By JENNA GIBSON, Ranger Reporter:
Being chased by aggressive deer, bathing in a Japanese hot spring and trying new foods including raw fish and seaweed–that’s how 13 Amarillo College Presidential Scholars spent their winter vacation.
Every year, the Scholars have the opportunity to take an overseas educational excursion as part of their participation in the program. This year’s destination was Japan. The students spent 11 days traveling. They went to Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Hakone and Tokyo.
The trip also included a cultural exchange component that included meeting with residents in a nursing home and cooking a traditional Japanese dinner with Japanese college students. They also heard a lecture from the child of a Hiroshima survivor and visited a number of cultural and educational sites.
Sightseeing, shopping, visiting national parks, navigating the Tokyo subway and interacting with native wildlife, such as deer and monkeys, rounded out the excursion. The Scholars said this trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For Frankie Martinez, a business major, this was his first time to ever travel by plane. “The flight over was easy, despite it being 14 hours. I ended up taking four naps and watching four movies,” he said.
The Scholars said they were surprised by how lush and clean Japan was. “When we first got to Tokyo it felt pretty normal, but when we went more to the country areas it was like ‘oh my gosh, we’re in Japan. It’s so green,” Natalie Ocegueda, a nursing major, said.
“The trip was amazing. It was very clean and efficient,” Clarissa Clifford, a biology major, said. “Everyone was very nice. I was most surprised by the food that we ate. It was way different from what I expected,” Clifford added.
Some students were more adventurous when it came to food than others. “I ate a lot of seafood and french fries. Everything was edible and at least tasted OK,” Martinez said.
Abhi Bhakta, a vegetarian and engineering major, stuck to meatless options, but others, like Taylor Gray, a biology major, ate an eyeball. “It didn’t taste that bad,” he said.
The students said one of the most enlightening parts of the trip was experiencing Hiroshima, the site of America’s World War II dropping of an atomic bomb. The bombing killed an estimated 90,000–166,000 people and destroyed 70 percent of the city’s buildings. “Hiroshima was strangely peaceful,” Kaleb Pafford, a mass media major, said.
Visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was moving, according to the students. “When you’re there you see the history, as well as everything about the children. The museum really hit us hard, all you heard was sniffling and nobody spoke,” Ocegueda said. “I think it is such an important place for people to visit and see the reality of war and true suffering.”
Another key experience was learning about the Japanese college experience. While cooking an authentic Japanese dinner with Japanese college students, the Scholars were able to discuss various similarities and differences between the Japanese and American school systems.
“The college students seemed very committed and hard-working,” Martinez said. “It seems like in Japanese schools they have very high standards. As a whole, the educational standards are a lot higher there than they are here. Not to say we’re stupid, but they’re a lot more disciplined.”
One aspect of Japan that topped the list for many Scholars was the high-tech, heated toilets. “The Japanese culture has really nice bathrooms. They were in my top 10 of my favorite things about the trip,” Ocegueda said.
“The bathrooms surprised me the most. They were all very clean. All the toilets had seat warmers, which was very nice,” Martinez said.
The Scholars said they returned from the trip with not only new experiences, but a new outlook. “A really important thing I learned is that there are many different ways to live. Everyone there was very polite. I would without a doubt recommend the college continue the Scholars travel program. Experiencing another culture is something you just cannot do in the classroom,” Gray said.
The trip followed a semester spent studying Japan in the twice-weekly Scholars seminar classes.
The program is a highly-competitive, application-only learning community that gives high-achieving and motivated students the opportunity to participate in student-centered learning experiences that promote intellectual growth, cultural appreciation, professional focus, leadership development and civic participation.
Ocegueda reflected on the trip saying, “I can’t even put into words how amazing this experience was. We get so stuck in our little space and world, and there is so much we have yet to learn about. I think the biggest thing our tour guide Yumi told is that ‘nothing is by chance’ and I think that is so important.”