KCP alumna Gwen Taylor describes how studying at KCP and experiencing Japan have touched her life. She also offers valuable insights about the program. Thanks, Gwen!
I had always felt held back by the speed of language courses at my university. And I thought Japanese culture was something easily understood through textbooks. I wanted to learn so much and was so motivated, but there was often nothing for me to do. In my second year studying Japanese, I got the opportunity to spend three months at KCP. It was everything I dreamed of and more.
Gwen. | KCP Flickr
Not only are the courses magnificently challenging and the staff extremely supportive, but the school is in the heart of Tokyo. I have never been in a place where there was so much to explore, so much to do. One afternoon, I decided to go to the trendy shopping district of Harajuku, and after a great day shopping in a huge population center, I discovered a temple almost totally hidden by a forest. The ease of train travel meant I could go anywhere, from peaceful rural farms to historical monuments, castles, and hot spring resorts; from frantic urban centers to glorious beaches in a single day. It is true that you are only young once, and I believe every young person should get to spend time in Tokyo.
The culture classes taught me more than I ever learned in university. Every class was devoted to exploring some aspect of Japanese culture that had never occurred to me. Because the teachers were Japanese living in Japan, their perspective was totally new to me and opened my eyes in so many ways. The tours we had of Ginza and the Edo-Tokyo Museum will remain in my memory forever. Our teachers were not only knowledgeable but also seemed to genuinely share in our wonder and joy at discovering so many new things. One of the best experiences was seeing Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku performances, which should not be missed even by those who don’t know what they are.
At Edo-Tokyo Museum. | KCP Flickr
We were also obliged to participate in a sports day event. As an American, I found this incomprehensible at first, since even elementary schools in America do not have a culture of students putting on events. But like everything else at KCP, the idea was immersion. I suggest embracing everything that seems weird, including strange community events. Although I dragged my feet at the beginning, by the end of that effort I enjoyed a sense of community and family that I have never felt in an academic environment. I also highly recommend trying extracurricular activities such as the Anime Club, through which I was able to visit the magical Ghibli Museum. Every child should get to go there.
One of my most memorable experiences was our day trip to Aizu near the end of our term. By that time, I thought I was getting a good idea what Japanese life was like. How wrong I was. We stopped at several historical sites, at each place seeing beautiful clothing, rooms, and structures plucked from periods in Japanese history. Because Aizu is somewhat colder and we started our day so early, each place we visited had an air of stillness, a slight hint of fog tipping from the mountains as we drove further into them. Our final destination was Tsuruga Castle, from whose top tower we could see what felt like all of Northern Japan. As snow started falling in big flakes, we visited a rural village that, even though it had people living in it normally, really felt like stepping back in time. The blissful feelings carried us all the way home through winding mountain roads and Japanese children’s songs.
Aizu. | KCP Flickr
Even if there were no language classes at all, KCP would be a worthwhile experience for anyone. But on top of this wealth of cultural experiences, every day is dedicated to learning Japanese. It feels like a heavy load at first, but after a couple of weeks it becomes thrilling to get to learn so much every day. Each level and class had three different teachers, each one fascinating, kind, and funny, and always willing to help with any problem or answer any question. Because most of the students’ native languages were other than English, there is little temptation for switching to one’s native tongue during classes. Soon, without really realizing it, speaking Japanese every day becomes natural.
The system of levels and the way the school is designed seem perfect for language learning. No matter what one’s Japanese proficiency is at the start, there is a class ideally suited to helping each student learn as much as they can. Because KCP has so much experience teaching Japanese, they understood my own psychology and ability even better than I did. As each hurdle approached, my teachers helped me to overcome it. I have never had a learning experience like it, and I wish it for anyone.
KCP students at dinner during an overnight trip. | KCP Flickr
Each of my classmates experienced KCP differently. Some were old hat at this and simply concentrated on studying; others took every opportunity to make new friends in the strangest places. For some, it was their first time in Japan and first time ever learning Japanese. I would have worried about them, but the staff was so supportive and friendships so strong, none of my friends ever complained about feeling left behind or lost. I have never felt so close to other human beings as I did to those I met during my time at KCP.
In summary, even for a total novice in Japanese language and culture, KCP is a perfect experience. Everyone deserves the accelerated learning and day-to-day experience of Japanese life, and no human being should go without spending some time in Tokyo. Even years later, I think often of my time there and wish to return. There is no need to hesitate. Japan is waiting for you.
For more of Gwen’s photos, visit her KCP Flickr set.