Victoria Swisher '06 (Astronomy Major, English Minor)
Q: What made you interested in studying about Japan or studying the Japanese language?
A: I lived in Japan for four years as a child and loved learning about Japanese and the Japanese culture at that time. I always wanted to continue these studies, but my major in Astronomy did not leave me enough time to take Japanese until my senior year at Swarthmore
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'm not really sure my study of Japan or Japanese complemented either my Astronomy major or my minor in English, but I think it was an important way to round out my education. I believe strongly in the value of learning a foreign language and learning about foreign cultures. Also, I was just a few credits away from completing a minor in Asian Studies, so my study of Japanese definitely complemented my overall interest in those studies.
Q: Describe a memorable classroom or extracurricular experience studying Japanese or Japanese culture.
A: The single thing about the Swarthmore Japanese program that stands out most in my mind is the fact that Japanese class was the reason I got up every morning. I looked forward every day to attending either drill or lecture, and without fail it put me in a great mood for the rest of my day. More specifically, I enjoyed attending the Delaware area's Japanese teachers association meeting where various students gave speeches or skits, where I was able to see the creativity of students of all levels and connect with people who had a shared passion for learning Japanese. I also enjoyed giving and listening to the speeches we prepared for class at Swarthmore because it was extremely rewarding to see how far each of us had come in the span of only a year. It was also fascinating to hear about how learning Japanese made sense for each person individually, since this invariably came through in my classmates' speeches.
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 about the continual discovery of a language and culture that is completely foreign to the basic truths we assume are apparent in our own American culture and the English language. I think what I fell in love with first about Japanese is the way it sounds - I think it's a very musical language. For someone learning Japanese for the first time, I would say that whether you plan to learn the language just for a couple of years or whether you're prepared to make the commitment to learn it over the many, many years that are required to attain fluency, you have to be ready to realize early on that learning Japanese takes daily discipline and an extraordinary amount of time. But I have to also say that it is an incredibly rewarding experience. I was able to attend a language immersion program after only having a year's worth of Japanese at Swarthmore, and I was able to, fairly comfortably, communicate exclusively in Japanese as I continued learning 2nd year Japanese. It is an amazing experience to communicate with another person in a foreign language and to be understood. I think what is most challenging about Japanese is how completely different Japanese culture is from American culture and how this permeates every aspect of the language, even at the 1st year level.
Q: What are you doing now? How has the study of Japanese and Japanese culture affected your life?
A: After graduating from Swarthmore, I attended Middlebury College's Summer Language Program for level 2 Japanese, and I absolutely loved it. It was a fantastic experience that has caused me to become even more enthusiastic about learning more Japanese. It was commented by the Japanese teachers at the summer Middlebury program that Swarthmore students are always very studious and good Japanese students, and I was awarded the 2006 Distinguished Student Award at the completion of the Japanese summer program at Middlebury College. I am now looking for a job and considering graduate school in international relations. Studying Japanese my senior year at Swarthmore made me realize that I do want to put my science education in an international context, continue to learn about other cultures, and help those cultures interact with and understand each other better. I strongly believe that understanding that there are cultures much, much different from our own because we need more people making an effort to understand how people who are different than us, whether it be because of race, gender, class, or nationality, are thinking differently from us or might have different value systems. By learning the Japanese language, I have also had to learn about Japanese culture. I have been able to gain a better understanding of how someone from such a different culture might approach problems, issues, and life in general differently than I do.