2009 Hall of Fame Nominee
Forest Grove High School
2009 Finalist from PNCFL
Looking back at my study abroad experience in Japan, I believe there is more value to learning a foreign language other than just identifying objectives. For me, that value has been the ability to perceive the world through a new set of eyes. Although this answer may at first seem simple, there are many facets to it. It might be easier to understand if we look at snowmen.
Have you ever seen a Japanese snowman? It has only two circles, not three like the typical America snowman.
In Japanese, a snowman is not a snowman, but rather a snow daruma or yukidaruma, a relative to that “red-eye thing” I saw in the shop. The use of two circles is in honor of the Indian sage, Daruma, the father of Zen Buddhism in Japan. It is reported that he preyed so long, seven years, that he lost the use of his legs. Because he showed such devotion and perseverance, the Japanese made their snowman legless as a constant reminder of him.
So, how does the snowman relate to the value of knowing a foreign language and culture? First, it was the language, or lack of knowing the language, that brought around the curiosity of the name. Without knowing the language, I would have guessed that the snowman was a yuki otoko (man); it is easier to build a two-circle one rather than a three-circle one. Secondly, I went beyond just language learning. I learned of Daruma’s perseverance and started to understand the Japanese concept of time in relationship to achievement. Their, this new information has created a symbol through which many endeavor requires one to study or work at it for at least 10 yeas.
What began as a simple Japanese word embedded in culture started me on a journey of learning how the Japanese look at life. It also changed my way of looking at the world. I know I have a richer and more diverse life due to the language and the culture I’ve experienced. It is my privilege to help students have a similar eye-opening experience when they meet a “yukidaruma” or “that one-eyed red thing in the corner of that shop.”