By Andy Hirsch
LEWISBURG, Pa. — "AWESOME," is the one word first-year student Sasha Bausheva uses when describing her recent trip to Japan, and she insists it be capitalized.
"Every little moment of the trip was invaluable," Bausheva said. "We were only there for a week, but it felt like a whole month because every day was filled with new learning opportunities."
Bausheva was one of nine students selected to go on the Japan Sustainability Study Tour in January. Associate Professor of East Asian Studies Elizabeth Armstrong and Assistant Professor of Biology Mizuki Takahashi spent months planning the trip centered around the theme, "Sustainability: Japan's nuclear power, environment, culture and language." The group was made up of students focused on either animal behavior, biology or East Asian studies. A grant awarded by the Japan Foundation helped make it possible, covering nearly all of the travel expenses.
"The grant made the trip a reality," Armstrong said. "Just being in country gives you the ability to teach culture and language at every turn: while you're walking down the street, while you're on the train, while you're eating. It was a wide open classroom."
The eight-day tour included a visit to the Fukushima Prefectural offices and an hour-long presentation on the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Students also traveled to the nuclear power research facility at Kyoto University, where they met with Professor Hiroaki Koide, whom Armstrong describes as Japan's pre-eminent authority on nuclear power in Japan.
"Japan has a long history of successful coexistence with nature, but it is now feeling the effects of a massive nuclear disaster, high population density, and various environmental problems," Takahasi said. "The trip allowed us to explore many different aspects of sustainability, and it was truly gratifying to see our students from diverse backgrounds fully engaged."
For many of the students, one of the highlights of the tour was a day spent at the home of ecologist and environmentalist Takayuki Mori. Mori was the first person in Japan to adopt solar power. He designed his entire home around the idea of sustainability.
"Every part of his simple looking house had a purpose, every part was environmentally friendly," senior biology major Zinkal Bhutwala noted. "The visit was a life changing experience for me; it motivated me to use my resources wisely in order to conserve our natural resources."
Between the lectures and stops at universities, students spent time consuming the culture, detailing their most memorable moments in a blog about the trip. Armstrong said journaling their journey through Japan was a key component of the grant, and it turned out to be a valuable resource for the students.
"Blogging was a very good thing," Van Reedy, an undeclared major, said. "Remembering and articulating the experiences helped me retain much of the information, which helped me create a lot more personal value from the trip."
Armstrong and Takahasi hope to develop the trip into a three-week intensive, interdisciplinary class — one that would allow them to travel to other parts of the country and integrate more learning opportunities, such as daily sessions dedicated to learning the Japanese language.
"In eight days the students learned so much about sustainability, about the Japanese culture, the language. I think it was an eye-opening experience for the students," Armstrong said. "I would say it was an overwhelming success and a trip none of us will soon forget."
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