When Kelsey Orr decided to come to Furman, she knew she’d meet some interesting people along the way.
Furman set the bar high before classes even started.
Orr was one of 11 incoming students who took part in the Japan Summer Experience. The two-week trip, which is one of two study away programs offered annually to incoming freshmen by the Asian Studies department, takes students on a historical and cultural journey through Japan before their first academic semester begins in the fall. The department also provides the same opportunity to students interested in studying Chinese through its Summer China Experience.
For Orr, it was an opportunity to interact with people halfway around the world.
“We talked to a lady who was eight years old when (the United States) dropped the bomb on Hiroshima,” said Orr ‘17 (Winston-Salem, N.C.). “It was sad, but you could tell there was no hard feelings. I was just really surprised to learn how focused the Japanese people are about being peaceful. They’re so against nuclear warfare that every time a country is considering it, they write a letter to the leader to keep them from making that same mistake.”
The Japan Summer Experience and Summer China Experience are free to students, as long as they commit to two semesters of language study and a First Year Seminar about the country that they explored.
The program, now in its second year for Japan and the eighth for China, allows students to explore a new culture before studying it.
“We want students to see the Chinese or Japanese culture before they study these places,” said Dongming Zhang, an assistant professor of Modern Languages and Literatures and Asian Studies. “Then, after one year at Furman, we want these same students to participate in a semester study away program. That way, they can see the places before they study them, and then see the places after they study them.”
The two experiences serve as an introduction to Furman’s unique approach to studying away from campus. Furman faculty members lead several trips each year, and deliver both formal and impromptu lectures, ensuring the programs offer an educational experience. Students completed small academic projects, like giving five-minute presentations on the places they visited. They also had the chance to take classes at local universities with Chinese and Japanese students, some of which partner with Furman in semester and year-long exchange programs.
That’s not to say there isn’t room for sightseeing. During the Summer China Experience, the group visited cultural and historic sites, like the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City.
For many of the students, the trip is also an opportunity for them to meet some of their new classmates. Freshman who participate in the trip will take a First Year Seminar and foreign language course together when they begin their academic careers. From there, many of the students may remain connected as majors in the Asian Studies department.
“I made quite a few good friends and we’ll all be in the same First Year Seminar,” Orr said. “It’s cool to already know the people who will be in the class. We’ve already planned to study together and some of us will have tea time once a week.”
The trip also introduced students to several faculty members. Since the Asian Studies department is interdisciplinary, the faculty advisors for each trip have a variety of backgrounds and specialties.
“Students grow and learn through their relationships, not just with their colleagues, but with us,” said Carmela Epright, professor of philosophy. “I’ve developed amazing relationships with students over the years. It changes everything. If you have problems transitioning to college, you have an ally, an extra advisor, and someone you trust.”
(Far East image by Shutterstock.com)