As the day I head to D.C. for pre-departure orientation gets closer and closer, reality is starting to set in! Luckily, at this point I have managed to sort out all of my packing and have bought most of the extra odds and ends I need before I head to Himeji. However, now my focus of panic has changed from all of the objects I need to all of the skills I need. i.e, I really need to brush up on my Japanese!
Although, I must admit, for someone interested in learning a new language, I am really lucky to attend a university like Carnegie Mellon. One of the things I am most glad about in my choice to attend CMU is one that never even occurred to me before I moved in as a freshman. CMU has an incredibly high volume of international students (students who come from countries other than the U.S.). According to U.S. News, the average American college has about 5% international students, whereas CMU has 17% (this number is actually a lot lower than I thought it was going to be). The reason I’m glad about this, well, firstly is that I went to a high school that was pretty homogenous in terms of ethnic as well as socio-economic background. It was really nice to come to college and be met with so much diversity in terms of worldview. However, it’s also awesome being at a school where so many students are able to speak more than one language!
At CMU, there is no language requirement. However, many students decide to take language classes, due to genuine interest. College-level language classes are not easy at all; Japanese courses at CMU have substantial homework every night (at least 1.5 hrs minimum, even when I am completely focused), and multiple assessments per week, both written and oral. Language classes at CMU are not “fun” or “easy” by any means. However, many students at CMU still commit to taking language classes.
I think this is because at CMU there is a good understanding among all students that to be a valuable member of the world today, you can’t just be focused on what is contained in your own local or national bubble; you have to be globally-minded. CMU is genuinely diverse in terms of students’ nationalities, ethnicities, beliefs, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc, and so an inherent requirement of being a student at CMU is being able to interact with people who are totally different from you. And understanding more than one language is hugely helpful in that!
I started studying Japanese in middle school, but never really considered studying Japanese as a key part of my education until after I came to college. I think the Carnegie Mellon environment is really responsible for my realization that I actually care about studying world languages and cultures. Last fall I made the decision to declare a second major in Japanese Studies, even though it means I have to overload on credits every semester until the end of my undergraduate career.
Luckily, for the next few days my friend will be visiting, who conveniently just so happens to be bilingual in English and Japanese. Sometimes at school we decide, “we will only speak in Japanese during dinner today, no matter what!” I think we will have to vow to only speak Japanese for the entire time he’s here! I definitely need to take advantage of the opportunity to refresh my speaking skills before I head off to D.C. next week.
If you are reading this and you are currently learning & studying a language, I really recommend this website, Lang-8. It’s a really great little website where you post short journal entries in the language you are studying, and then native speakers of that language make corrections for you! In turn, you are supposed to help other students learning your native language (English, for me), by making corrections on their journal entries. It’s a great, low-pressure, easy-to use language learning platform where you can get input from other people your age!
Lastly, I want to apologize for how text-heavy this blog has been so far! I promise once I actually arrive in Japan I will be posting loads of photos. I just got a new camera and have been trying to figure it out.