A Tale of Two Student Exchange Programs
Author Pat Conroy once said, “Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”
What he likely meant was that travel incites reflection, sharing and persistence. We never forget the experiences gained while exploring new places, and we strive to share those memories with others. And we never forget the feeling of excitement of
travel – so much so that we often continue to travel and explore.
Mt. Hood Community College believes that travel and education frequently go hand in hand. The college offers two study abroad opportunities: studying Spanish in Costa Rica and learning Japanese in Japan.
Costa Rica: Beauty Abroad
Suzanne Zalokar, Eimile Marie Kavanagh and their classmates returned stateside the third week in March after seven weeks of living in San Isidro de General, Costa Rica, as part of MHCC’s study Spanish abroad program. During that time, 12 MHCC students
and Spanish instructor Paul Eckhardt visited sections of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, lived with native Costa Ricans (“Ticos”) and studied Spanish at the SEPA School in San Isidro. Outside of school, the students and Eckhardt explored the area and
went on group excursions, including to the coastal Manuel Antonio National Park, where they hiked through lush rainforests, and the Osa Peninsula, where they learned about the indigenous Bribri people and their culture at a remote village.
Zalokar, who also teaches GED and adult basic education at MHCC, said that San Isidro provided a very authentic immersion into Costa Rican culture and lifestyle because it’s a medium-sized, mostly undeveloped city primarily filled with working-class residents.
And the area attracts fewer tourists than other parts of Costa Rica.
“[San Isidro] is an incredibly beautiful spot,” said Zalokar. “The instructors and staff at SEPA were very kind and showed a sincere interest in helping us speak Spanish and gain a good understanding of Costa Rican culture.”
A typical weekday involved Spanish classes from 8 a.m. to noon, with breaks between lessons for coffee and socializing. In the afternoons, students often set their own agendas; they might go swimming in the pool, explore the river and downtown, dine at
local restaurants, take cultural classes in dance and other subjects or visit nearby attractions. Among Zalokar’s favorite side trips was to a local butterfly garden and to a hot spring and chocolate factory in nearby Rivas.
Prior to participating in the abroad program, Kavanagh was an intermediate-level Spanish speaker who could sustain a basic conversation in the language. However, upon first arriving in Costa Rica, she couldn’t keep up in normal conversations with the
native Spanish speakers. By the end, she was talking to Ticos wherever she went, and along the way made plenty of new friends.
As a forestry major at MHCC, Kavanagh really appreciated the Ticos’ commitment to preserving natural spaces and biodiversity. She also enjoyed living with a host family, as it introduced her to cultural elements that she might have missed otherwise; for
instance, the shared aspect of family meals.
“I’d definitely do it again just for those experiences and friendships,” she said. “Because the people you meet, those relationships carryover and continue, and if I ever go back I have friends I can visit and explore with.”
Ryukoku@MHCC: Shared Cultures
The learn Japanese cultural exchange, also known as MHCC@Ryukoku, is a two-way program; in the winter, students from Kyoto, Japan’s Ryukoku University spend three weeks studying English at MHCC.
This past February, seven students from Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan, traveled to Oregon to spend three weeks at MHCC to study English as a foreign language and visit destinations throughout the Pacific Northwest. The students were part of Ryukoku
University’s International Studies program. They traveled to MHCC with English instructor Mitch Terhune, a founder of the Ryukoku University-to-MHCC exchange program, which began in 1996. Since 2007, 151 students from Japan have studied English at
MHCC, and approximately 85 students from MHCC have traveled to Ryukoku University to study Japanese.
During the Ryukoku@MHCC program, the exchange students live with host families and take group excursions, including to Timberline Lodge, downtown Seattle, and the Oregon coast. MHCC students, many of them from the college’s Japanese Club and Japanese
language program, help teach English to the exchange students and take them on local outings, including to downtown Gresham. The Japanese Club and Ryukoku University also plan a Culture Day, this year held on March 1. The event featured traditional
and modern Japanese dancing and demonstrations of origami and ikebana (Japanese flower arranging), koto playing, Japanese calligraphy and martial arts, including kendo (swordsmanship).
During the last days of the exchange program, the Ryukoku University students attended a farewell party and gave short speeches sharing some of their favorite experiences from the trip. For Saki Tomari, snowboarding at Timberline ranked high among the
excursions. An avid snowboarder, she was impressed by how big the ski resorts are in Oregon, compared with those she frequented in Japan. Minami Hori and Rika Nishimoto were both enamored by MHCC’s facilities – in particular, the rock climbing wall
and planetarium. Neither had seen these types of structures at other college campuses.
Akito Mizuno loved the atmosphere and exhilaration of a recently attended Portland Trail Blazers.
“It was very exciting,” he beamed. “They won!”
And for Sayuri Shiraishi, she most enjoyed sharing her culture and making new friends at Culture Day.
You can learn more about MHCC’s study abroad opportunities at mhcc.edu/StudyAbroad. And if you’re interested in hosting a Ryukoku University student during the 2018 inbound Japanese exchange program (February 10 – March 4),
email MHCC Japanese instructor Yoko Sato at email@example.com.