who are also going through the struggle. Also, the department's classes progress from basic grammar to Japanese literature and conversation in 3-4 years, so all the initial memorization work pays off. 

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

I did not study abroad, but I did participate in the JET Program after graduating. I was assigned to teach English at 6 junior high schools in Gifu Prefecture. It was a truly life-changing experience to live and work in rural Japan. All those years studying Japanese at Swarthmore enabled me to communicate with my coworkers and students and reduced the isolation of being one of a only a handful of English speakers in my city.
 

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

I am now working as an epidemiologist, and I'm starting a PhD in Epidemiology in the fall. 
Studying Japanese was a great and memorable experience at Swarthmore, and it enabled me to spend a year in Japan on the JET Program, where I made lifelong friends (both my fellow JETs and several Japanese coworkers).