Madison Country Day School offers an opportunity that is unique to schools across the state of Wisconsin – the chance to spend a trimester studying at a Japanese high school. Through the arrangement that MCDS shares with our sister school, Hakuoh High School in Ashikaga, students in the Japanese program at MCDS can attend school and live with a host family…all while improving their language skills and broadening their understanding of Japan. Moreover, they come to further comprehend their roles as global citizens and their own potentials as young adults.
In addition to the trimester exchange, MCDS also has two-week long program in Japan. This study abroad experience, which takes place every other year, enables students to spend a week in Ashikaga, living with a host family and attending Hakuoh. The second week of the program involves educational travel to destinations such as Kyoto and Hiroshima. The summer program, though shorter than the trimester abroad program, also allows students to expand their linguistic and cultural knowledge and, just as importantly, see the world – and themselves – in a new light.
In the words of a trimester abroad student, writing shortly after he began his experience:
It’s one thing to hear about the culture and speak the language; it’s another to see it first hand. In only a month, being an exchange student in Ashikaga has changed my perspective of both the world and how I define myself. It’s strange, but snug at home we develop a routine and often forget about the world around us. Only when we are shaken out of it – when we travel somewhere new and completely different are we thrown into culture shock. These last few weeks I’ve learned more about Japanese life than I could ever take from any textbook. As one of the other exchange students so brilliantly put it: “Japanese life is taking everything you know and holding it up to a mirror. Everything is the same but different.” The food is different, school life is different, beds are changed to futons…even the way we bathe is so completely foreign.
Every day we ride the train to school with hundreds of other Japanese students in blazers and skirts. Japan is a very homogenous country, especially in smaller towns inland, so foreigners stand out. Everyone is bright and friendly, communicating in broken English and Japanese slang. I’m often stopped on the side of the road or thrown into conversations that I’d never even thought of outside of the textbook. Any stereotypes I had about the Japanese were shaken the first day of school. For the most part I though Japanese students were very uptight about academics and painfully correct, however this is not the case. Japanese students are just as rebellious and jovial as any American student. They joke around during lunch and run around campus shouting and laughing. I’ve learned the school anthem, Japanese sign language, cooking Japanese cuisine, and more about myself through all these experiences. I cannot recommend the exchange program more highly. Here I’ve made memories and friends I’ll never forget.