Oswego Student Studies In Japan

OSWEGO, NY – An Oswego woman had a world of education before she returned to college this fall.

Brianna Cole, an OHS graduate, studied in Japan last semester.

“My ultimate goal is to move to, and live in Japan. I’d like to become an interpreter over there,” she said.

Oswego's Brianna Cole, right, enjoys a meal with two of her friends in Japan.
Oswego's Brianna Cole, right, enjoys a meal with two of her friends in Japan.

The three months she spent in Japan was through a program associated with her college (Niagara University).

“The fact that it was priced well enough and that I got academic credit for it while I went to school there and I learned to speak the language better made it very attractive,” she said. “It was all the things that I needed. And it was a short enough period of time where to make things easy; but it was a long enough time where I could see if I actually would want to live there.”

There was about a dozen in her group – only two girls.

She lived with her host and her two-year-old daughter.

“We weren’t allowed to work in this program. We were there just to go to school,” she said.

She took a Japanese language course and the Japanese culture course (which was only offered to Americans).

Koreans are their top (exchange) students, then the Chinese and then Americans and they really don’t get anybody else in any numbers, Cole explained.

The Koreans and Chinese have cultures similar to the Japanese, so it’s not important for them to take the culture class, she said.

She brought home dozens of photographs and has a huge scrapbook of memorabilia – including tokens from some of her ‘worst’ experiences.

“In America, everyone wants to be your friend. In Japan, they want you to become their friend,” she said. “They want you to become part of their culture before they will accept you. They are a very shy, private people. They love Americans, but they are so shy, it was like until the third month that I was there where I finally felt accepted.”

Her road to acceptance was a rough one – in more ways than one.

“Every morning I had to walk to the subway station. There was this one spot in the road where there was a little lip; every single morning for the first month and half, I’d catch my shoe on that exact same spot and trip,” she said.

“After I (finally) stopped tripping on that, I just melded into the culture. People started saying good morning to me; I must have just looked like I was supposed to be there,” she continued. “As you start being comfortable with them, they become more comfortable with you.”

The Japanese culture is based on respect, not just respect for elders or children but for everyone, according to Cole.

“The first part of the language they teach you is the polite form. You learn everything in the polite form and then they teach you how to congregate into the impolite form, which is for family and really close friends,” she said.

The Japanese language can be tricky to learn.

For example “genkii” originally meant something strong, bull-like way back in ancient Japan, Cole pointed out.

“Now, when you say to someone (in Japanese), ‘It has been a long time since I have seen you. Are you well?’ the word has a different (modern) meaning,” she said. “It’s evolved from the strong male entity to meaning now just ‘are you not sick?'”

They have words that have two meanings to them, similar to English.

“It can be a very difficult language to learn, from an Eastern point of view,” she said. “Their grammatical structure is backwards to ours and sentences are complicated. Lamp is table on the. That’s the translated sentence to us, but to them it means the lamp is on the table.”

Cole is an English major who has four minors, “but the fourth one won’t show up on my transcripts – there’s not enough room,” she laughed.

She had already studied Japanese in school two years prior to studying in Japan.

“So, I had the foundation. That was enough, thank God! Otherwise, I would have drowned. I went to a school with an intensive language program, and they were not kidding,” she said.

An entire semester of course work at her college was covered in less than one month in Japan, she noted.

Brianna Cole (front, second from left) poses with some of the other students in her group last semester in Japan. The OHS grad spent three months studying in Japan.
Brianna Cole (front, second from left) poses with some of the other students in her group last semester in Japan. The OHS grad spent three months studying in Japan.

“It was insane. In this class, if you miss it, it’s gone. You actually have to come in and get extra help from the teacher or your friends. The thing is they don’t teach it with a middle language – they teach it all in Japanese. Because you have Korean and Chinese students in your class that don’t speak English,” she said.

When the Korean students didn’t quite get something, they’d nudge the one Korean who spoke a little English to ask Cole, “What was that?”

“I’d tell them what it meant and they’d be typing it into their little electronic dictionaries and then they translate it to everybody in the room, and the teacher is going, ‘Stop that! Figure it out on your own,'” she said.

She stayed in the Tokyo prefecture, but in the very small city of Miyoshi.

There is very little graffiti and they don’t tag anything that is ‘famous’ she said.

“They’re very respectful in that way. People leave their bicycles out on the street. Nobody steals things. They all believe in karma, doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you. Nobody does bad to another person. They send five-year-old kids to school alone, kids don’t get abducted, stuff doesn’t get stolen, people don’t get robbed, raped or killed at anywhere near the rate they do in this country,” she said.

Of course, there are, a few, exceptions, she added.

“The worst thing I had to worry about was ‘train perverts,’ people groping you on the train,” she said.

She climbed Mount Fuji, making it to the fifth station of eight on Japan’s highest mountain. It was a night hike during the off-season.

“We stopped pretty much right before the snowcaps started. The plan was to see the sun set at one station and see the sunrise from another station,” she said. “There were nine of us. Eight Americans and one very bewildered Chinese girl who spoke almost no English. We had to communicate with her in Japanese, which was very good practice for us.”

It took them about 10 hours to climb the mountain when it should have only taken about six, she added.

1 Comment

  1. Hi, Brianna! I dont know how often you check these emails, but I have one of your students visiting NY right now, and they would love to meet you. If you get this, please call me at 603-530-2421.
    Have a great day,
    Kiera Russell

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