Justin Ehringhaus ’16 has received a prestigious scholarship to study in Japan for a year. He’ll return to graduate from Bowdoin next year.
Ehringhaus recently replied to questions about his year ahead, what sparked his original interest in Japan, and how he has pursued Japanese at Bowdoin.
Talia Cowen ’16: Can you tell me about the Monbukagakusho scholarship? What does it entail?
Justin Ehringhaus ’15: The scholarship is one of several awarded by Japan’s Ministry of Education. The one I applied to is for undergraduate students (around the world) who are interested in furthering their Japanese language skills and engaging in research related to Japan. It entails a year of intense language study at a university in Japan. An end goal of the program is to be able to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) at the N1 level (most difficult), which is essential to most careers requiring Japanese proficiency. Another is to write a significant paper on a topic of interest, and to present it at the end of the program. The scholarship covers all costs such as flights and tuition, and includes a generous monthly stipend to cover living costs, etc. I will be studying at Hiroshima University. I plan to research social precarity in Japan, and I am especially interested in investigating the role of NPOs in areas such as immigrant and refugee education.
TC: When did you become interested in Japan?
JE: Early on in high school, my social studies teacher and advisor Joe Grady noticed my burgeoning interest in Japanese history and literature. He inspired me to pursue these interests by, just for one of many examples, suggesting that I read Hersey’s postwar book Hiroshima as part of a class project. My interest in Japanese language soon followed, and I began teaching myself outside of school as best as I could. The opportunities to use Japanese in Maine, however, are finite, and thus the concept of studying abroad began to consume me. I envisioned what it would be like to say goodbye to my home and family — my “roots” — and to become immersed in another language and culture. My parents and school offered tremendous support in helping me to pursue my dreams, and I departed to spend my senior year abroad in Kumamoto, Japan through CIEE. This experience was all that I had hoped it would be, and more. I became incredibly close with my host family, participated in clubs such as karate and gymnastics at my high schools, and became more proficient in Japanese.
TC: How did you engage with that interest while you were at Bowdoin?
JE: What Bowdoin offers in terms of academics has been exceptional. The Japanese language program is both rigorous and engaging, and the professors are the best imaginable. I have also greatly enjoyed what the Asian Studies department has to offer besides language, and I have taken classes in everything from politics, history, religion and literature.
As for outside the classroom, the past three semesters I have been part of “Oshietai” (meaning “Teaching Team”), helping to conduct a basic Japanese language course for elementary school students at Harriet Beecher Stowe in Brunswick. Every week I meet with Professor Aridome and several other Bowdoin students to discuss curriculum, activities, and how to improve in our teaching. Although I had never previously imagined myself at the head of a classroom, the experience has been motivational for my own language studies, and it has also been rewarding to me as I begin to consider different career possibilities. I have discovered that working with children is something that brings me great joy.
TC: What do you hope to achieve through this scholarship? How does Japan and this scholarship fit into your future goals?
JE: In some ways, I still feel like my high school self. That is to say, the next step in this path is anything but clear — and I am anticipating that my first step onto the plane to Japan will give me a familiar sensation of insecurity and excitement all bundled into one, as it did when I was a high schooler going abroad for the first time. In other ways, though, I feel much more prepared this time. I am keen on trying out certain courses, engaging in particular research, and seeking out specific volunteer opportunities. I also hope to achieve the most in terms of my language studies.
All of this, I believe, will give me greater perspective on, and insight into, my own (personal, academic, and career) interests. By the time that I return to Bowdoin as a senior, I hope to have a better understanding as to whether I would like to pursue further research in Japan (i.e., through Fulbright) or teaching opportunities (i.e., through the JET program)—or maybe it will both!
The year is a year to explore and to grow, and I am ecstatic for it all.