Student Reflections

24 09 2010

Photos taken at the Norman Topping Scholars retreat, where the students who had been on the trip Japan in June were asked to reflect on their experiences.

by Henry Franco

After Japan I realized that I have not fully utilized the resources available to me at the University of Southern California (USC). The Summer Immersion Program (SIP) in Japan made me understand the critical importance of studying abroad and broadening my horizons. More importantly, my travels have inspired my older brother to take the initiative to travel to foreign destinations. I was proud and ecstatic that I was able to indirectly change my older brother’s life trajectory and inspired my family to take risks. Now having the experience of going to Asia I am planning to apply to the Global Fellowship program to continue my education in Asia. Moreover, I will continue to pursue my goal to work for the State Department by applying to their internships in Washington D.C. for the upcoming summer of 2011.

by Paola Beas

Japan was part of a personal and academic journey. Two months after the immersion program, the respect and diligence of Japan’s people is what stands out from the experience. Personally, I witnessed Japanese people’s healthy lifestyle. From the food people consume to their regular meditation and even to their lack of greed and competition, the Japanese live healthier. Even after the experience Hiroshima had, the peace of Japan was visible in everyone, especially children and the elderly. Academically it made me reflect on the human race and specifically on how women all over the world have a common effort. It has influenced my new approach within the field of Social Work upon the completion of my Masters. More than ever I am convinced that I have a passion for global consciousness and the healing of women. Japan was not simply a summer immersion program but rather my bridge to a higher sense of awareness.

by Sergio Calix

Going to the Summer Immersion Program in Japan was one of the best decisions I have made. I spent my summer learning and exploring a complete different culture. Realistically, I would have never thought or been able to travel to Japan and meet all the people I did. From this trip I learned the importance of studying abroad and its rewards. Before, I was hesitant to study abroad, but after this trip I realized the learning opportunities that studying abroad have to offer. Also, I now recommend study abroad to all of my as a way to fully take advantage of their college career. Being in Japan also showed me the importance of being a global scholar and being aware of globalization. This made me want to change my major from just Business to International Relations Global Business. This major combines the two areas of study that I am very interested in. After returning from Japan, I have shared my experience with all of my peers. This summer made me more confident about the rest of my college career because it truly portrayed what education is about.

by Jessie Ruiz

Candidly, planning my trip to Japan was not as exciting as it was planning a trip to other countries as I had done in the past. It was not the fact that many of the things that we would see were not interesting, it was the fact that I did not know much about the Japanese culture and I would not know how to appreciate everything we would see. Never in my life did going to Japan or any other Asian country cross my mind. However, after going on this journey, I was exposed to countless interesting things from the different Buddhist religions, to Japanese social perceptions of immigrants, to the Japanese business way. Upon my return, to America, the stories I have shared with my friends and relatives have increased the awareness of the interesting culture that lies across the Pacific. Some of my friends, in fact, are applying to intern abroad in Tokyo and others simply want to visit the country and experience what I did. My knowledge and interest in this country has also increased which has helped me build more relationships with people. I feel as though as soon as I mention that I went to Japan to a new person I am meeting, they ask me tons of questions which makes our conversation very interesting. I hope to continue having an impact on others with my stories so that one day they travel to Japan as well.

by Roland Wiryawan

My journey to Japan has opened my eyes about the world. Traveling and immersing myself in a different culture made me also respect my own identity. The world now seems smaller and bigger at the same time. This trip has made me want to be a lifetime student, always learning. Now, I have a new goal: traveling more! Also in the future, I want to make movies that capture the unique qualities of other countries and the diversity in our world. Arigato!!

by William Baskerville III

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than two months since we left for Japan. It seems like just yesterday when I was anxiously waiting to hop on the plane and travel halfway across the world for this program. What I enjoyed most about this program was that it challenged me to think in a completely different way. I, as well as many of my fellow students, had preconceived notions on what it meant to be Japanese as well as the way in which the Japanese think. Simply by interacting with those living in Japan, I’ve learned that just like anyone else, you can’t place an entire group of people into a neat little box. I always thought of myself as open-minded, but this trip has opened my eyes even more. It has inspired me to reach out to different kinds of people and has definitely solidified my decision to study abroad for a longer period of time later in my academic career. If given the opportunity, I would definitely love to return to Japan someday.

by Isabel Duenas

The experience of participating in the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund Japan Summer Immersion Program has changed my life in ways that I did not expect. Upon being selected for the trip I immediately began to think about what a wonderful trip it would be and about how much I would learn about Japanese cultures, customs, and traditions. What I did not expect was how much I would learn from the people who were a part of the programs and how much I would learn from the experiences abroad. One of the most notable transformations has been the change in my perspective on what I can achieve. In Japan we met so many people, including Trojan alumni, who are working abroad. It was amazing to see that my own academic and professional career can go beyond the United States. The most important change I have seen is the change that has trickled down to the members of my family. I am the first person in my entire extended family of 17 aunts and uncles, and over 70 grandchildren who has ever gone to another country other than Mexico. My grandparents have excitedly listened to my anecdotes along with my nephew, their great grandchild. He tells me that when he goes to USC he will also go to Japan. I think that instilling in the younger and older generations in my family that higher education is obtainable and that there are no limits or borders, literally, has been the best part of being a part of the NTSAF Japan Summer Immersion Program.

by Anthony Grimaldo

Looking back at the Japan trip I can see a number of things that have changed within myself as a person and as a student. As a student, it opened my eyes to a number of opportunities that are available. One of the dramatic changes was changing my major from Psychology to International Relations and hopefully into International Relations Global Business with a minor in Spanish. I changed my major because of my new outlook on the world thanks to the Japan trip. Traveling to Japan and meeting with international companies showed me how business operates on a global scale while also working closely with different countries to sell their products or service. This excursion also reignited my desire to study abroad and get out of my comfort zone. This is was my first time traveling to a country completely different from the cultures that I have been immersed in all my life. Being immersed in the Japanese culture illustrated how different and similar people are from different nations while also providing me with their perspective of the world.

As a person, it’s encouraged me to tell my family and fellow students to go abroad to study, or for employment opportunities. Being abroad provides you with an experience that cannot be duplicated in the States because you are still in your comfort zone. Being in a new place with new faces may seem daunting but you can meet new people and create relationships. Being abroad simply opens your eyes to new experiences and cultures different from your own.

by Amanda Peralta

The Norman Topping Summer Immersion Program in Japan has impacted my life in numerous ways. I developed a greater passion for traveling after immersing myself in a country with such a unique culture, history, and society. After experiencing what it is like to step outside of my comfort zone, in addition to drawing connections between American and Japanese society, one of my primary goals in life to seek travel opportunities that promote personal and intellectual growth. Traveling to Japan has also made me reconsider some of my career goals. I am currently looking into working abroad within the next few years or for a job that involves international travel. Furthermore, the trip to Japan prompted me to make a few lifestyle changes – I walk more, eat healthier, and drink a lot more water. I realize that while on the trip, these three things made me feel noticeably healthier, so as soon as we returned to the States, I made it a point to enforce these habits. The NTSAF SIP Japan trip influenced my life in a way that no other event has; it took me outside of my comfort zone, it persuaded me to reconsider some of my long-term goals, and it impacted my everyday life choices.

by Carlos Hernandez

Two months after coming back from Japan, I feel that I’ve really come to appreciate the diversity here in the States, particularly L.A. Being in an environment that is completely homogeneous like Japan is something that I really wasn’t used to or that I necessarily enjoyed. While it may have its positive aspects, I feel that diversity is something we take advantage of as Americans because places like Japan don’t have the different narratives and varying perspectives as we have here. Nevertheless, putting their homogeneity aside, I feel that the heritage and culture that the Japanese have developed over centuries is something that we have still not developed. I am excited to be a part of our history as it continues o take shape with so many varying opinions and ideologies.

by Tina Chuvanjyan

Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have imagined world travel like this. Two weeks in Japan filled with trains, rain, shrines, and history—so much history. I cannot believe it has already been two months since our trip. It feels as though it was just yesterday when we all returned to Los Angeles.

Since returning, I’ve caught myself thinking and dreaming about some of the things we did and places we visited while in Japan. The memories are so vivid in my mind; I hope they never go away.

To be perfectly honest, I had never envisioned myself visiting any Asian country. That part of the world seemed so far off and disconnected from anything in my life. However, as a rising senior, I knew that I could not let my college years pass by without some sort of study abroad experience. I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the USC NTSAF Summer Immersion Program in Japan, and I don’t think I could have made a better decision in my life.

Japan opened up a whole new world of discovery for not only me, butfor my friends and family as well. It was important for me to share with them everything that I experienced and learned on my trip. They were able to visit the country through my stories, photos, and souvenirs. Now they want to be able to experience traveling first-hand.

It is also interesting to note that I am much more aware of anything Japanese in my everyday life. While before I might have ignored clips of the Tokyo skyline or of the famous Japanese bullet trains in movies, now I am excited to share with everyone around me that I was there and have seen it all on my own.

I’ve become a walking and talking advertisement for study abroad and traveling. I encourage anyone who has the opportunity for study abroad to take the next step and actually do it!

by Donald La

I have never traveled overseas before Norman Topping gave me this wonderful opportunity to study in Japan for two weeks. The two weeks that I spent in Japan were memorable and significant to my educational experience here at USC. As an undergraduate student studying business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship and international business, being able to see how Toyota manufactures their automobiles was a valuable experience because it allowed me to see how an actual production line operates in real life. It was also impressive to see Japan’s advanced technology. They had machines delivering automobile parts from one end of the factory to another, which is why they only have a few people working in the factories. The Summer Immersion Program gave me the chance to take the things I learned from various business classes and see how it is actually applied in the work force.





Reflections – July 6

8 07 2010

by Professor George Sanchez

Having been back in the United States for one week, I’ve been able to reflect on the overall educational outcomes of the America in Japan Summer Intensive Program coordinated by the Norman Topping Scholars Program and USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences. Many of our students were able to travel to and learn about Japan for the first time in their lives in a structured environment, safe to explore another country in which they did not know the language spoken, but able to learn first-hand about another national culture through exploration and experience. Many had never traveled outside the U.S. before, and several would not have tried without this structured learning environment. We packed a tremendous amount of information and experiential learning into our three-week program, which left most of us exhausted but excited about everything we had encountered. Whether it was learning to use chopsticks, execute the proper official bow, or how to exchange ideas with Japanese students, each learning experience opened up a world of cultural exchange in very personal ways.

The power of the history of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, the beauty of the gardens and shrines of Kyoto, the creativity and industriousness of Nagoya, and the bustling and crowded streets of Tokyo all had an impact which will resonate for years, if not lifetimes, across each of our students. Several have already decided to change majors, take new courses and languages, and even try new directions in their career paths based on their experiences on this trip. All seem open to further travel abroad, including in organized study abroad semesters, in Asia and throughout the world. I witnessed education come alive for these students, beyond the books, papers and exams that usually shape common courses, towards life-altering experiences that can help integrate learning with daily life in new and challenging environments. As a USC faculty member, I leave this experience even more committed to helping students open themselves to other cultures and nations through their education to become truly global scholars and students of the world. I can’t wait until we organize another immersion program!





Final Day in Japan – June 27

7 07 2010

by Professor George Sanchez

Given the pace of the intensive three weeks, we decided to give students a free day to explore Tokyo on our final full day in Japan. Some did laundry, most sought out last-minute gifts for families and friends, and many ventured to Harajuku, a “hip spot” in western Tokyo perfect for people watching and souvenir shopping. Young people come to this trendy spot dressed up in gothic or anime costumes, ready to take pictures with tourists. But like other parts of Japan, this very contemporary spot is at the entrance of Yoyogi Park, with its own major shrine and return to historical and spiritual Japan. One group was able to see a traditional wedding party venture through the shrine just after witnessing a group of gothic young people.





The entire group gathered on our final evening for a final meeting of thanks, appreciation and karaoke. The group bonded tremendously on the trip, and everyone shared their own feelings of what they had learned over the past two weeks. Many students and staff were making major transitions in their education, careers and lives, so this was also an emotional goodbye for many of us. I felt that the group really grew accustomed to learning about Japan while they were experiencing it first hand, a task that is more difficult than it originally appears for first-time international travelers. Personally, I was grateful to be a part of such a creative organizing team and participate with such a wonderful group of inquisitive and passionate students.



All of us ended the evening with a couple of rousing hours of karaoke singing as groups and individuals. We even got a rendition of a traditional Japanese tune by Yushi Yamasaki, a Spanish-language tune by Felipe Martinez, and a range of popular rock and soul tunes from several generations of musicians. A wonderful end to an amazing three weeks!





Mishima – June 26

30 06 2010

by Professor George Sanchez

On our first full day back in Tokyo, we once again got on the bullet train to travel one hour out of Tokyo to a more “rural” part of the country, Mishima. Our hosts were Gary Okihiro, Columbia University professor, Marina Henriquez, his spouse, and the faculty and students of Nihon University, the largest university system in Japan. We were greeted at the train station and taken to nearby Nihon University, where we were welcomed with a student speech in English, two wonderful hip-hop performers, and a series of songs sung with accompaniment of an electric guitar and keyboard.


At this point, the students were broken up into groups to engage in focused discussions about the similarities between U.S. and Japanese students. One striking feature of this exchange was that the Japanese students and faculty had studies our students’ biographies and photographs, so they initiated the exchange by sight. They even had special students assigned to those with language ability from Indonesia and China, to take advantage of this form of linguistic exchange. Quite a lovely gesture and a real feeling of being welcomed!







After lunch at the cafeteria, where students saw a traditional ticket purchase system for food, we gathered on a bus for the Hakone District at the foot of Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy and foggy, so we never actually saw the iconic Japanese mountain. But we enjoyed the local museum which features items on this famous travel road to Tokyo, and especially the boat ride on the lake system in which friendships were formed between the students from both countries. We were particularly struck by the friendliness of these students, and their real openness to talking about Japanese society and culture. Once again, the personal contact initiated here will go a long way towards establishing lasting memories for each of our USC students.





Student Reflections – June 25

27 06 2010

A Day at Toyota

by Sergio Calix

We started our day by going to the Toyota Industries. It is about an hour drive from Nagoya and our guide Yayo took us there. The Toyota representatives hosted us and gave us a cool toy Prius to remember our visit. They showed us a really interesting video on how Toyota has expanded from building steel-based trucks to cars that run on electricity. Their main focus right now is creating cars that are environmental friendly and that are customized for the increasingly elderly population.

Then we went to the factory were they make the Prius. It is truly an impressive assembly line system. They explained to us the various detailed steps that it takes to create a car. At this plant, they design, test, manufacture and produce the new and upcoming Prius. We learned how Toyota has become a leader in green technology and it is expanding globally. It was interesting to see where the cars that we saw arrive at the Port of Long Beach came from. It was trip in which we saw at first-hand how international business works and how it is expanding. Unfortunately, we had to leave promptly because we needed to catch the bullet train back to Tokyo. Nagoya is a beautiful city, and I definitely would come back here.





Corporate Japan – June 25

27 06 2010

by Professor George Sanchez

Today’s travels took us to two of the leading corporations in Japan in two very different industries. Our final stop in Nagoya was to the leading Toyota auto manufacturing plant outside the city limits, where we were greeted by the head of the plant and many top officials. After hearing about what kinds of cars they build for domestic and global markets, we toured the most highly automated assembly line any of us had ever seen. Robots moved car parts to their respective positions, while a much trimmed workforce placed the parts in their appropriate position. We were impressed with the stated commitment to both eco-friendly cars and to those for “welfare”—largely the elderly and disabled in Japan—in which each car is customized for the individual’s disability. One student, Henry Franco, asked whether this technology could be exported to the U.S., since it doesn’t appear to be a conscious market in the U.S. We did not get a straight answer for the corporate representatives, but on the trip to the train station, we came to understand that this is a highly expensive market serving individual needs which is highly subsidized by the Japanese government through individual welfare. For the U.S. to have this technology would require much greater investment in the aged and disabled by the U.S. government to serve their needs by working with automakers.






After saying goodbye to our wonderful hosts in Nagoya, we traveled on the bullet train back to Tokyo and our “home away from home” at the Weekly Mansion Akasaka. Quickly leaving our bags, we walked to Sony Computer Entertainment Headquarters, where Hoon Kim, a USC alumnus had prepared our afternoon activities. He told us about his own journey through entertainment and sports agencies, landing him now as the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Communication for Sony Corporation. We then toured the creative gaming studio, with parts that looked both like a regular corporate cubicle environment and state-of-the-art production and recording studios. Finally, Hoon had set us up to actually play some brand new and not-yet-released games, which thoroughly captured the students’ attention and competitive streak. Hoon Kim encouraged the students to take full advantage of every opportunity that presents itself, and we left feeling like we had been given quite an inside look at two of Japan’s leading creative corporations.





Student Reflections – June 24

26 06 2010

Group picture in front of Nagoya Castle. Try to find our King in the middle of the picture!

The Nagoya Experience

by Amanda Peralta and Carlos E. Hernandez, photos and captions by Roland Wiryawan

Today, we really got a chance to explore the city as a true Nagoyan citizen. We started off our day by visiting City Hall and getting a brief presentation on the city’s wonderful history. Afterwards, we visited Nagoya Castle, where we had the chance to explore the origins of Nagoya that go back to the 1600s. Once we finished our tour, we visited the Shippo Pavillon. Here, we learned about the Shippo craftsman tradition and witnessed some traditional Japanese art. The best part about this was having the chance to make our own works of art! Even though some of us had a hard time making our art pieces, we still had a blast doing it! Some of us made key chains, some backpack/cell phone straps, and others made their own pendants. It was truly an enjoyable experience.

Prof. Sanchez gives a token of appreciation to the representative from civic reception house of Nagoya. See how he bows to show his appreciation to her in Japanese tradition.

Meeting and discussion between Japan and USA will improve the understanding between both countries.

In Nagoya Castle, we get a warm welcome by a group of samurai. Here is one of them who dresses up like a farmer.

For some of us, eating with chopsticks is not an easy task to do, but as time goes by, we survive and become (almost) expert with chopsticks.

Felipe Martinez, our assistant director for Norman Topping Student Aid Fund, poses in front of the sign. In Japan, there are a lot of signs in animation style.

Each of us gets the chance to make our own model of Shippo arts.

Made in Japan, by USC students.

We have been using different transportation systems in Japan. From train, boat, taxi, bullet train, and bus, we try it all.

Before our exciting baseball game experience, we got to go to one of Nagoya’s famed shopping areas, the Osu district. Here we found charming second-hand stores, a temple, and various ethnic eateries, including a delicious Brazilian and Mexican café.

Going to the famous Nagoya Dome to watch the Nagoya Dragons versus the Yokohama BayStars was quite exhilarating. The first thing that really struck me was how similar the Dragons’ logo and uniforms were similar to those of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Like the Dodgers, they had the same shade of blue, had the same signature insignia, and even their baseball cap logo was the same!

Carlos Hernandez, a music industry student watches the game between Dragons and BayStar. It was an unique experience to watch indoor baseball in Japan and compare it to Los Angeles.

This is a fan group of Dragons, a baseball team from Nagoya. Watching baseball is part of the entertainment for all ages in Japan.

Japanese people use different ways to support their team. They use flags and trumpets to cheer their favorite team.

While inside the dome, we witnessed first-hand how organized the Japanese are while cheering. As we sat towards center field, left field was packed with rowdy visiting fans. Meanwhile, right field was filled with cheering Dragon fans. It was interesting to see how each side only cheered when their teams were at bat. Even though they acted rowdy, tooted their horns, and used their plastic bats to make noise, neither side would cheer when the opposing team was at bat. They would sit down quietly, and let the other side have their chance. The only exception to this rule was when the Dragon pitcher struck someone out or forced a ground out, that they would taunt the opposing team for their mistake. All in all, that taunting wasn’t enough because the Dragons took a beating, losing to the BayStars 5-0.








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