Expectations – Fukuoka Bound

Taken in Fukuoka

Hello! My name is Jon Whitman, I’m a fourth year student at USF and I received the Genshaft/Greenbaum Passport Scholarship Endowed Fund for my program to Japan. Below is a little bit about myself, my aspirations, and my program expectations. Sorry for the late post!

My mother was born and raised in Palau, a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. Because of Japan’s colonial influence during World War II, my mother’s family developed a taste for Japanese food and culture and she passed that interest along to me as well. The USF Japan Study Program: Culture, History and Society entices me because of my insatiable love for South-East Asian cultures. I have been captivated by the Japanese society since I was quite young and have fond memories of wandering through oriental markets with my mother, wondering what all the foods taste like, and attempting to pronounce the transliterations that would appear on the groceries. Although I have never traveled outside of the United States, I have a strong desire to be connected more personally with my family’s history.

As a Religious Studies major with a minor in International Studies, I am concentrating on the religions of South-East Asia and how their exposure to other religions has evolved their customs and practices to be more syncretic. After taking Japanese II and with the eventual plan to become fluent in the language, immersing myself directly in the Japanese culture will help me gain a deeper understanding of the language and the people. I am also pursuing an Asian Studies Certificate to broaden my academic background on Asian art, history, and geography. For my career, I have two main avenues that I am considering as a possibility. My first professional goal is to work closely with museums, either the education aspect of museum work or the cultural aspects, which tie into my academic interests. My second interest, is my aim to become a professor for a public university teaching the culture and language of the Japanese peoples as well as calling awareness to the political involvement of South-East Asian countries. Contemporary news and international relations research almost solely revolve around the Middle East and Western interventions in the MENA region. I wish to bring the South-East Asian world into the conversation because their contributions matter. Our globalizing world demands equal representation of all states if we are to develop a stable international platform. My experience in Japan will be paramount to my abilities as a professor and help me relay information in a more effective manner.

After completing my bachelor’s degree at USF, I have been considering several different avenues that this experience abroad would make me more competitive for. For example, I have been looking into some Fulbright programs in Japan that would allow me to do research relating to my minor in International Studies. These research opportunities would be incredible, but I would need to take two more semester of Japanese, which would be difficult to fit into my schedule if I wanted to graduate on time. I was also considering the JET program and Princeton in Asia as a possibility to give me the professional experience in Japan. However, when I consider my long term goals and my academic interests, it is clear that teaching English in a foreign country is not what interests me. This is why I was beginning to look at different Fulbright programs in the United Kingdom that focus on museum studies/education and anthropology. If I was to do these master’s programs then I could do research focused on East-Asian history and hopefully visit Japan again with this kind of research in mind. However, my interest in this study abroad trip is not just academic or career focused, I also chose this program because of my personal interests as well.

As I have previously mentioned, this will be my first time outside of the United States and I can’t think of any other place I would like to go for my first abroad experience. Nearly everything I hear about Japan gets me more excited to visit and as the departure date quickly approaches, it’s getting more difficult for me to contain my excitement. I recently purchased a nice camera that I will be using in Japan to satiate my love of photography and better document my experiences for myself and for the scholarships I received that require me to blog the journey. A friend of mine told me that there is a photographer who will be a part of the trip at some point and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to meet him! I’m always looking for ways to improve in photography and love getting insight from anyone else who photographs professionally or recreationally. I am not all that nervous about being alone for my flights to and from Japan because I absolutely love the feeling of being alone in a new place. The only thing I am slightly worried about is getting to the places I need to be in a timely manner, but I am confident in my ability to do so. However, I am nervous about a couple of things in Japan. I think one of my largest fears is accidentally offending somebody. Although I’ve taken some Japanese, I don’t fully know how to navigate a situation where someone becomes offended, or if I would be able to tell that I have offended somebody. I have never been great at reading personal situations and am worried about how that might show up when I’m also unfamiliar with the culture (at least unfamiliar in a practical sense). Since I was not able to fully meet anyone on the study abroad program, aside from those in Japanese II, I am also a little worried about making friends with them in Japan. I have never been a very social person so I hope that I can improve that somewhat with the other students on this trip as well as the people we meet in Japan. The last thing I am worried about is the Onsen experience. I have never been a person particularly comfortable with my own nudity and have had no situations that would even come close to this one. That being said, I would still like to make the most of my time in Japan so I have every intention of doing it, it will certainly be my bravery test while in Japan.

As for our excursions, to be honest they’re all fascinating and I cannot wait to do them! I love nature so anything we do that involves parks or wilderness I would say I am most excited for. Also, the ability to experience real Japanese food is almost unbelievable to me. My mother makes great food, but it has all been influence by many different cultures so I am never quite sure if what she makes is what I would get while in Japan. I think regardless of what happens on this trip it will be the best experience of my life thus far and I can’t wait to land in Japan on the 15th!

Steps to a shrine in Fukuoka – taken by Jon Whitman

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