Scott Kominkiewicz ’12 leaves this month for Japan, where he’ll spend the year teaching English through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme.
JET, administered by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations, promotes grassroots international exchange between Japan and other nations. In addition to instructing students of all ages in English, Kominkiewicz will help supervise extracurricular activities and participate in school-sanctioned cultural events to give Japanese students a taste of American culture.
Kominkiewicz’s fascination with Japanese culture began his sophomore year when he took a world history course with Paul Barclay, associate professor of history. A specialist in East Asian history, Barclay focused much of the class on Japan, and Kominkiewicz was hooked.
“I was really intrigued by Japanese history, which was new to me at the time,” explains Kominkiewicz, who graduated with majors in history and anthropology and sociology. “I wanted to know more about East Asian history, particularly Japan. I started taking more classes regarding East Asia and picked up the Japanese language, and these have been the most rewarding and enjoyable classes I have taken.”
He took three years of Japanese language courses with Naoko Ikegami, visiting instructor of Japanese. He also completed a two-semester independent study under Barclay’s guidance about the occupation of Japan from 1945-52, studying how American soldiers viewed the Japanese after engaging in a racially charged war with them.
But perhaps the biggest influence in Kominkiewicz’s decision was the semester he spent in Saitama, a prefecture right outside Tokyo. The experience was cut short after two-and-a-half months due to the devastating earthquake and tsunami and subsequent disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Kominkiewicz lived with a host family while attending classes through Temple University’s Japan campus.
Witnessing the destruction firsthand had a profound impact on Kominkiewicz. With food shortages, he knew he was an extra mouth to feed for his host family. With limited ways to help—he donated all his earnings from being a writing tutor there to the Red Cross—he reluctantly left without having a chance to say goodbye to his new friends. He returned in the summer to catch up with his friends and host family.
“It was shocking to see my host mother come home from the grocery store empty-handed and saying there’s no food,” he says. “That’s when I knew I had to go home. Despite experiencing such a tragedy, going to Japan was still one of the best experiences of my life. I made Japanese friends that I still keep in contact with, and I received a lot of care from my host family. Not to sound cliché, but I got a new sense of the world, a different perspective.
“Going to Japan confirmed my interests in East Asian history and culture. I had such an amazing time, and I am excited to go back. I feel like this time around, I know more about Japanese culture and can navigate myself around much easier than before, but I still have a lot to learn.”
After his year in Japan, Kominkiewicz plans to go to law school.
For information on applying for scholarships and fellowships, contact Julia A. Goldberg, associate dean of the College, (610) 330-5521.