They painted their faces in Goudy Commons, played Frisbee outside of Sparks Center and roomed in Matthews, Belknap and Terra. At the end of their five-day stay on campus, many of the 158 students from Tokyo International University (TIU) vowed to return.
“I have dreams of being a high school English teacher,” said Naoki Otsuki, who returned to Japan on Friday. “I want to come back here so I can study English and learn more.”
The visit was part of the American Culture Tour (ACT), an immersion program developed three years ago by TIU, Tokyo International University of America (TIUA), and Willamette University. Through the program, the partnering institutions introduce students to what the American Studies Program (ASP) and Willamette University have to offer.
“It’s a very dramatic way to communicate to first-year students that they are a part of a global community,” says Gunnar Gundersen, executive vice president of TIUA. “They learn about American culture just by being here.”
After only a few days in Oregon, Otsuki, Shunsuke Kikuchi and Miki Morikawa made several conclusions: Americans eat a lot, Safeway is a fun place to shop, and chocolate lattes are addictive.
They also gained a better understanding of how Americans live — which is Katsuya Endo’s primary goal. As dean and vice president of TIU’s School of Language Communication — where the visiting students are enrolled — he says the tour instills in the teenagers a strong curiosity about the world.
“It changes their lives,” he says. “It changes their way of thinking.”
Julia Brand ’15 says she, too, benefits from the program. One of about 20 Willamette students hired as assistants, she spent the week introducing TIU students to many new experiences— from their first s’more to their first basketball game.
“It’s incredible just how fast you connect with these students,” she says. “We may not be able to communicate very well, but we’re always able to laugh about something.”
Historically, Gundersen says, half of the tour group returns to TIUA to enroll in the American Studies Program — taking both language and liberal arts courses at TIUA and Willamette from February through December. They live with Willamette students on campus and engage in sports, music and other co-curricular offerings.
Because of ACT, Gundersen says students leave knowing they can return to Willamette and succeed.
“They get a lot out of it,” he says. “Interacting with native speakers stimulates their thinking and is a confidence builder.”