By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend
Grace Waldfogle expected Aug. 6 to be a somber day. Not only was it the last day of her trip to Japan as part of a Penn State Behrend embedded course, but it also marked the 71st anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.
It turned out to be the opposite.
Fireworks engulfed the sky. The sadness she had expected was not present. Rather, there was a tone of optimism.
“We asked people about it, and they said, ‘It’s not something we dwell on,’” said Waldfogle, a senior psychology major. “It was just so different from how we approach that type of thing here in the United States.”
Cultural differences like this were one of the biggest takeaways for Waldfogle and the 14 other students who visited Japan for 18 days in July and August. The students visited the country as part of the PSYCH 232 Cross-Cultural Psychology and PSYCH 499 Foreign Studies in Psychology embedded courses, which were taught by faculty members Dawn Blasko, associate professor of psychology; Heather Lum, assistant professor of experimental psychology; and Victoria Kazmerski, associate professor of psychology.
Their trip began with a visit to Yokohama to attend the International Congress of Psychology (ICP 2016), a premiere psychology conference held once every four years. Several of the students presented research poster presentations during the five-day conference.
ICP 2016 also offered networking opportunities for the students, who heard from a number of prominent speakers, including famed animal rights activist Jane Goodall.
“The whole conference itself was a total blast,” said Emily Galeza, a senior Psychology major who presented research on the effectiveness of a dog therapy program with students with autism. “The size of (the conference) was just incredible, and we had the freedom to go to any session we liked.”
Stephen Dartnell, a general business student who will graduate in December, agreed.
“I got to interact with people from all over the world,” Dartnell said. “It was kind of the icing on the cake on my educational experience, and I definitely would love to attend a psychology conference like this again.”
Beyond the conference, the students also spent time in Kamakura and visited several temples across the country. To help prepare for the cultural changes, students met with MBA student Yuki Takahashi, a native of Japan, for language and culture lessons prior to the trip.
Even with the advance lessons, the language barrier was a challenge. However, the students were impressed at how easily it could be overcome with some patience (and Google Translate, of course).
“Everyone was just so friendly and willing to help,” Dartnell said. “There was one instance where I needed a trash bag for my camera because it was raining. I just kind of explained it, and a woman at the hotel helped me. You just constantly saw language barriers being broken down.”
The numerous public art displays and eastern-style architecture were also a point of culture shock for students.
Perhaps the most significant cultural difference for students, however, was the food.
“I thought I liked fish, but then I got there, and I realized I did not. They’d give you the entire fish, and you’d have to just use chopsticks,” Waldfogle said. “Every meal was a workout.”
Not all of the food differences were negative, though.
“They had so many different items that they called ‘sweets.’ They were really, really good,” Dartnell said.
From attending the conference to visiting temples across the country, the trip provided students with a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience. It might have only been an 18-day visit, but the memories will last.
“This will be one of my defining memories of Behrend,” Galeza said. “I could never have planned all of these activities by myself.”