Spanish major wins first place in Japanese language speech contest

On April 14, Samantha Piper, a declared Spanish major in the School of International Letters and Cultures in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, competed in the Annual Arizona Japanese Speech Contest – and took home a first place prize.

As a first-generation college student who grew up in Arizona, Piper majored in Spanish because, as Piper puts it, “it seemed more useful here in Arizona.” While her exposure to the Spanish language began in high school, Piper’s passion for Japanese began even earlier.

“I wanted to study Japanese for as long as I can remember,” she says. “I watched anime as a kid. ... I read every magazine article, every book, and watched every documentary I could find.”

Piper’s early experience with Japanese is not uncommon.

"Many of our students come to the study of Japan through a love of manga and anime,” says professor of Japanese Anthony Chambers. “As they learn Japanese language and become engrossed in Japanese literature, history and religion in their Japanese courses, they learn that Japanese culture – traditional, modern and pop – is one of the richest and most fascinating in the world."

Transferring high schools her junior year, Piper had the opportunity to take Japanese language classes, where she concurrently studied both Spanish and Japanese.

When she was ready to apply for college, Piper chose Arizona State University because the School of International Letters and Cultures offered the most and the highest-quality language and culture programs of all the colleges she was considering. The school currently offers courses is more than 20 languages and cultures, making it one of the most dynamic international humanities programs in the United States.

“We provide a very high-quality education in languages and literatures and cultures,” says school director Joe Cutter. “As good as you can get anywhere in the country.”

In addition to her Spanish major, next year Piper will add a Japanese major to her plan of study, and her love for language learning continues to expand. Piper took Romanian courses this year at ASU, and will soon choose an additional Asian language, such as Chinese or Korean, as part of the requirement for her Japanese degree.

The school's bachelor's degree in Asian languages with a concentration in Japanese focuses on the language, literature and culture of Japan. Equipping students with competence in reading, writing and oral skills in the Japanese language, the school prepares students for a variety of career opportunities. Graduates may work for firms that deal with international trade for Japanese companies or even U.S. companies with branches in Japan. Other graduates may work for government agencies, teach English overseas, or even teach Japanese with a teaching certification.

ASU alum Robert Kestelik, who earned a bachelor's in Japanese in 1994, currently serves as director of International Legal Affairs for Mattel, Inc., the world's largest designer, manufacturer and distributor of toys and children's products.

Piper proved her aptitude for language learning at the 24th Annual Arizona Japanese Speech Contest co-hosted by the Consulate General of Japan, Los Angeles and Desert Ridge High School in Mesa last month.

The state-wide contest contains four levels of difficulty. Piper took first place in category C for her speech titled "I want to be like Peter Pan."

Competing in the contest was important to Piper because “I got to see how well other students were doing, which challenged me to do better while reminding me that I don't have to know everything or be totally fluent right away,” she says.

Six other ASU students also won awards at the contest including Mark Tong, a retired physician, originally from North Korea, who in retirement is pursuing a fascination with Japanese language. Tong took first place in category D for his speech titled "My Mother's Loving Words." Other winners from ASU include Ting Liu, Alex Mojica, Daisy Jasmine, and Shams Islam.

In addition to performing very well in competetive speech contests, Japanese majors from the School of International Letters and Cultures are routinely invited to join the Japanese National Honor Society-College Chapter. This year six ASU students were inducted into the organization: Rebecca Evans, Yuki Foley, Katie Hinojosa, Alexander Makiyama, Maylene Palugod and Alondra Rohr.

In addition to excellent Japanese language and culture courses on the Tempe campus, the School of International Letters and Cultures maintains exchange programs with six Japanese universities, and offers a faculty directed summer program in Hiroshima, Japan. In 2013-14, 20 students from ASU will participate in exchange programs in Japan and another fourteen will study abroad for the summer in Hiroshima. ASU also welcomes numerous Japanese exchange students from the partner universities in Japan to study in Arizona each year.

Piper has yet to study abroad, but if given the opportunity she says she would love to study in Japan, Spain or Romania.

With two language degrees, Piper's career options after graduation are wide open.

“I haven't decided if I'd rather translate or teach,” she says, “but right now teaching seems preferable because I'd love to help other people learn new languages too.”

For more information about majoring or minoring in Japanese in the School of International Letters and Cultures contact For more information about academic exchange and study abroad opportunities for ASU students in Japan contact For more information about the Arizona Japanese Speech Contest contact