During the recent Intensive Learning Term, eight students, five alumni and one professor left their comfort zone — and their time zone — to explore Japan. The class examined Japanese culture, history and religion by visiting iconic cities and experiencing key points of local life.
“As a teacher of religion, I was particularly interested in taking students to Japan because it is a culture almost untouched by Judeo-Christian traditions,” said Mike Fales ’75, director of service learning and campus ministries and assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies and religion. “As such, it is a culture that is, perhaps, one of the most different from ours in the world.
“I was very proud of our students for stepping outside of their comfort zone and traveling to a place so different from our own. They were very adventurous and engaged. It was a pleasure to travel 12 time zones away with them.”
The class explored iconic cities like Tokyo, the one of the largest cities in the world, and Hakone, visiting landmarks and destinations like the Meiji Shrine, Tsukiji Outer Market, Hamarikyu Garden, Mt. Fuji, Peace Memorial Museum and Nijo Castle. Students also engaged in Buddhist and Shinto religious customs; watched sumo wrestling; learned about origami, calligraphy and Ikebana floral arranging; and even cooked a meal in a local home.
Dreams to Reality
For rising senior Marah Heikkila, the trip offered an opportunity to experience things she had only previously dreamed of.
“I have always wanted to go to Japan given its rich culture and because of what I have read in literature,” Marah said. “I really love Asian literature, specifically Japanese literature. I also wanted to travel to see how the country worked and how I fit in since I want to teach abroad within the next few years.
“This trip has easily had the biggest impact on me more than anything else during my education so far. It encouraged me and made me realize that teaching English in Japan is the right path for me. It also made me want to push past my comfort zone, to try new places and meet new people even if we don’t share a common language or culture. I also learned that being open and kind is a universal language that cultures can share.”
The Opportunity of a Lifetime
Brian Freiberger ’19 recently traveled to South Africa. After a transformative experience on one continent, Brian knew he had to squeeze in one more global learning opportunity before his graduation.
“When I was little, a Buddhist family from Taiwan lived with me. Since, I have been interested in Zen Buddhism Meditation, and we got to practice that while in Japan,” Brian said “My favorite experience during the trip was staying in the one of the biggest cities in the world, Tokyo. I’ve never been in a place that big with so many people — it was fascinating.
“These trips have enhanced my outlook on any given situation. The ability to think differently is important and will take you far in life.”
From the City to the Classroom
Nina Butts has already developed an appreciation for experiencing new and unique things, despite only just completing her first year at Olivet. She sees world travel as an opportunity for self-discovery.
“I have always wanted to travel to Japan to experience the culture. For this trip particularly, I thought it would be interesting to learn about religions that are far different from the religions in the United States,” Nina said.
“My expectation for the trip was to learn about a religion that felt more spiritual to me personally. By going to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, I learned about these two religions and I felt like I could bring these home to practice myself. As I develop a minor in history, I want to take this new perspective and analyze other cultures through the same lens.”
To learn more about Olivet College’s unique travel opportunities, contact the Office of Admissions at 800-456-7189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.