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Japanese Studies at CGCC teaches more than just language

Columbia Gorge Community College’s foreign language program fosters cross-cultural collaboration, problem solving and character development for both students and the community at large.

There’s no doubt as to the importance of foreign language programs in education. Research from the Programme for International Student Assessment shows that although the United States spends more on education than any other industrialized nation, it fails to rank among the top eight countries known for excellence in mathematical, scientific or linguistic knowledge for solving day-to-day problems.

What do these other countries do that gives them the advantage? Among other things, they foster a healthy development of emotional intelligence and emphasize humanities in courses and curricula, according to Yukari Birkett, who as the Japanese instructor at CGCC and a former English for Speakers of Other Languages instructor has long studied and advocated the benefits of foreign language education for the college and Gorge region.

“With the advancement of technology and globalization, foreign language studies and educational opportunities such as the Japanese program are more important than ever,” says Birkett, one of many in a growing group of CGCC faculty members, staff members and students noting the relevant role Japanese studies have been playing at the college, within the region, and as far away as Japan itself.

“All the instruction and experiences we offer support several vital goals — fostering crucial cross-culture collaboration between these two ethnicities, enhancing creative problem-solving capabilities and developing student and community character.”

It’s also striving to mend the past by healing the future, according to Tim Schell, CGCC’s chair of the writing, literature and the foreign language department. Schell is one of several faculty members who has researched and written on the prejudice and mistreatment of Japanese Americans who lived in the Gorge region during and after World War II.

When the war was over, those released from United States internment camps or relieved of their service in the military returned to a hard homecoming, he says. At best, they suffered community-wide prejudice while leaders in Hood River, including veterans groups, went so far as to strip soldiers’ names from a local war memorial — a gesture that was decried nationwide.

“Today, our students are afforded the opportunity to learn not only the Japanese language but also about the Japanese culture,” he says. “Only with this education can one bridge the dangerous chasm that has for so long divided these different cultures.”

Since 2007, CGCC students have enjoyed not just the challenge of studying Japanese, but they’ve embraced the program’s multi-faceted approach to foreign language education, which includes both immersion and hands-on learning. It’s attracting a diversity of students who’ve chosen this track for sometimes professional and other times personal reasons.

Some of the program’s many highlights have included hosting a Japanese Festival on campus, visiting key Japanese culture sites in Portland and enabling educational exchange trips to the sister cities of Hood River and The Dalles, Tsuruta (Aomori Prefecture) and Miyoshi City, respectively.

“From the start, our Japanese instruction has been much more than just teaching a foreign language,” Birkett says. “The Japanese Program at CGCC has enabled students to truly understand the culture, respect differences, celebrate commonalities and grasp how to leverage all that to make our increasingly connected world a better place.

“On many levels, this program isn’t just making a significant difference in our community’s character, but it’s positioning our students in a much-needed way to better engage in our increasingly global society, not fearing the challenges of the future but welcoming them and developing the sustainable solutions and relationships that are so needed for long-term success.”

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For more information visit cgcc.edu.

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