Welcome to the IUC Japan

Welcome to the IUC Japan

The magnificent IUC in Yokohama.

Sometimes, language instruction at your home institution isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Which is where the IUC comes in...

Learning a new language can feel like occupying someone else's skin: try as you might, everything's always a half step too slow, a syllable too long. Learning by rote helps shed some of the unfamiliarity, but it's still a long slog ahead. One false step, and you're back to racking your brain for shortcuts and mnemonic devices with dubious success rates. The antidote to all that mindless regurgitation then, is the intensive language program, with its far more interactive methods and interdisciplinary awareness; not only will you learn Japanese, you'll be sure to soak in all its idiosyncracies.

The Yokohama Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies (IUC) offers the aforementioned advantages in spades. That's partly because it's administered by a consortium of 16 upper-echelon U.S. universities, including UCLA, Stanford, Harvard and Yale. Which all but cinches a formidable academic setting; one where mastering a language isn't so much a choice as it is a lifestyle. Just don't expect to simply show up and see results.

“The program that's put on is for graduate students who have exhausted all the possibilities of language studies at their home institutions and need a place in Japan that can give them language instruction at an advanced level,” says Jordan Smith, a former IUC participant. “And allow them the flexibility to practice Japanese within their areas of research.”

Flexibility, as well as familiarity with the unfamiliar.

“I think the program does an excellent job of tying it to the locations and surroundings; it takes advantage of all the resources in and around Yokohama,” Smith opines before offering an example. “You take field trips as a group to a temple, but it's not just about visiting a temple and looking around and taking pictures. One of the young monks gives you a personalized tour around all the little back rooms, and explains to you the daily routine of what it means to be a young apprentice monk and what their lives are really like. Perhaps you could read an article about it in a class here, but when you go there and you're experiencing and seeing it for yourself, you're able to take something away from it and share it with students in the future.”

The onus, however, remains on the student. Because it takes more than a field trip to the temple to call yourself a local.

“The school offers a great deal of structure in language training. But in terms of cultural experiences, you need to step out of the school and its bounds in order to find other Japanese people with whom to connect and relate,” relates Howard Kahm, who took advantage of IUC's full-year option. “IUC will give you the tools to understand the language, but you have to take those tools and use them while you're in Japan. It's still a school after all and life is not only lived within its four walls but outside as well.”

When it comes to breadth and depth, there's no question that the full-year is the cat's pajamas. “Obviously, it provides a lot more substance since greater time is spent in kanji study—an individual research project—and individual instruction with the IUC teachers,” says Kahm. “I thought the summer program was quite good as a refresher course, but there's really no comparison in terms of building up language ability for graduate study.”

At least Kahm thinks so. But those who participated in the summer program don't necessarily see their experiences as any less productive. Knowing that your're on borrowed time sometimes results in a sense of urgency—and perhaps a more selective networking process.

“It establishes a sense of community with other graduate students in Japanese studies,” says Smith, who only stayed through the summer. “Through the program, you build a network with other students, all over the collegiate map.”

Loren Kajikawa, another past participant in the summer program, agrees. “It's not just about language instruction per se, but it's an environment where the people who are teaching have academic interests of their own,” he explains. “So you're learning in a context that's not just about learning the language in a general, vague sense, but it's really directed toward things you might want to research, or want to be able to explain and understand in Japanese.”

Regardless of the preferred approach, IUC ensures that at the end of the day, you'll have captured the innerworkings of another language and culture—and done so on your own terms. In your own skin. “At the end of the program, everything culminates in a mini-conference where everybody presents on some topic in their own field in Japanese,” says Kajikawa with an air of finality. “So the program is not only geared toward language acquisition, but also within the context of academic work. It's kind of a nice support system that they've got there.”

IUC official website

Published: Thursday, December 01, 2005