Cherry blossom trees, an icon of the friendship between Japan and the United States, also are a fitting symbol for a relationship that bloomed decades ago and whose roots grow stronger each year between Penn State Abington and Seinan Gakuin University in Japan.
This friendship culminated in an English immersion course that recently brought 12 Seinan students halfway around the world to Abington for two weeks of learning and international exchange.
Dolores Rafter Arevalo, coordinator of the Office of International Affairs at Abington, said the visit was a learning experience on multiple levels for students from both universities.
“Abington students who study Japanese language and culture served as conversation partners for the Japanese students," she said. "It may appear that only words were shared as both groups hone their target language skills, but in reality this interaction may prove to be much deeper. The students widened their global perspectives, increased their intercultural communication skills and, perhaps, created lifelong friendships. “
A similar experience more than than 30 years ago still impacts Arevalo’s personal and professional life.
“I decided to teach English as a second language (ESL) in Japan because I had befriended two Japanese women in a summer ESL program at University Park,” she said. “Casual conversation unexpectedly turned into lifelong friendships and informed my decision to teach abroad.”
While continuing her education, Arevalo also befriended fellow student Akira Miyahara, now a professor of communication studies at Seinan. Arevalo and Miyahara collaborated on the recent Abington program.
The Communication and Culture Summer Intensive Program was led by two Abington faculty members: Carla Chamberlin-Quinlisk, associate professor of applied linguistics, and Roxanna Senyshyn, coordinator of ESL Programming.
Fifty hours of instruction formed the foundation of the program. They included daily journaling and a capstone project: students created and presented stories in English using multimedia resources to document their learning experiences in the United States. The goals of these assignments were to further an understanding of communication in this country such as norms and expectations in academic, professional and social settings.
Organized activities and field experiences also provided a key component of the program. The students lived in a downtown Philadelphia hotel and the Japanese American Society hosted a welcome reception and a class. Jane Owens, senior director of continuing education at Abington, guided the group on a trip to Lancaster County and an evening of shopping in King of Prussia.
They also visited New York City, the beaches of Ocean City, N.J. , and historic Doylestown. While in Doylestown, the group spent time at the James A. Michener Art Museum, which houses works of noted Japanese-American woodworker and peace proponent George Nakashima.
Arevalo coordinates numerous international programs at Abington. Students from Hof University of the Applied Sciences in Germany regularly visit the college and will arrive this week for a business case competition. The Office of International Affairs is also the point of contact for about 40 students from around the world who are pursuing their degrees at Abington.
In addition, Arevalo’s office provides support for courses with international travel components each academic year. This spring, four courses will take students and faculty to England, Italy and Nicaragua. Study abroad scholarships are available for qualified students.
“Study abroad should be the cornerstone of an undergraduate education," said Arevalo. "However, I understand that many students for personal, academic or co-curricular reasons may never have the opportunity. So in addition to sending students abroad, Penn State Abington brings the world to our campus.”
For more information on the Office of International Affairs at Abington, go to www.abington.psu.edu/global-programs