“Food is a tremendous part of life here, and something I want to experience to the fullest. That being said, something deep in my red, white, and blue American soul seems wrong with eating unagi (eel) as my first meal of the day.”
So writes Dan Riley ’11 in his blog “Barefoot in Nagoya,” an online journal of his studies and cultural observations as a Green Mountain College exchange student at Nagoya University over the past year.
Nagoya University, considered one of the Japanese “Ivies,” is the latest international exchange partner with GMC, providing a one semester or one year program for GMC students interested in law and policy. Classes are in English (or Japanese depending on a student’s ability), but all GMC students take intensive Japanese language instruction.
A native of Newington, Conn., Dan was not entirely unprepared for his year abroad. He took some Japanese language classes in high school, and traveled to Nagoya as part of a class taught by Prof. Sam Edwards (environmental studies) in 2008. Edwards is the pre-law program director and head of the Nagoya exchange at GMC.
But a wry humor and a natural sense of adventure might have been his most important equipment. He managed to “get lost” numerous times in Japan, a process that, despite its harrowing aspects, resulted in deeper appreciation for a different culture. One of his sojourns was a weekend train trip to Kyoto.
“If you are not fluent [in Japanese], the best thing you can do is play the role of the ignorant but friendly foreigner . . . I slowly explained to the woman that I needed to get to Kyoto, and she slowly in Japanese told me that she didn't speak English. I repeated myself, still in English, and she gave me a map. Furthermore she left her post and directed me to the right train platform, making sure that I got on the train in the best car, and informed the people on the train that I should be alerted when I needed to make my transfer. Man I love this country.”
For shorter trips around campus Dan relied on a bicycle he inherited from his GMC predecessor at Nagoya, Kate Thomas ’10. People bike everywhere in Japan, Dan said, for transportation and recreation. He joined a bike club in Nagoya, taking sojourns to local attractions.
“. . . Bikes are everywhere here. Lines of bikes stretch the entire length of campus. These lines never disappear or dissipate, because as soon as someone leaves on their bike at least three people attempt to cram their bikes into the vacant space.”
Dan’s coursework at Nagoya included a negotiation and arbitration class in which he and his classmates competed in the Intercollegiate Negotiation Competition in Tokyo. His team was given a fictional scenario and asked to argue its case to a third party for judgment. The process is used for the resolution of disputes between two companies over international contracts and trade.
Dan’s team immersed itself in research for days to prepare for the competition--and found itself facing a first-string lineup. (Prof. Sam Edwards’ students in his International Negotiation & the Environment course also conducted online negotiations with Nagoya’s team through video and the internet).
"The Arbitration was interesting, to say the least . . . We were very well prepared but the other team was essentially a team of six practicing lawyers. We scored some points for being willing to compromise, but the other team was very professional and coordinated, so I think we lost this round. "
Dan’s curiosity and easy friendship with his classmates and Japanese students he met in Nagoya opened doors to other intriguing places. In February he volunteered for a campaign event for Kohei Otsuka a member of the House of Councillors in the Diet (national legislature) and considered a charismatic star in current Japanese politics. After a meet and greet session, Dan managed to get a seat next to Otsuka at lunch and received a job offer.
“I had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Otsuka . . . We agreed on a lot of things. He even offered to let me work in his campaign offices if I was interested . . . I would jump at the opportunity of course, but unfortunately since he is one of the higher ups, his office is located in Tokyo, and thus not very accessible. Great conversation though. He reminded me, while talking about what a politician has to think about, of his favorite quote from an American politician, ‘And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.’ I can only hope that more up and coming politicians, on both sides of the Pacific, are as willing to take this to heart.”
Dan arrived back at GMC this fall to finish up his requirements for a communications degree. He is considering applying to law school. You can read more of his blog here.
By Kevin Coburn