Arisa Yanagimoto, Manami Takahashi, and Mika Ohara pose for a photo in the Mudd Library.
Japanese students (from left) Arisa Yanagimoto, Manami Takahashi, and Mika Ohara pose for a photo in the Mudd Library. Waseda University in Tokyo has been sending students to Lawrence since 2002. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

In the spirit of International Education Week (Nov. 18-22), Lawrence University is celebrating the amazing contributions of its many international students. This year, that includes three students who are here from Waseda University in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan.

The Waseda study abroad program has been sending students to Lawrence since 2002.

The students here this year are Mika Ohara, a sophomore from Tokyo; Manami Takahashi, a junior from Saitama; Arisa Yanagimoto, a sophomore from Tokyo. As their first term at Lawrence closes, we catch up with them to learn more about their experience with the program.

Small class sizes, residential living and a diverse student body drew the Waseda students to Lawrence.

“The English department here is more diverse,” says Takahashi, who studies old Japanese literature. “You can talk with people from other countries. People who have different cultures and living styles are so important.”

Ohara said she loves living amongst students from so many different backgrounds.

“There are a lot of international students from many countries,” Ohara said, “and we live on the same campus so we can get together on the weekends and cook something and make relationships.”

Above all, sharpening their English language skills is a primary goal for all three visiting students. Lawrence belongs to a group of one-year programs at Waseda called Customized Study-Language Focused programs, or CS-L, making it an ideal destination for Waseda students looking to improve their English. During fall term, the group takes specialized language classes, including English in the American University, and a modified version of Freshman Studies that makes the works more accessible to non-native speakers.

The Waseda staff at Lawrence is integral to the students’ success. Cecile Despres-Berry is the director of ESL and the Waseda Program. While she teaches classes, Despres-Berry also is an ever-present support system for the visiting students.

“One of the goals is to add extra layers of support in order to help them integrate into the campus more quickly, so they can find out about organizations and make friends and do all of those things within the 10 months they’re here,” Despres-Berry said.

The students quickly reap the benefits of that support system.

“They make huge gains in their language abilities and confidence in English,” Despres-Berry said. “Depending on what they’re interested in, they make huge gains in their academic area.”

Changing lives on campus

The lasting impressions don’t stop with academics. Historically, Waseda students form relationships with Lawrence students that continue long after they leave. That could have something to do with Lawrentians’ willingness to get involved with the program by becoming tutors, mentors, and roommates.

The benefits of hosting Waseda students extend to all corners of life on campus.

“Our tutors who are interested in working with language learners can benefit,” Despres-Berry said. “Students who are interested in studying Japanese have a group of students who they can learn from. They can be roommates. We have cultural programming. They’ve joined our varsity teams. They’ve really been a part of the campus.”

When asked about their goals for the rest of the year at Lawrence, Ohara, Takahashi, and Yanagimoto all look forward to making more friends. They are enjoying the small, close-knit makeup of the Lawrence community.

“Waseda has many students so it’s difficult to get along with many people,” Yanagimoto said. “Here all the students live on the campus, and the community is very small and close, so I’m going to get along with many people and we’ll know about each other deeply.”

Lawrence students interested in studying in Japan also have an option to sign up for a study abroad experience at Waseda. Options include a full year of study or a partial year. For information, contact the Off-Campus Programs office.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.