Marty Griffith '05 (Asian Studies Major, History Minor)
Q: What made you interested in studying about Japan or studying the Japanese language?
A: There were several reasons why I was interested in studying Japanese. The first was that it was a new program and I have always been one to get involved in new things. Another reason was that American culture actually has more influence from Japan than I think most people realize. Namely, video games, animated television shows and movies, and our economic ties all are a great influence on certain sections of Americans. Another important reason I chose to study Japanese is that as the number one and two largest economies in the world, and as two of the largest polluter, I felt that it is of the utmost importance to the world that Japan and America work together to further the world economy while reducing emmisions, and I wanted to be involved in that process in any way possible. One final aspect is that learning languages is a very enjoyable course of study, and even if you never end up using it in the long run, you have a good time while you are doing it.
Q: How did you decide on your major and minor?
A: I decided when I came into Swarthmore that I would just take classes that sounded interesting to me, and see where that led me. After all the Japanese language, culture, history, and religion classes I took I just naturally ended up with an Asian Studies major. It was great to have a major that allowed me to take course in such a wide breadth of areas as mentioned above, and I feel I was able to really understand many things about Japan from different angles and make connections that others might miss from being more concentrated in one course of study.
Q. Describe a memorable classroom or extracurricular experience studying Japanese or Japanese culture.
A: Some of my most memorable experiences from my time studying about Japanese culture during my time at Swarthmore was when I was able to chat with the many Japanese students at our college in Japanese. Many students of foreign languages do not often have that opportunity and the Japanese language staff at Swarthmore certainly help to get native speakers together with students very often. Another memorable experience was watching anime with my friends. That might be considered to be pretty lame by many people's standards, but I think it is a great way to get an idea of Japanese popular culture and see how that connects with the many things that are discussed in your classes.
Q. How would you describe the experience of learning Japanese language to someone who is thinking about studying it for the first time?
A: First and foremost, Japanese is interesting because it has great practical application in the real world. Many areas of study at Swarthmore can be frustrating at times because it seems as if they have very little practical application in real life (this is in no way to be considered an insult). Japanese is a living language and native speakers of Japanese live not just in Japan but all over the world. Even if you do not know Japanese, and never use it, it is just fun to do. Also, learning kanji is very difficult, but also very rewarding because they add a certain extra level of meaning to words, and there is nothing similar to Kanji in English. Each character has a specific meaning worked into it, and when combined with our characters it can lend a whole new spin to words or give them added meaning, and when applied to poetry, this is a very beautiful and interesting part of the Japanese language.
Q: What are you doing now? How has the study of Japanese and Japanese culture affected your life?
A: I am currently teaching English in Japan through the JET program. It is a very well-renowned program and I have found that it very much lives up to its reputation. I can not even begin to describe how much my experience here has been enhanced by my study of Japanese language and culture and I am grateful every day for the opportunity. I am now able to enjoy Japanese books, movies, and television, and have found that experience, along with making friends with many Japanese people, has opened my eyes to a very different worldview from my own. That is not just lip service either, I am exposed everyday to a truly different culture and way of thinking and I feel that this experienced has informed and shaped my own thinking in many ways. Surprisingly, it is not just the differences between Japan and America, but the similarities that fascinate me as well, and if I could go back I would actually chose to take MORE classes in my major if I could.