6 May 2013
MATHIEU GLACET IS a true citizen of the world. Born in Toulouse, France, Mathieu spent three years in the United States during elementary school then returned to France with his family. Glacet is now back in the United States completing his senior year at The University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Japanese and Chemistry. During the summer of 2012, Glacet set out to explore another corner of the globe by studying abroad at Iwate University in Morioka, Japan.
Tell us a little bit about the university and surrounding city. What was it like?
Morioka has 300,000 residents, it is the capital city of the province, so even though it is extremely small compared to other Japanese cities, it has all the essentials and serves as the cultural center for the Iwate province. Iwate University has around 5,000 students, including 200 international students, about two-thirds of whom are Chinese. I spent eleven months at the university from September to August 2012.
Why did you decide to study abroad?
I wanted to go beyond the classroom to gain a deeper understanding of how the Japanese language reflects and reinforces Japanese culture. It was also a once in a lifetime opportunity to live in another country for a year.
Why did you choose this particular program/destination?
While I was extremely interested in going to Japan, I did not want to be in Tokyo. In Tokyo, I would have always been speaking English. That would have prevented me from completely immersing myself in the local culture.
I researched Morioka and learned that it is nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges. The dormant volcano Mount Iwate towers over the city and is a beautiful sight covered in snow in winter. The city itself was full of flowers for half of the year. After a 20-minute bike ride, I could be in the countryside, riding alongside a river to a lake full of hot springs.
What was your favorite activity in Japan?
There were many highlights, but I climbed Mount Iwate with all of the international students and some of our Japanese professors. It was a magical experience to climb the mountain I had seen towering over the city every day for ten months. Ascending took five hours, and descending took three hours. We started at the base of the mountain, about 650 feet altitude (200 meters altitude) and rose through the mud, lush forests, brush, finally reaching the volcanic dome - and then the summit at 6,500 feet altitude (over 2000 meters). I felt such a strong personal connection with Mount Iwate that I have no regrets about not traveling to climb Japan’s more famous Mount Fiji.
What did you learn that surprised you about the country - and about yourself?
I was surprised by my capacity to speak Japanese when there was no other way to communicate. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to go to a small city in the first place. Aside from the three French students and the other American student in the dorm, I had no choice but to use Japanese to communicate with my neighbors. This meant I used Japanese every day, all the time. It was a great experience to make friends from all over the world, while studying the language I love, in a beautiful place.
What challenges did you have to overcome to be able to study abroad?
I was supposed to go to Japan in Spring 2011 but due to the Japanese earthquake and its effect on northern Japan, I was unable to go. To reschedule my program, I talked to (a study abroad advisor), as well as Study Abroad staff at Iwate University, to ensure that both schools would be supportive of me coming. Understandably, UT wanted to be assured of my safety while in Japan as it was still considered high risk after the recent earthquake.
To help cover program costs, I applied for and received scholarships from the American Association of Teachers of Japanese and the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO). I also worked many jobs in Japan since a student work authorization was simple to obtain. I taught French and English, both as private lessons and in a language school. I also worked in a cleaning factory. I translated the menu of a restaurant that served meat comparable to Kobe beef. I also served as a consultant to help a small village prepare its tourism facilities after they achieved status as a UNESCO world heritage site. Finally, I served as a host in a snack bar, which is a mix between a karaoke bar and a host club.
How has your study abroad experience influenced your future plans?
I went from majoring in Chemistry and expecting to work in that field to now hoping to go to graduate school in Japan to learn about foreign relations relating to natural resource management. Connecting cultures is what most interests me most.
In graduate school, I may specialize in a field related to East Asian resources. I would like to work for a government or international organization helping to connect Northeastern Japan with France or the United States. Or from a wider perspective, to connect East Asia more with the rest of the world. I would love to use French, Japanese and English in my job. My ideal role would be one that involves traveling back to Asia often, and would help me learn more languages. After Japanese, I am interested in learning Chinese and Mongolian.
What would you say to another student who was considering study abroad but was still uncertain?
Studying abroad is such an amazing experience. My goal since coming back from Japan is to recruit more UT students to the Iwate program since it is not as well known as some of the other study abroad programs. There are so many study abroad options based on your interests and sense of curiosity. I'm definitely hooked, and will be going back for more.
Interview by Angie Pastorek