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Joanie Jean '11

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

I first became interested in learning Japanese in high school, when a friend of mine showed me the subtitled version of a tv show I had, in my ignorance, previously assumed was American. It immediately captured my imagination. I have always loved learning new languages, and after seven long years of French and Latin, Japanese was a new challenge! Attempting to learn it on my own became a longtime hobby. When I was accepted to Swarthmore, I jumped on the chance to take a formal course.

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?

My original focus was Biology, but I soon realized I was devoting an equally large amount of time to my Japanese studies as the years went on and my former "hobby" become a full blown academic pursuit. I enjoyed my language classes immensely, and I wanted to learn more about Japanese culture and history. Adopting Japanese as a major alongside Biology was the best way to enrich my language learning with historical and cultural context.

Q: How would you describe the experience of learning Japanese language to someone who is thinking about studying it for the first time? 
When I first started learning Japanese,  kanji and kana seemed like mysterious, impenetrable symbols. It was a constant and often frustrating challenge, but an intensely rewarding one. When I decided to major in Japanese alongside Biology,  I made it my personal goal to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) at level 3 or higher by the time I graduated. 
I was unable to do this - despite studying Japanese throughout my college career and studying abroad, it wasn’t until I moved to Japan to teach English after graduation that I finally reached my desired level of fluency and earned my level 3 JLPT certificate. After many years of study and struggle, receiving those results felt wonderful. Becoming proficient in a language that once thoroughly intimidated me to even some small degree, is probably one of the things I am most proud of.  Learning the Japanese language definitely isn't easy, and it may take a lot of time and hard work, but the reward definitely makes it worth it.

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

I studied abroad in Kyoto with the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies in the spring of my junior year, and it was a wonderful experience. I finally got to experience what I had been learning in the classroom first hand, and it helped my language learning immensely.  I made lasting friendships there, and continue to correspond with my host family and program colleagues. 

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

Currently, I am a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, and I plan to go into family practice while continuing to further my interests in public health when I graduate. Going from Japanese to dentistry seems a little strange on the surface, but it lets me explore my other love - biology. In truth, I feel that my experience studying Japanese language and culture both here and abroad equipped me to make this transition fairly easily. It taught me lessons important for any dentist: teamwork, communication, and perseverance. It taught me to embrace the unknown and to thrive under stress, and it has definitely helped shape my outlook and the kind of person I have become since leaving school. I think one of the most important things I have gained from this experience is drive - my desire to reach my personal goals while learning Japanese pushed me to go halfway around the world and back. If I can do that, why not dental school?

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