Cassie Guevara is a 2013 graduate of Oberlin with a BA in East Asian Studies. She is currently in the second semester of her two-year Shansi Fellowship in Tokyo, Japan, teaching English at J.F. Oberlin University.
I was pretty involved in the East Asian Studies department from my first semester at Oberlin. Actually, because I had studied in Osaka for a semester during high school, my original plan was to take a break from Japanese and start studying Mandarin as a freshman. One conversation with a Japanese professor (Ikuko Kurasawa) during orientation week made me realize that Japanese was still my true love, and I still had much to improve. I stuck with Japanese, joined Oberlin College Taiko my second semester, and studied for two semesters at Kansai Gaidai University (again in Osaka) from sophomore to junior year. I originally planned for one semester but of course extended halfway through. I’m glad I did because my second semester increased my confidence, independence, and created several important interests (Okinawan culture and music) and contacts. It was life-changing for quite a few reasons.
Once returning to Oberlin, I jumped back into taiko, continued Japanese, took up Mandarin 101 for my Winter Term project and jumped into 102. I spent much of my time in the EAS office and with professors from both departments. During senior year I was a MC with friend Alex Guo for Japanese night in Asia House. I wrote my EAS capstone for Professor Ma on the Okinawan protest movement against the U.S. bases, and my Comparative Literature capstone comparing contemporary Okinawan and Ainu (from Hokkaido) fiction and music. At the same time I took a Japanese private reading with Professor Sukegawa reading Okinawan newspapers. I almost felt guilty studying topics I loved so much!
My professors at Oberlin were the greatest resources I could ever have. I loved being in a department with such encouraging, stimulating, and not to mention fun and friendly teachers. Lunchtime conversation tables were also a fun opportunity to chat with them and other students of all levels. The higher level Chinese students inspired me. Some days I would jump from Chinese table, where I had low confidence and spent much time listening and nodding, to Japanese table, where I was more relaxed. Last, the language lab was my location of choice for writing papers and doing homework.