From Japan to America: 30th anniversary of the partnership between Reitaku University and Saint Martin’s University
James Colasurdo, Staff Writer
On Nov. 2, the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the partnership between Saint Martin’s University, and its sister university Reitaku University took place. The event seemed to capture the attention of many, with notable guests and speakers such as: SMU President Roy Heynderickx and President of Reitaku University Osamu Nakayama, retired Senator Karen Fraser, as well as professors from both Saint Martin’s and Reitaku University. To learn more, I interviewed Interim Vice President of International Programs Marco Tulluck, and uncovered the history of the partnership from Vice President Emeritus of International Programs Josephine Yung, with insightful comments from Saint Martin’s Alumni Patrick Carnahan, about how the trip to Reitaku was a transformative experience.
First and foremost, let’s cover precisely what a sister university is. “A sister university is a partnership that is really focused on international educational exchange. Usually that includes having some reciprocal tuition waiver agreement, so that means Saint Martin’s students can study abroad and they don’t have to pay tuition,” Tulluck states, and “usually with a sister university we offer one or two of those tuition waiver spots.” There are also differing lengths, in terms of time spent studying abroad for exchange programs. The JCET (Japanese Cultural Exchange Tour) allows for Saint Martin’s students to stay for 10 days, meanwhile students coming from Reitaku to Saint Martin’s typically stay for an entire semester. Moreover, there is not just exchange programs for students, but also ones for faculty. Currently, there are approximately 25 sister universities all over the world, with five sister universities in Japan.
For those concerned about a potential language barrier while studying abroad, there are many options that don’t require knowledge of a second language. In fact, there are many where students are not required to speak the language while studying abroad, and as Tulluck adds, “some sister universities [despite] not being an English-speaking country, offer many University classes in English.” Moreover, there are many “short-term opportunities where students can go over the summer for a couple of weeks to visit sister universities where there’s not really a language requirement.” Courses offered at sister universities range from courses in their major, or general education, or electives. Furthermore, what also really helps the trip is that the program is cosponsored by ASSMU, which has helped the program be affordable for Saint Martin’s students. Moreover, Reitaku is an example of a study abroad program, where students do not have to pay any room or board fees, and receive a stipend for their meals, so the cost is minimal.
The partnership first began with help from Josephine Yung. Yung was critical in starting and maintaining the relationship over the years. As a result, a fruitful partnership has culminated with 456 students from Reitaku coming to Saint Martin’s and over 150 students from Saint Martin’s coming to Reitaku, and “with the JCET program, we have also sent over 50 staff and faculty as chaperons,” Tulluck states, since 1988.
Yung tells of how the partnership began: “The partnership between SMU and Reitaku started with the relationship between Dr. John Ishii, the late President of Saint Martin’s University and Mr. Kotaro Tanaka, President of Asahi Travel International of Tokyo, Japan. Mr. Tanaka was asked by Reitaku University to recommend a U.S. higher educational institution to send their students. Mr. Tanaka forwarded the request to Dr. John Ishii who happily recommended Saint Martin’s University. I visited Reitaku University in 1987 to discuss a “Semester-in-Residence” program at Saint Martin’s University for Reitaku students. Reitaku students have been coming to SMU since then.”
From there, Yung maintained the relationship by communicating with Reitaku on a regular basis. Consistent communication contributed to efforts to overcome linguistic and cultural misunderstandings, which can cause misinterpretation and therefore a less strong relationship.
Since 1988, the exchange program with Reitaku has become one of SMU’s most active abroad programs, with 25 students from Saint Martin’s visiting the school last year—the largest number from a sister university that Reitku has received.
“Every year since 1991, we have sent five Saint Martin students to Japan, with one staff member and one faculty member as a chaperon, and the students go to Japan for 10 days to visit Reitaku University and several other sister universities in Japan,” Tulluck states. In doing so, “they get to be ambassadors for Saint Martin’s while they are abroad.”
Not only do Saint Martin’s students become ambassadors, but as Saint Martin’s Alumni Patrick Carnahan notes in his presentation at the celebration, students on the trip experience personal growth. In his 10 day trip to Reitaku in May 2016 (JCET program), followed up by his semester he spent in Japan the year after, in his junior year at Saint Martin’s, Carnahan states, “These things happen to lots of people who study abroad: you make amazing friends, you visit amazing places, you eat great food, but then there’s the transformational stuff—what changes about you during your experience, and everyone has a little bit of a different story about this.” Continuing, Carnahan states, “there are three main things that really changed about me when I went to Reitaku. The first thing was when you’re in Japan, especially near Tokyo, where Reitaku is, you’re almost always surrounded by big groups of people. Especially when you are riding the train. This is something that a lot of people in the United States are not used to. You have to get used to standing close to somebody,” Carnahan says, “you have to be careful not to talk on the phone [on the subway], even if someone important calls you, you have to decline that and wait until you get off at the next train stop.” Doing so, Carnahan notes, is a social no-no. Taking note of social customs such as that helped Carnahan to become self-aware of the environment going on around you.
The second thing Carnahan learned was how to become content with less, and not be so bought into materialism. He notes that traveling constantly makes you far more conscious about the stuff you buy. Carnahan made a deeper connection that, “in the U.S., we are really materialistic. We do have a lot of stuff: big cars, big houses, clothes [and] all sorts of stuff that other countries do not have the luxury of having, that in many ways weigh us down.” Since coming back to the U.S., Carnahan has been committed to, “reduce the amount of unnecessary clutter [he] has in his life. [Which] has helped in so many ways, not just in having a cleaner room, but also a cleaner mind.” Carnahan reflecting, noting that he would not have had the same experience if he had not dragged so much stuff around his entire trip, often having to rely on friends.
Lastly, the trip abroad really changed his direction in life. Carnahan said, “When I came to Saint Martin’s University, one thing I talked about was my interest in theme parks. But when I visited Japan for the first time, something that struck me was just something different about moving around there. Just the options you had for getting around.” Reflecting, Carnahan realized, “Japanese cities are laid out in a way that is practical, simply because they have a limited amount of space. It’s a situation where you don’t have to own a car if you want to be a first class citizen, you don’t have to be dependent on traffic. You can walk, you can bike, you can take the bus, and ride a train.” Continuing, Carnahan mentions, “this rocked my world because, instead of just thinking about entertainment, I thought about, ‘how do we design our cities, our spaces so that they’re practical, and healthy, and economically viable?” As a result, Carnahan is deeply considering a future in urban design.
Concluding, Carnahan fondly remembered his trip as a life-changing experience, giving him new perspectives on life that he would not have had if he had stayed in America.