Student Voice: J-CIP:A 2023: An Experience to Remember – Alexandria Riddel, The Australian National University

We welcomed 11 students from the Australian National University for the Japanese Language and Cultural Immersion Program: Advanced (J-CIP:A), a six-week combination of advanced Japanese language and rural Japanese culture content coursework taught entirely in Japanese.

Here is a comment from Ms. Alexandria RIDDEL who participated in this program in the Winter 2023.

From our very first day in snowy Akita, I think all eleven of us in the Japanese Language and Cultural Immersion Program: Advanced (J-CIP:A) for 2023 knew that this would be an experience we wouldn’t soon forget. Despite our travel fatigue, all of us had our eyes glued to the windows of our bus from the station to AIU, taking in the vast countryside around us. Although this was not my first time in Japan, through the JCIP:A program I was able to experience aspects of the local Japanese culture and countryside that I would otherwise not have a chance to experience.

Campus Life

This was my first experience living on campus during university, so it was definitely a shock at first to move into a unit with one exchange student, and ten other Japanese students, albeit each with our own private rooms. Despite this initial shock, living with so many others gave us a fantastic opportunity to make friends, have conversations about Japanese culture and their experiences in Akita, and ask where to find the best eats off campus! Living within walking distance of our classroom was particularly handy on mornings when the temperature was far below zero and the snow was bucketing down. Throughout the program, we spent countless hours working on homework in the gorgeous library or catching up with friends over a matcha latte at the college cafe.

Thanks to the absolute passion, dedication, and hard work of our teachers for the program, class time was also fun and engaging. From aging population issues to Akita traditional crafts, performance and food, I learnt so much during such a short period, all while vastly expanding my Japanese vocabulary and confidence. I had been nervous about participating in class and studying fully in Japanese, but the teachers and other exchange students helped create a classroom environment of support and encouragement that allowed me to push myself and express my ideas effectively in conversation classes, structured debates and even the end-of-program presentation.

Making snowmen with friends on campus

Field Trips

One of the absolute highlights of the program was the opportunity to visit different areas of Akita and experience many aspects of the local culture on our weekly bus tours. From the Namahage-kan in Oga to gorgeous Lake Tazawa, our trips not only allowed us to see more of the local area that were mostly inaccessible to us otherwise, but also gave us opportunities to bond as a group while having practical cultural experiences. One of my favourite trips was our visit to Sato-no-ie for a Kiritanpo-making experience. Getting to participate in local culture in such a hands-on way – with varying degrees of success – and then enjoy the fruits of our labour was truly special.

Students making ‘kiritanpo’ over the fire at Sato-no-ie

Shiraiwa Village Festival

The greatest triumph of this program was definitely the opportunity to participate in the Shiraiwa Village festival. Whether it was climbing the mountain to set up lanterns for later that night, or helping paint messages of peace in the snow at the base of the mountain, we all had the opportunity to contribute to the preparation of the festival. This made it that much more exciting and rewarding to witness the results of our hard work later that night during the festival itself. I was lucky enough to get to light lanterns on the mountain, an experience that I definitely won’t forget anytime soon. The people of Shiraiwa were unbelievably welcoming, even laughing with us when we struggled to understand their strong Akita-ben dialect, and attempting to teach us a little of it. The entire weekend was such a unique and fantastic experience, and I feel very lucky to have been given the opportunity to participate in it through this program.

Lighting the lanterns on the mountain for the Shiraiwa festival

My experience in Akita was at times tough and exhausting, but those moments were made up tenfold by the incredible experiences I had, the many many friends I made, and how much I learnt. Thanks to the incredible staff, teachers, and other students that I met in Akita, I have been able to create memories that I know I will never forget.

At the festival in Shiraiwa