Japan study program opens doors for Hills woman

Farmington Hills resident Dania Khan was rethinking her pre-med track at Wayne State University last year, when a friend suggested they apply for a study abroad program that would take them to Japan.

Dania Khan
During an internship trip she was allowed to attend, Dania Khan toured one of the oldest fish hatcheries in Japan. (photo courtesy Elise Tillema)

An Asian Studies and English double major, Khan had heard about Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU) in her freshman year. As her interest shifted to environmental law, she was intrigued by JCMU’s environmental sciences program, so she and her friend applied, and both were accepted. The seven-week program opened up opportunities Khan hadn’t imagined, and even some that weren’t part of the plan.

Dania Khan
Dania Khan encountered a lizard during a hike up one of the mountains around Lake Biwa.The purpose of the hike was to study Satoyama conservation methods. (photo courtesy Elise Tillema)

“JCMU is a way to open so many doors,” the 2013 Harrison High graduate said. “We met with the program director, who is an attorney in the U.S. He arranged for us to travel to another city to observe a court proceeding there.”

Khan decided not to do any pre-trip research, but to just absorb the experience first-hand. It was “a lot to take in,” she admitted. Classes started the day after she and her friend arrived, but were spaced out so that there was time to explore Hikone, where the JCMU facility is located, along with the cities of Osaka and Kyoto. Khan also encountered an unexpected taste of her own culture, related to a popular game.

“My roommate was of Indian descent, and I am of Pakistani descent,” she said. “We were surprised to find that Carrom is played in the city of Hikone. We were even able to participate in the annual Carrom tournament. While we both played abysmally, we were able to meet many talented players and interact with local families.”

Hikone Castle (photo by Philbert Ono)
Hikone Castle (photo by Philbert Ono)

That kind of intercultural experience is part of JCMU’s purpose. Established in 1989, the consortium links Michigan’s 15 public universities and colleges with Shiga Prefecture. Students live and learn in a facility located in Hikone, which sits on the shores of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake.

Khan’s specialized classes included a study of Lake Biwa. Students were paired up with professors based on their interests. Studies included classroom instruction and field work. At the end of the experience, students wrote a 10-page report on their topics of interest. Every JCMU student also attended a Japanese culture class.

Language wasn’t a real barrier, said Khan, who had studied Japanese language for seven years, including classes at Harrison.

“I definitely returned more confident about my speaking abilities,” she added. “Over the course of seven weeks, it because much easier to compose sentences and understand native speakers. While my abilities are still far from perfect, they are definitely much improved.”

JCMU “taught me a lot about picking up opportunity where I find it,” Khan said. “It definitely did make me feel that environmental law is something I want to pursue.”

To learn more about JCMU, visit jcmu.isp.msu.edu.

Corrections: Khan’s major was incorrectly reported in the original version of this post. Also, Lake Biwa is Japan’s largest, but not only, freshwater lake, and the Shiga Prefecture was incorrectly identified.