Budding Japanese engineers complete a Vermont month to remember

By: Mark Tarnacki
Mukai speaks to Kanazawa students

Mamoru Mukai congratulates Kanazawa students after their graduation on Aug. 7

Like most Saint Michael's alumni, Mamoru Mukai is happy for any chance to return to campus. For the past 21 years he's enjoyed at least one extended visit a year leading 17-year-olds from Japan's Kanazawa Technical College for a one-month intensive English and cultural immersion program.

"I graduated from Saint Michael's in 1982 from the MATESOL Program," he says of his Master's in Teaching in English to Speakers of Other Languages, which he earned in the department that now refers to itself as Applied Linguistics.

This year's group of 36 Kanazawa students, the majority aspiring engineers, lived in dorms and took classes from Applied Linguistics faculty for four weeks with the help of American student assistants. "Our kids really like to interact with the assistants who are about their age, so this is another highlight of our program," says Mukai. The group's graduation ceremony in Pomerleau Alumni Center was Aug. 7, when diplomas went to visibly proud young men and women who, in most cases, were seeing the U.S. for the first time when they arrived.

Mukai explained how a bit more than 20 years ago, Kanazawa, a 5-year technical school on Japan's western coast for students age 15 to 20 in that nation's different system of high schools and colleges, asked him as an employee to look for places in the U.S. with a summer English program for Kanazawa to partner with given the importance for Japanese engineers to be able to communicate internationally in their work.

"After visiting many other programs in the U.S., I decided on Saint Michael's because I think Saint Michael's is the best," he said. "Besides being my alma mater, it is also a very nice school -- beautiful atmosphere, beautiful people and an excellent program." Once he'd established the relationship he started leading groups of 35 to 40 students each summer to Vermont in 1994 and he hasn't missed a year since.

The relationship has evolved into a reciprocal partnership that serves both institutions well.

"Kanazawa also has a special program hiring Saint Michael's Applied Linguistics graduates to be English teachers at the school," Mukai said. "Right now we have 27 alumni of Saint Michael's working in my school -- I think other than the college itself, Kanazawa has the biggest population from Saint Michael's! Every time, whenever I need an English teacher, I come back to Saint Michael's."

Besides classes, the group took trips to Montreal and Boston, as in past years, and enjoyed a host of special activities such as sports nights, games nights and trips to nearby Pizza Putt. "They're 17 and they all want to do something most of the time," Mukai said. The students particularly enjoyed the couple of weeks when their stay overlapped with a group of Colombian English students who lived in the dorms with them too and became friends, he said.

Mukai thinks it is important for the program to be a full four weeks so that students have time to recover from demanding travel, acclimate to a new culture, meet people and develop relationships. "By the end, they're saying, "I don't want to go back to Japan," he said.

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