Experience Japan Through the Eyes of a Tower Scholar

This past summer, Lexie Watson, Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar and recipient of the Marian Tower Scholarship for Summer 2019, applied her award to study abroad in Japan through SMU-in-Japan. In her words, she reflects what she learned and experienced studying abroad.

This summer, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Nishinomiya, Japan at Kwansei Gakuin University. Before departing for my trip, I was excited for my classes centered around international relations in East Asia and Japanese culture, as well as exploring a country that I had never visited before. The previous summer, I had travelled to China for two months for an intensive language program through SMU, and I was eager to gain a new perspective of Asia. Although I was excited for a new adventure, I was also nervous. I would stay with host family, I had no Japanese language skills, and I knew very little about Japanese society.

As an International Studies and Political Science major, my international relations and culture classes were incredibly interesting and valuable to me. They helped me to begin to understand the international political environment in East Asia while actually living in the area and exchanging perspectives with people from all around the world. Ongoing political events such as the G20 Summit and the protests in Hong Kong brought new opportunities to learn and debate every day. Additionally, SMU students had the opportunity to visit some of the largest companies in Japan including Toyota, Japan Airlines, and Japan Railways. The transition from learning about Japan’s political and economic history in the classroom to actually hearing first-hand how actual companies have changed through the years provided me with a unique experience. When I visited one of the Toyota factories in Toyota City with my classmates, it was impressive to see the assembly line was manned both with robots and people. Even more interesting to me was learning about how the company evolved from a textile business before World War II, to transitioning to automobiles, and to eventually becoming a world-renowned business.

Along with learning experiences that were extremely interesting, I found my time with my host family to be truly unforgettable. My host mom and dad—Yurie and Yukie—and their one-year-old son, Yuito, made me feel as if I were a part of their family. Yukie and Yurie are a young couple; Yukie, my host dad is a nurse at a mental hospital and Yurie is a full-time homemaker. Even through their busy lives working and caring for a baby, they made a huge effort to spend time with me. Every weekend they took me somewhere different. Together we visited temples and shrines in Japan’s ancient capital, Kyoto, ate takoyaki, a famous Osaka street food, and attended a Japanese R&B concert. We experienced a fantastic traditional Japanese meal in Nara, and spent the day riding bikes, eating mochi, and feeding the deer at the Todaiji Temple. They treated me to many dinners and cooked traditional Japanese food for me. We taught each other card games and words in English and Japanese. We spent time talking about Japanese and U.S. history with some help from Google Translate. I sincerely looked forward to coming home from school and spending time with them.

I was blown away by my host family’s kindness, generosity, and simple willingness to include me. I met many family members and friends of my host family. They even threw me a birthday party with and amazing dinner, cake, and even gifts. For my birthday they gave me a t-shirt that came in a bag that had multiple handwritten notes on it saying I was a part of the family and always welcome to stay with them in Japan. I never expected to have such a meaningful and personal connection with my host family. They are the reason I fell in love with Japan. This experience has encouraged me not only to travel to and study about more foreign countries, but also to strive to make personal connections and learn from people wherever I am.

If you would like an opportunity to study abroad, go here to learn more about scholarships and fellowships available to SMU students.