Faculty, grad learners travel to Japan to explore pandemic reaction | WMU Information

Get hold of: Meghan Behymer

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—With a lot more than 10 yrs expertise dwelling, conducting investigation and main scholar analyze abroad journeys in Japan, it is risk-free to say that Dr. Stephen Covell, chair of Western Michigan University’s Department of Comparative Faith, has a deep enthusiasm for Japan and its society.


Japan Analyze Tour Team

Dr. Stephen Covell 
Dr. Wei-Chiao Huang 
Dr. Cynthia Klekar-Cunningham
Dr. Susan Pozo 
Holly Toner 
Dr. Brian Wilson 
Dr. Nicolas Witschi 
Taylor Woods 
Dr. Ying Zeng 

Covell’s most modern excursion to Japan in September 2022, nevertheless, may possibly be a single of his most distinctive, as he led a grant-funded research tour of Japan’s COVID-19 pandemic reaction made mostly for College college rather than learners.

“I’ve constantly discovered the review overseas excursions with students to be life-changing experiences for them, but I have in no way experienced the opportunity to do a ‘study overseas-like’ trip with school,” suggests Covell. “This was a scarce prospect to provide college users who are not Japanese experts to Japan in order to expand their study horizons and create contacts that, preferably, would reward their investigation and educating in the extended time period.”

The objective of the 10-day study tour, funded by the Japan Foundation, was to “greatly enhance our comprehension of pandemic reaction on many ranges and to get a basic appreciation of Japanese society.” The tour provided 7 faculty customers and two graduate learners from the College or university of Arts and Sciences.

This special cross part of industry experts authorized for interdisciplinary assumed and discussion on pandemic responses by Japan’s spiritual businesses and universities, as very well as latest pandemic investigation.

Journey to Japan

Despite the actuality that the trip’s emphasis was on Japan’s pandemic reaction, Covell says that when drafting the grant it was “…early plenty of that journey was however a hopeful chance.” The pandemic reaction experienced tightened considerably additional by the time the grant was awarded in 2020. Continue to, no person predicted it to take yet another two decades for the trip to turn into a reality.

Throughout those people two years, arranging was particularly tricky as Japan and the relaxation of the environment modified their guidelines in response to the pandemic. Eventually, the excursion experienced to be postponed. This also meant some of the original members ended up not able to show up at, requiring participant substitutions and changes to the itinerary. In addition, there have been a number of logistical considerations these kinds of as a seriously limited selection of flights, improved traveling expenses and reliance on a tourism agency to reserve inns.

“Irrespective of the many roadblocks, the vacation was a terrific results. We satisfied with a lot of people today, engaged in enriching dialogue with several teams and arrived absent with a further comprehension of Japan,” claims Covell.

WMU faculty and grad students in Kimono shop in Ginza in Japan

On the first day of the Japan research tour, the group frequented WMU alumna Mie Chietani’s Kimono store in the Ginza.

The tour started with a take a look at to Western alumna Mie Chitani’s Kimono store in Ginza, a single of Tokyo’s top rated searching places, where by she gave a talk on Japanese tradition that helped the group better understand Japan’s pandemic reaction. The team also obtained to try out on kimonos and study to play the shamisen, a regular three-stringed Japanese instrument.

“As a great deal as the lecture and discussion was relished by all, I have no doubt that her kindness in sharing her lifestyle and making it possible for every person to check out on kimono will be the lasting memory taken away by members,” suggests Covell, noting that Dr. Wei-Chiao Huang and Dr. Susan Pozo of Western’s Department of Economics plan to go to Chitani in the future to go over her business enterprise.

That to start with day was perhaps the most “relaxing,” as the next 9 days had been packed with lectures and excursions of four universities, together with Taisho College, Meiji Gakuin College, Sugiyama Women’s College or university in Nagoya and Kyoto College a guided tour of the headquarters of the big lay Buddhist motion Rissho Koseikai followed by a collection of shows from their several divisions (overall health, seminary, normal affairs, and many others.) foods and discussions with college learners, college and leadership and loads of travel.

As supposed, the trip was a mix of cultural immersion and finding out about Japan’s reaction to the pandemic. Dr. Covell claims the team figured out all through the trip that finally the better education reaction was comparable to that of the United States in lots of ways—they have been also navigating online education, shifting government guidelines and lockdowns.

WMU school and students hear to a lecture on the pandemic reaction in Japan.

“It really is really worth noting that, culturally, Japan is not known for hugging or shaking hands, so there was currently some designed-in social distance in that regard.  Of program, when you are on trains packed like sardines, that social distance goes out the window,” Covell explains. “You can find also this society of masking in Japan, presumably relationship back again to the 1918 flu pandemic, so even if there wasn’t a pandemic, you would see persons carrying masks.”

Over and above the insights into the pandemic reaction, the collaborating faculty and graduate learners were being in a position to forge connections with counterparts in Japan and ideate on how their experience could be included into their skilled, academic and private life.

For Holly Toner, just one of the comparative faith graduate pupils who participated, the vacation was a fantastic way to reinvigorate her enthusiasm for Japan she experienced attained finding out at Rikkyo College in Ikebukuro as an undergraduate.

“I was capable to make connections with a lot of inspiring men and women, from company proprietors to students. All people that I achieved was loaded with passion in their pursuits and it reminded me of the spirit you locate within just quite a few people today in Japan,” suggests Toner. “Though the foreseeable future is just not fully clear, this vacation re-ignited my drive to turn into much more proficient in the language and ideally, one working day, I would appreciate to function in just a industry in Japan that will let me to concentration on consciousness and aid people today on the Autism Spectrum as perfectly as in other areas of mental health and fitness and grief assets.”

Dr. Ying Zeng, director of Asia Initiatives with Western’s Haenicke Institute for World wide Education and learning, took edge of the opportunity to discuss a memorandum of knowing among Western and Sugiyama Women’s School in Nagoya that will direct to long term university student exchanges. Also, two of the college customers have also dedicated on their own to researching the Japanese language in get to do a lot more extended analysis in Japan.

“I come to feel really prosperous in this vacation mainly because, eventually,” claims Covell, “this is what the Japan Foundation would like to see—established connections with Japan and incorporation of our practical experience into our study and training in the United States.”

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