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Living & Learning: Japanese students overseas / Student utopia in a New England town

Courtesy of Shizuha Hatori
Shizuha Hatori, second from right, with fellow students at Wesleyan

By Shizuha Hatori (Wesleyan University) / Special to The Japan News This column features reports by Japanese students currently studying overseas on their lives on and off campus.

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Having lived in Japan for my whole life before I came to “Wes,” I struggled intensely when I was thrown into this elite American institution. From daily conversations to academic discussions, there was a huge abyss between my mind and the place I was in. I even got into an argument with my English professor because she had no idea what I was trying to say, and vice versa. All the turbulence around me seemed to be proclaiming my inability as a learner.

Yet two years later, I found myself feeling too comfortable in this small liberal bubble. I love the classes I have taken at Wes — from anthropology of healing to one-on-one tutorials. The friends who accompany me, from exhaustive paper writing sessions to spontaneous midnight quests for grilled cheese, add vibrant color to my campus life. The teacher I had a quarrel with has been looking after my whole Wes life — from every single paper I write for every class to my personal relationship struggles. Thomas More longed for a utopia in the New World, but Wesleyan would certainly be mine.

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However, as a Gender Studies, Government, and Social Theory major in a secluded, well-protected academic sanctuary, I began to see how skewed my life at Wes has been when it comes to critiquing social ideologies, rather than developing my subjectivity and responsibility in society. Rigorous theories are not always empathetic toward real-life experiences, and all the hypocritical gaudy comments made in class rarely leave the classroom to influence the students’ daily lives.

To change the environment, I am spending my junior spring semester at DIS Copenhagen in Denmark, where education is designed to teach people how to live through liberal arts programs. My study focuses on the politics of exchange of intimacy in sex work. This summer, I will conduct fieldwork on Japanese-style kyabakura (cabaret club) and hostess clubs in New York City, which I am writing my thesis on next year. In order for my learning experience at Wes to have a life-long impact, my time in Denmark will be the perfect space to give myself a little autonomy to envisage how I want to craft my own life, no matter where I am in the world.

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Wesleyan University

Founded in 1831, Middletown, Conn.-based Wesleyan University offers instruction in 46 departments and 45 major fields of study.

In partnership with Ryugaku Fellowship

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