Joe Wyatt
Published December 14, 2016

Dark glasses might be an appropriate holiday gift for 13 Amarillo College students whose winter recess will be greatly brightened by an eye-opening jaunt through the Land of the Rising Sun.

Honors insideTheir 11-day excursion to Japan begins Jan. 4 and fulfills the promise of highly unique travel opportunities afforded AC’s Presidential Scholars.

Accompanied by Lesley Ingham, instructor of speech and coordinator of the AC Honors Program, and Bob Austin, vice president of student affairs, the lucky 13 will visit cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. They will ride the famous bullet train and tour Hiroshima, where the world’s first atomic bomb was dropped in 1945.

They will experience Japanese culture firsthand on an international odyssey the likes of which few community colleges are normally willing or able to facilitate; yet AC supports a trip like this one annually.

“It’s hard to believe that this (international travel) program is already in its fifth year,” Austin said. “AC’s Presidential Scholars have traveled to China, Cambodia, India and Lithuania, and this year’s class will be visiting Japan.

“Our international travel program is truly unique and life-changing. I’m not aware of any other community colleges that are doing this.”

Each AC Scholar was assigned to research a particular aspect of life in Japan, from religion and cuisine to politics and everyday life. They reported their findings to the entire group.

“They have a lot of rules for eating,” said Natalie Ocegueda, whose research focused on Japanese food. “Things we never think about doing, like slurping, actually is a compliment in Japan. It’s going to be very interesting to be there in person to see all the things we’ve been studying.”

In choosing Japan as the destination, the Presidential Scholars Program kept with its tradition of making international travel plans that mesh somehow with AC’s Common Reader. This year’s Common Reader is Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a book that describes a volatile period in American history when thousands of Japanese-American families were relegated to U.S. internment camps during World War II.

“We have been researching Japanese internment camps in the 1940s and our relationship with Japan then and now,” Ingham said. “We’ll certainly have some raw fish, visit religious sites, and be typical tourists at times, but we will also visit Hiroshima and drill down into the history of U.S.-Japan relations.

“It’s an incredible opportunity, especially for freshmen and sophomores from a community college,” she said. “It’s the sort of chance that usually only comes along for upperclassmen at a university. But then Amarillo College is hardly your typical community college.”

Dawson Jones researched Japan’s climate and the country’s likelihood of experiencing earthquakes. On Nov. 22, two days after he delivered his group report, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan.

“That was ironic, for sure,” Dawson said. “But we won’t be thinking a whole lot about earthquakes or tsunamis when we’re finally in Japan. We’ll be watching the people to see how much we’re the same as they are, and how we are different.

“I love learning while traveling,” he said. “I think the best way to learn is to be immersed in what you study, and this trip to Japan will be a perfect example of doing that.”

To learn more about the AC Presidential Scholars Program and/or the upcoming journey to Japan, contact Lesley Ingham at 806-371-5264.