For the last few years, the Japan ICU Foundation has been offering Study Abroad scholarships to ICU undergraduate students who spend their junior year in the United States. This year, we awarded scholarships to five students studying at the University of California (UC) Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA, Middlebury College and Guilford College.
This week, we interviewed one of the recipients, Machi Niiya, who is currently studying at Middlebury College in Vermont.
JICUF：Hi Machi. Please tell us about yourself.
MN：I’m from Tokyo. When I was in sixth grade, my father was transferred to London, and we spent two years there. I graduated from Tokyo Metropolitan Kokusai High School.
At ICU, I am majoring in linguistics and minoring in language education.
My hobby is skiing. Middlebury College owns a ski resort, so I often ski on the weekends. I took up photography after I decided to study abroad.
JICUF：So far, has life at Middlebury been just as you’d imagined? Has anything surprised you?
MN：I’d heard that U.S. universities gave a lot of assignments, but it was more than I’d expected. Everyday, I struggle to prepare for classes. Classes are also discussion-based, and it took me a while to get used to it. However, I have a close relationship with faculty and peers, and the university offers various forms of assistance. I can get help any time I reach out to them.
It’s not only with regard to academics that people have helped me. What I was most anxious about was living far away from my family, but I’ve been blessed with a great roommate and friends. When you live in a dorm, you spend a lot of time with friends outside class and develop a closer relationship. I’ve only spent a short time at Middlebury, but I’ve already made strong connections with people like the ones I made in Japan over many years. I realized that this is not only because American students are friendly, but because I didn’t make the effort to get to know people when I was in Japan, and I regret that. I was only able to realize this because I studied abroad and my surroundings changed. After I return to Japan, I hope to make the most of everything that I learned at Middlebury, not only academically but also socially. I believe this is a role that students who have studied abroad are expected to fulfill.
JICUF：What have you gained from your study abroad experience so far?
MN：Middlebury has a robust language program, and there are dorms in which residents are only allowed to use a certain foreign language, and dining tables where students eat lunch speaking a certain language. As I wanted to experience Middlebury’s language education, I took Chinese. There are many opportunities for me to practice Chinese in and out of class. I also have the opportunity to speak with students of Japanese. At ICU, I only interacted with Japanese learners as classmates and through tutorials in Japanese teaching method classes, but at Middlebury, I can communicate with them as friends, which is wonderful. Many Middlebury students study at ICU and find jobs in Japan, and it’s a huge benefit not only for myself but for both ICU and Middlebury that the friendship between students continues long after exchange students return to their home countries.
JICUF：What classes are you taking now? Have you joined any clubs?
MN：In the fall term, I took Chinese, Sociolinguistics, Global Japanese Culture, and Introduction to Drawing. In the January-term, which is a month-long term, I took Chinese. This term, I am taking Chinese, Chinese Sociolinguistics, Documentary Film in Contemporary China and English Language in Global Context. I did wonder whether I should be taking so many courses about China even though I was in the U.S., but I’ve come to think there is meaning in studying about China with American students outside of Asia, and am happy with my decision now since it is a topic that interests me. I would like to continue studying Chinese after I return to Japan.
Outside of college, I joined the Japanese Club and performed “Yosakoi” with fellow members at a show that introduced foreign dance and music. I believe it’s important to stay connected to Japanese people, language and culture even while I’m studying in the U.S., and Middlebury is the perfect place for that. I also took up tap dancing. Through studying abroad, I began to enjoy challenging new things.
The International Exchange Office at Middlebury has a system that matches international students with host families. I often enjoy cooking, hiking and skiing with my host family. I celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with them too.
JICUF：What are your future plans? Please tell us what you intend to do after graduation.
MN：In the future, I’d like to work as a Japanese language teacher. I’d especially like to work in China. After graduation, I plan to study at a graduate school.
JICUF: Thank you Machi! We wish you the best in all of your future endeavors!