Trinity College Begins New Student Exchange Program with Rikkyo University in Tokyo

First Trinity Participant, Lydia Chen ’18, Spent ‘Unforgettable’ Spring Semester in Japan

​Hartford, Connecticut, August 1, 2017 – Lydia Chen ’18 recently became the first Trinity College student to spend a semester studying in Japan through a new exchange program with Tokyo’s Rikkyo University. Chen, an international studies and urban studies double major and an international student from China, lived and took classes at Rikkyo from April through July, the Japanese equivalent of a spring semester.

Chen began studying the Japanese language during her first year at Trinity and wanted to learn more about the country’s culture as well. “The exchange semester was unforgettable, mostly because of the amazing people I met,” Chen said. “I had the time to go see and experience new things that I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to do. I think participants can definitely learn a lot about Japanese language and culture from this program, and by making friends with people from all over the world and traveling to many places, they can broaden their horizons and develop a better understanding of the world.”

​Rikkyo University President Tomoya Yoshioka and Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney exchanged gifts when they met in Tokyo earlier this year to discuss the new exchange program.
A memorandum of understanding signed last year by Trinity and Rikkyo states that the institutions will exchange one or two students per academic year; Trinity will receive its first exchange student from Rikkyo in fall 2018.

Rieko Wagoner, principal lecturer in language and culture studies and international studies, started the Japanese program at Trinity in 1987 and is coordinating this exchange program. She said that language proficiency is not required to apply for this program and that Trinity students at Rikkyo take courses taught in English, in addition to a Japanese language course.

A significant attraction to the Trinity/Rikkyo Exchange Program, Wagoner said, is that Japan offers a culture in which students can readily thrive. “Japan is a foreign country, thus exotic and fascinating, but at the same time the social infrastructure is so reliable and easy to figure out, even for a newcomer. The train comes every single day at the same time and it stops at the exact same place, so it’s rather effortless for a foreigner to establish himself or herself,” she said. “The ease to navigate through the society is simply empowering, and I think that’s a great asset for programs in Japan. You feel very confident, very competent to explore and experience something so totally new.”

In May, Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney traveled to Tokyo and spoke with Rikkyo officials about the new program. “She spent some time at the Rikkyo campus, met the president there, and had the opportunity to talk to students about the Trinity exchange program,” Wagoner said of Berger-Sweeney’s visit.

​(Left-right) Trinity Director of Principal Gifts and International Advancement Chris French, Clara Berger-Sweeney, Lydia Chen ’18, Rikkyo University President Tomoya Yoshioka, Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, and Trinity Associate Professor of History Jeffrey Bayliss at Rikkyo University in May.
Jennifer Summerhays, director of Study Away at Trinity, said that the Rikkyo program joins Trinity’s other exchange programs: the Twelve-College Exchange Program with domestic colleges and the Baden-Württemberg Germany Exchange Program between the State of Connecticut and the German state of Baden-Württemberg.

Summerhays said that exchange programs are intended to cultivate diplomacy and focus on relationship building with a sense of reciprocity that benefits everyone involved. “I think exchanges are incredibly crucial, especially in the world we live in today,” she said. “My hope is that this exchange program can help students and faculty engage in deeper ways on critical topics that are world relevant. I think that exchanges and study-away experiences are appetizers to deep learning and living in the larger world.”

To help develop the new exchange program with Rikkyo, Wagoner was joined on a committee by Associate Professor of History Jeffrey Bayliss, Assistant Professor of Political Science Reo Matsuzaki, and Associate Professor of Computer Science Takunari Miyazaki. The faculty members see immediate benefits to the new exchange program, both for the students who learn from their experiences and for the institutions themselves. “This program provides tremendous opportunities for Trinity students to study at one of Tokyo’s six leading universities, called Big6, in the world’s largest metropolis,” Miyazaki said.

Miyazaki added that while Trinity and Rikkyo are located in very different cities halfway around the world, they share many interests. “We are both faced with similar societal challenges, such as globalization, rising cost of higher education, and declining local student-age population,” he said. “Just like Trinity, Rikkyo is asking tough questions to make the liberal arts more relevant in the 21st century.”

To that end, Rikkyo recently launched its Global Liberal Arts Program, a four-year general education program emphasizing global citizenship. “All students in this program are required to study abroad for one whole year, and Trinity has been selected as one of the several inaugural partner institutions to host students,” Miyazaki said. “We believe that this has a potential to become a deep partnership involving not only students but also faculty and administrators.”

Bayliss added that Rikkyo offers a visiting scholars program, which invites Trinity faculty members in a wide variety of disciplines to participate in this cultural exchange as well. “I look forward to short-term collaborative work with scholars at Rikkyo,” Bayliss said.

Rikkyo University in Tokyo. Photos courtesy of Katherine Clair.
Members of the Trinity community already have had some opportunities to build other connections with Japan. This summer, Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success Angel B. Pérez will return to Rikkyo to teach a summer course as a visiting professor in the Global Liberal Arts Program for the second time. Last June, Trinity’s international student adviser, Katharine Clair, visited Rikkyo as part of the Fulbright United States-Japan International Education Administrator (IEA) Program. Through a separate affiliation with a Japanese educational institution, the Technos Japan Tour welcomes two first- or second-year Trinity students and one faculty or staff member for a two-week trip to Japan each year.

Starting next year, Clair will assist exchange students from Rikkyo with visas, assign them academic advisers at Trinity, and encourage them to sign up for student activities. Rikkyo students, who must meet English language skills requirements, will go through the same orientation as every international student at Trinity, Clair said. “I will invite the students to be a part of our student mentor program, too,” she said. “School is a little bit different here than it is in Japan, and the culture is very different.”

Clair said that while exchange students are here for a short period of time, the experience is a great way for them to learn about American culture and the U.S. education system. “Many of these students have never been to this country, so we encourage cultural exchange to broaden their understanding of what the U.S. is like,” she said. “Meanwhile, the professors, students, and staff here at Trinity get to learn about these students and where they are from, exchange cultures and ideas, and foster understanding to promote diplomacy between the two countries.”

For more information about the Trinity/Rikkyo Exchange Program and how Trinity students may apply, click here.

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli