I left my heart in Japan: Students return with gifts – and tales

Posted on: July 11, 2013

Students on College of the Mainland’s Japan study abroad trip tour the Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. From left, Brytne Oliver, Ariel Miller, Victoria Narkin and Rozalynn Schmaltz.

A journey to Japan spanning 18 days and 17,000 miles wasn’t enough for some students in the College of the Mainland study abroad program – they’re already preparing for a sequel.

From tiered pagodas to museums displaying manga pioneers’ work, the four students explored the vast diversity of Japanese art. They and professors Mark Greenwalt and Mayuko Gray have returned with gifts of delicately drawn landscapes and a greater understanding of the manga art form gained at the first college in the world to teach it.
The trip is COM’s first to Japan, though the college offers an art study abroad program to Oaxaca, Mexico, each year.
“For so long people thought that community colleges and international studies didn’t go together. That isn’t true, and you’ve proven it,” COM President Beth Lewis told the students on their return. “We’ve got Oaxaca; we’ve got Japan. What else can we have next?”
During the students’ free-flowing studio time at Ogaki Women’s College, they created their own drawings that reflected manga’s comic-book style with guidance from instructors.
“Fine arts are the perfect courses for study abroad programs because so much can be communicated visually,” said Greenwalt. “Brytne (Oliver) got a private lecture on the human hand, and they didn’t speak a word.”
Joining Japanese students in the classroom, the Americans listened to experts describe the historical and cultural influences that inspired manga’s distinctive style.
“Because we got the background of Japan, it made it richer, and we could understand why manga started there,” said student Victoria Narkin.
Staying in Japanese families’ homes also enriched the group’s experience. As guests, they were treated to traditional meals of sushi and miso soup and American breakfasts of toast, fruit and vegetables.
Exploring the historic treasures of the island nation, they toured Ogaki Castle, a four-tiered fortress built in the 16th century, and Gifu Castle, which displays battle armor and artifacts of the Middle Ages.

In Kyoto, they entered the Temple of the Golden Pavilion and stumbled upon a Buddhist wedding. Student Ariel Miller vividly remembered the murmur of their soft chants and sight of the celebrants in shimmering kimonos.
“It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Miller said. “I actually got tears in my eyes.”
The trip would not have been complete without donning satin kimonos to enjoy a traditional tea ceremony at the school. Kneeling on a red carpet, they drank matcha, an emerald-green tea, and sampled a sweet rice dessert.
“I don’t think I could have asked for a better trip. Mayuko was born there, and Mark knows everything,” said Miller, who just graduated with her associate degree in fine arts from COM. “The country is absolutely beautiful. I loved being in an artistic environment.”
Rozalynn Schmaltz, a student currently studying at Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, agreed.
“I enjoyed every moment of it,” she said. “I want to go back and study manga and anime. I’ve already started looking into visas.”

If interested in COM’s next trip to Japan, contact Mayuko Gray at mgray@com.edu. Additional photos of the 2013 trip are available at www.facebook.com/comjapanstudyabroad.

Students join in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony while studying at Ogaki Women’s College, the first college to teach the manga art form.

Students beat a rhythm on Japanese drums at Ogaki Women’s College.

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