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Imagine hiking up Mount Kurama and then soaking in a Japanese bath at a mountain hot spring.

Shooting the rapids in Hozu River.

Hiking through the 10,000 tori arches of an Inari shrine.

And, finally, joining fans at a Hanshin Tigers baseball game to celebrate in a particularly Japanese way by sending up balloons when your team wins.

That’s what happens when you take “Community and Everyday Life in Japan,” a class given through UC Davis Summer Abroad.

It’s one of nearly 50 possibilities for summer classes abroad.  Each class in each country (or in some cases, multiple countries) is an adventure, as students will tell you.

For the 400-plus UC students who have attended the Japanese class over the past 22 years, going to Kyoto has meant discovering a world that they might never have known by staying at home.

Students report: “ I got much more out of this program than I ever expected”; “I became more innovative in communicating with others” ; “I was challenged to reflect constantly”; ”[The class] gave me a better sense of what I want to do”; and ”[It] stimulated me to be open-minded.”

These life-changing experiences are thanks to one of UC Davis’ favorite teachers: Isao Fujimoto, a faculty member in the UC Davis Community and Regional Development Program. He accompanies the students on their monthlong adventure and instills what he believes are invaluable skills.

“Our students use a cooperative approach to learning so everyone shares what they are learning,” says Fujimoto.

The class meets at Ryukoku University, which provides a buddy system matching Japanese students with UC students.

In this action-based class, students meet with community organizations and take on assignments that sharpen their observational, research, interview and interpersonal skills.

They participate with Japanese groups working on revitalizing historic neighborhoods, promoting food safety, preserving family farms, supporting immigrant workers, improving women’s rights, helping high school dropouts and battling discrimination faced by minority groups.

Prompted by their curiosity, students choose to research such issues as:

  • What kind of street-dance styles are popular among Japanese youths?
  • How do Japanese Brazilians and other immigrant workers overcome obstacles?
  • In what ways do theater- and movie-going in Japan differ from these activities in California?
  • Why is mayonnaise on many Japanese menus?

Fujimoto says students will find unexpected payoffs from this short period abroad. “In addition to gaining insights about another society, participants gain skills that prepare them for future explorations in other countries.”

Following this past summer’s experience, one student identified an even greater reward: ”I’ve made friends for a lifetime.”

Slideshow images courtesy of Isao Fujimoto and the UC Davis Study Abroad program.