Arizona State University's School of International Letters and Cultures is packed with students and professors explaining the benefits of studying language and culture. Japanese lecturer Bradley Wilson can speak with extra authority, however, because before he was an instructor in the school, he was a student.
“I started at ASU as an undergrad in 1997, and I got my degree in Japanese and a second degree in religious studies,” Wilson said. “Then I moved to Japan after graduation and lived there for two years teaching English.”
He came back to ASU after this time abroad and earned a master’s degree in Japanese literature.
Wilson was exposed to Japanese language and culture at a young age, as his father had a number of Japanese business partners. While Wilson’s high school didn’t offer Japanese, he knew at university he’d have a chance.
“People call Japanese ‘the devil’s language’ because it seems so difficult, but I find it’s not that difficult once you get past reading and writing in a different language,” Wilson said.
During his time as an ASU student, Wilson remembers competing in language competitions, attending faculty-student picnics and representing the Japanese department at tabling events. Once he got to Japan, he exponentially increased his skills using his ASU experiences as a foundation.
Wilson lived in the far south of Japan, in a rural area called Kagoshima, through the Japan Exchange and Teaching program (JET). Used to city life, Wilson loved being immersed in nature and a small, closely-knit community. He remembers the friendliness and openness his neighbors showed him.
“I opened my door and it was a forest,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s philosophy abroad was “say yes to everything, be proactive.” When an elderly woman from the community offered to instruct him in wearing kimono, which requires certification, he accepted.
“I went to these classes, and I didn’t realize what she was actually doing was grooming me to get good at this. Her ultimate goal was to ask me to be in a competition,” Wilson said. “A kimono-wearing competition. They put you on a stage with all the pieces on the floor and you’re standing there in your underwear.”
Without a mirror, Wilson had to dress properly, correctly layering and knot-tying. Representing his region, he and the other contestants were then put in a televised parade.
“I always thought to myself when things like that happened, when are you going to have a chance to do something like this ever again? Probably never,” Wilson said. “So just go for it.”
At the School of International Letters and Cultures today, Wilson teaches language, calligraphy and popular culture. In calligraphy, his students are always surprised how quickly they can improve.
“When I started out, it looked like a kid with a crayon … I try to show them that even in 15 weeks I can take them from zero to hero,” Wilson said.
“And a double major with Japanese and another subject is so doable and so worth it,” Wilson said, citing his experience and students he’s had from business, engineering and computer science backgrounds who now work in Japan.
“A degree in Japanese, or any language ... you’re heading into something like interpretation, translation or instruction,” Wilson said. “And if you combine it with something else, you really double your opportunities.”
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