Campus Life

Japan Study Tour offers students a cultural opportunity

University of Lethbridge education professor Dr. Lance Grigg doesn't mind admitting he had a number of lost in translation moments when he first visited Japan. It was out of these instances his appreciation for diversity really took root.

Grigg will lead a contingent of 15 students to Japan in the 2009 spring session as the latest chapter in the Hokkai-Gakuen University exchange program. The Japanese study tour is currently seeking applications, having held an information session earlier this month through the International Centre for Students. A respect for diversity and a willingness to listen and learn are hallmarks Grigg will be looking for when he interviews candidates.

"I think the major quality I'm looking for in someone going on this exchange is a respectful person," he says. "We want people who respect diversity and who have the maturity to engage that in action."

Grigg knows of what he speaks, having done a four-month tour as part of a professorial exchange in 2002. He says going to Japan with an open mind and a willingness to challenge his own ideals on learning allowed him to gain a deep appreciation for Japanese culture.

"That's one thing students can take away from an experience abroad, about any culture. To unlearn how you learn, in order to learn in a different culture," he says. "Be attentive to how that culture operates, what the values are underpinning that culture and how a culture goes about doing things."

Students seeking to be involved in the program must
remember the core value of the tour is that it is an exchange. Dr. Grigg says there is no room for arrogance, or an attitude that students are going abroad to spread the Canadian way.

"You don't go to another culture thinking that you are going to enlighten them, or bring knowledge to them that is not there," he says. "That's not the kind of attitude we want in a student going on the exchange. We're looking for students who are attentive to every part of another culture."

Grigg found Japanese society to be fascinating and quickly understood he could get the most out of his tour by abandoning preconceived notions and opening himself to a different way of teaching. By first accepting new approaches and then assessing them in the context of his experience, it gave Grigg a much broader perspective in his own teaching.

"Students going over there first have to be attentive to everything around them; culture, laws, practices," he says. "Then try and understand what they mean and reasonably accommodate those beliefs within one's own cultural framework. Within such an ambassadorial perspective, a conversation can ensue which respects the similarities and differences among cultures."

Students willing to work hard within the program are promised to reap immeasurable rewards. Those interested can contact Grigg at 403-329-2449 or Laura Ferguson in the International Centre for Students at 403-329-2053.