Pacific's Remarkable Partnership With Japan's Kansai Gaidai University

Kansai celebrationIn 1870, as Japan charted a new path of global engagement after two centuries of self-imposed isolation, the new government of Meiji Japan sent forth into western societies a corps of talented young people to learn the ways of life, education and business, in the world beyond.  Among these were three young men, Hatsutara Tamura, Kin Saito, and Agero Nosei, who were to wind up at Pacific University as a result of the university’s first foray into international student recruitment. They were among the first Japanese students to be awarded degrees in the United States, and their arrival signaled the beginning of a long, continuing engagement of Pacific University with Japan.

Some 150 years later, Japanese language studies, which are intimately related in their success here to the strong connection of the modern-day University to Hawaii, play an integral part in the culture and diversity of the Forest Grove Campus. Pacific currently has partnerships with six Japanese universities, each offering something a little different in terms of location and academic offerings for our outbound study abroad students, as well as opportunities for students on-site in Forest Grove to be enriched by the many Japanese students whose presence in the English Language Institute or undergraduate program are directly tied to these programs.

However, in terms of longevity and closeness, Pacific’s partnership with Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata City is unique. Kansai Gaidai, superbly located on the doorstep both of Kyoto and Osaka, offers one of Japan’s largest Asian Studies programs, and at almost 400 active exchange partnerships, is one of the most globally connected institutions in Japan. Pacific, by virtue of its status as one of Kansai Gaidai’s earliest partners (dating back to 1985) and its hosting of students in the university’s prestigious Dual Degree Program, is one of its most valued. Never was this more clearly expressed than in 2015 when presidential-level visits were exchanged, and Pacific was given a leading role at Kansai Gaidai’s 70th Anniversary celebration, with then-President Lesley Hallick and Board of Trustees Co-Vice Chair Patrick Clark, himself an alumnus of Pacific’s Kansai Gaidai study abroad program, were granted speaking slots at the official welcome celebration.

Since the initial 1985 agreement, the partnership has evolved from a primary focus on inbound ESL students to playing a critical role for our Japanese-language study abroad program and, relatedly, in recruiting degree-seeking Kansai Gaidai students through a special agreement signed in 2001. Under the Dual Degree Program, a small number of Kansai Gaidai’s very best students complete the final two years of their degree program at Pacific and graduate with degrees from both institutions. At the same time, each inbound student creates four semester-long exchange slots for Pacific students, thus maximizing opportunities for students to study abroad at Kansai Gaidai.

The Japanese students in this highly selective program bring their perspectives into the classroom and university community, thus enriching the on-campus experience for all. They also invariably become fully integrated into campus and, through their friendships, become the most effective recruiters for the study abroad program. 

Yuka Sakamoto, who managed the program for Kansai Gaidai from 2003 until 2015, attributes the popularity of Pacific as a destination for Kansai Gaidai students to the availability of academic programs at Pacific in various fields such as environment studies, international studies, and media arts, majors that are not offered at Kansai Gaidai; the excellent support from faculty and staff members; and the ease with which they are able to develop relationships due to the intimate size of the campus. More than 50 students from Kansai Gaidai have graduated from Pacific since the inception of the Dual Degree Program.

The Kansai Gaidai study abroad program has, over the long term, been by far Pacific’s most popular destination for Japanese-language students, with more than 150 participants since the program began (and many of those during the ‘90s and early years of the new century doing full-year placements). They are drawn by Kansai Gaidai’s superb location, strong reputation, vast range of class options, and by housing options which include homestays. 

“We have always received great reports from our students studying at Kansai Gaidai and have been impressed by the linguistic improvements attained during their studies in Japan, as well as opportunities for homestays and internships,” says Professor Yasutaka Maruki, head of Pacific’s Japanese program. “The partnership with Kansai Gaidai has been a vital part of our program.” 

With Kansai Gaidai’s Spring Internship Program still relatively new, opportunities for an even richer, more immersive experience await Pacific’s students.

In the fall 1993, current Pacific University Trustee Patrick Clark ‘93 was one of those students. He credits the opportunities given to him by Kansai Gaidai’s professors “to experience the ‘real Japan’ by touring factories, manufacturing facilities and corporate offices of some of Japan’s most respected companies such as Sanyo, Sony and Toyota” with directly influencing his strong interest and desire to live in Japan after graduating from Pacific University. Additionally, says Clark, “my experience as a study abroad student here was personally transformative, and one of the highlights of my undergraduate study at Pacific.” 

Passina Abe ’18, a biology and Japanese major, said studying abroad at KGU was “one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Within a span of a few months, I met people from all around the world, improved my Japanese, and tried many new things.” Abe, a standout student from Honolulu, was awarded a prestigious national scholarship, the Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship, for her study in Japan.

With continuing high enrollment of students from Hawai‘i, many of our whom have intergenerational ties to Japan and all of whom are exposed to strong Japanese cultural influences, the future for our Japanese program looks bright. Successful inbound programs, such as the ELI’s Hospitality Internship Program and Kansai Gaidai’s Dual Degree Program, also look set to grow, adding to diversity on campus. 

Pacific currently offers five additional outbound programs to Japan: two in Nagoya, two in Tokyo, and one in Saga. City. Students are encouraged to make appointments with International Programs and their academic advisors early in their academic careers to map out an academic pathway to incorporate study abroad in Japan, or in the many other locations in which Pacific offers semester-length programs.

Stephen Prag was director of Pacific University's Office of International Programs from 2004-2022.

Photo: Pacific's delegation at Kansai Gaidai 70th anniversary celebration in 2015. From left: Pacific President Lesley Hallick, Pacific Trustee Patrick Clark, Stephen Prag, Pacific Trustee Jerry Yoshida.


Wednesday, April 5, 2023