Interview 28: Jenna Sheppard (Canada)

“I want to make a difference”

Name: Jenna Sheppard
Nationality: Canadian
Affiliation: HUSA Program (from Saint Mary’s University, International Development Studies)
Hobbies: Playing video games, studying Japanese and hanging out with friends

(Date of Interview: Jan. 15, 2015)  

Past "Voices from Abroad"

How are you spending your first winter in Japan?

During my winter vacation, I went to Osaka with two other HUSA students. It was the first place to be in other than Hiroshima and it was really fun and I think I would like to live there someday. In Osaka, I stayed in a hostel in Korea town located in Tsuruhashi. When we got to the station we would walk through Korea town and it was very interesting seeing all the Korean culture in Japan. That was an interesting experience. As for the food, I tried Takoyaki and Osaka style Okonomiyaki. It was okay but I prefer Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki much more.

Could you tell me about your hometown?

My hometown’s name is Sydney in Nova Scotia and a lot of people think I mean Australia, which is confusing for them initially. It’s very different from the Australian Sydney. It is a really small city in the island of Cape Breton. For the most part it’s a little boring, but Cape Breton is very beautiful island and I’m very proud to be from there. In the Summer, Spring and Autumn it’s really nice to travel. We have this trail called the “Cabot Trail” and you can drive along it and there all these mountains…… to me it resembles Japan a little. The mountains here in Autumn, you can drive around and see all the different colours. It’s very beautiful.

Also, there are a lot of people in Nova Scotia that have mixed heritage between Ireland and Scotland so there are a lot of people who have both cultures in their families. Even me; I’m not sure if it’s Irish or Scottish, but there is a high probability that it’s both.

To be honest I am not really sure what my province is famous for, but I know a very famous hockey player was born there (Sidney Crosby). In my hometown there is a giant “fiddle” (a string musical instrument more often called a violin). There is also a port for cruise ships to come and stop by. Other than that, I guess our specialty is for kindness of the people that live there. We are known to be very kind people!

What are you studying at your home university?

I study International Development. This means that I primarily focus on why developing countries are in the state that they are and why they are not as powerful as the western countries like America, Japan and Canada. In addition, the issues of why they are still in that current state and find ways to try and help resolve those issues e.g. hunger and water security. It’s very complex.

There are many reasons and we need to study politics and cultural understanding, and economical views. Furthermore, climate change issues, global warming and other environmental impacts that developing countries are experiencing because of western countries are causing some of these problems – a cause and effect relationship. It’s very depressing to see that these countries are being pulled back when they should be allowed to flourish.

Why did you decide to come and study in Hiroshima?

For a few reasons; Firstly, I liked how it looked and it sounded really nice and secondly I thought it was good start point for me when thinking about the history of Hiroshima and how I can relate it to my International Development studies. For example, the emphasis on peace. Hiroshima is trying to promote peace and I think that in today’s society there are a lot of conflicts so it’s very important. It is a good place to learn about peace, it’s not too big like Tokyo and it’s not too small - it’s a good start for me studying in Japan. That’s why I got my first passport to come to Japan in December 2013.

What was your first impression of Higashi-Hiroshima?

Just like wow I’m in Japan (laughs)! Walking around a shopping mall in Saijo it was a very nice first impression.

What kind of lectures do you enjoy most?

The lectures I like are the ones I have an interest in and where the professor is very engaging with the students. If they just talk it’s very boring but if they interact with you it’s more interesting. I guess my favorite subject would be Japanese. I’ve been taking primarily Japanese language courses but next semester I want to try and take more lecture style with different topics.

What do you think of your professors’ instruction?

I find it very understandable. In Japanese class, the teacher really helps us and makes us create sentences and structures that helps reinforce what I’m learning, then I go outside and talk to my Japanese friends with something I just learned that day. It’s a very good feeling.

The classes are held in Japanese?

I take two levels of Japanese and in level 2, my professor explains in English and then we use our Japanese. But in level 3, the professor talks primarily in Japanese so sometimes I understand what is happening and other times I am a little confused but I can usually find my way.

How do you evaluate Hiroshima as an environment for studying?

I think it’s very nice. The surrounding area is very beautiful. I’m very good at procrastinating, always putting my studies later on, but coming to Japan I have developed a real motivation to study hard because time is limited.

What do you think of Japanese students’ attitude towards classes and learning?

My impression is that it is very serious and very diligent. My Japanese friends said that at university it’s more relaxed but I still think they take it very seriously.

You belong to the ESS club, what kind of activities do you participate in?

I’m there to help the Japanese students as a native speaker of English, to help give the native speaker insight to English and usually we do activities where we have to speak English or write in English and I’m there to help them and teach them.

Before the winter break, me and my other friend, another HUSA student in the club, we made an activity for them. We made a game show type activity; they were put into groups and they would have to raise their hands and answer the question if they could spell the word correctly. It was really fun and they were very excited about us teaching them English too.

How about in the sports club?

It’s primarily basketball. For 2 years in junior high I played basketball but I was not that competitive so coming back and playing it and surprising Japanese people with it is kind of fun, so I’m beginning to become more interested in basketball again. A lot of people in Japan, because of my height, they think I play sports back home - but I don’t.

What do you think of Hiroshima University’s cafeterias?

I love it! I think it’s nice and really cheap for me which was very surprising, and the food is all good quality. I go there every day for lunch. At my university we don’t have a cafeteria, only for people who live in the dormitories and get a meal plan. For me, I kind of disliked it because I found the food wasn’t so great and the plan was kind of expensive. But here, you get a nice meal for a cheap price.

How do you spend your free time?

I’m either with my friends or I’m in my room studying Japanese or watching videos on youtube, playing video games etc. For the most part I’m with my friends and I try to study every day.

By the way, what do you think of the fashion sense of Japanese girls?

The fashion? (laughs). For me it is very cute but it seems there are only three types and they seem to follow one of the templates. For example, a lot of girls wear a sweater and a skirt but it’s a different colour. It’s very cute but everyone is very similar. Moreover, the stores have a certain style of fashion and they specialize only in that sort of fashion and other stores have a different type of fashion. In Canada, it’s more like a random selection of clothing and you can pick and choose whatever you want. Japanese fashion is very cute but I don’t think that I can pull it off.

I also find elderly people in Japan have better fashion sense than in Canada. For example, I’ve seen older people who are my father’s age dress better than my father does. My father dresses kind of plain but I find here they dress well and it makes them look much younger so I find it very interesting and I kind of like it, I hope I can look like that when I’m older.

From your point of view, what do you think of the Japanese attitude towards internationalization?

For me I had a lot of people, when they found out that I am from Canada, they automatically ask me if it is cold there. They think that Canada is just cold all year round. They don’t know much about Canada. There are some people who have been abroad and there are some who haven’t been abroad. So I guess it depends on their experiences of the outside. But I feel like the media portrays foreign countries in a certain way. I suppose, in Japan it is like a specific country has just a “set-image”, like “Canada is cold”. But it is not the case. We have summer and spring and fall – and winter. Yes, it is very cold in winter, but……

Fixed ideas, right? For example, “every Canadian is good at ice skating” or “every girl is reading ‘Anne of Green Gables’ ”……

Yes, I have never read it. And I don’t ice skate (laughs). There are a lot of assumptions and I think that needs to change in order help understand other countries correctly. And one more thing; a lot of people here think my hair is a perm, but it’s natural and I always have to explain it to everybody that it is not a perm. People in Canada don’t question it’s just “oh your hair is curly” but a lot of people think I got it done in a salon.

Do you have any advice for friends who are thinking of studying abroad?

My best advice (for students coming to Japan) would be to not compare yourself to others within the program at Japanese because it can really make you feel less confident and I think you should really just try your best and it takes a while to become good and to keep doing your best to keep trying to talk in Japanese and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

And (for students coming to Canada), I recommend you try and join a club. I would try and join the Canadian-Japanese cultural exchange because people will definitely talk to you. I think that maybe it’s really hard to come out of your shell and meet other people. In Canada, if you come up and talk to people, they are not going to be scared they’ll engage in conversation with you. Joining a cultural exchange club will really help because there is people interested in them and their culture. Try and be outgoing because in Canada when you are outgoing people react positively to that and they will want to talk to you. In Canada there are many different cultures and some people might think it’s weird and other people might think it’s not. The chances of meeting people are very high.

Your town and university are really diversified, aren’t they?

In Halifax, which is where I study, it’s a lot more culturally diverse than in Sydney because there are a lot of students. I’m part of the Caribbean Society back home and I have a lot of Canadian friends, Brazilian friends, Japanese friends, Caribbean friends and Korean friends. Many chances to meet all these different kinds of people.

It is especially nice in the Caribbean Society because when I first went to the society meetings I felt like a foreigner in this specific culture and they welcomed me and it was a really nice feeling. I’ve had the same experience here in Japan too, people just talk to me and ask me about Canada.

Jenna san, what’s your future dream?

That’s kind of a difficult question, because I have a lot of different thoughts where I want to go to in my life. I would like to maybe work with the United Nations. It sounds like a cliché, but I want to make a difference. I feel like the world is kind of a place it shouldn’t be ……hopefully I can change it somehow. My target for this study abroad is to become better at Japanese. I have been studying for 3 years in Canada, so I feel like I could progress more here, faster than in Canada.

How do you use your Japanese ability in the future?

I might hope to either maybe work for a Japanese NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) or a government organization or – (I am really unsure yet!) I still have a year when I am back to Canada and sort out my graduation plans. I would like to come back to Japan to work somehow.

Thank you very much. Do you have any special comment?

I just think Japan is really nice and I am glad I came. It has been my dream to come to Japan and I’m finally fulfilling it. I’m really glad I chose Hiroshima!

Photo Gallery

Host Family:
"I had the opportunity to do a home-stay in a city in Hiroshima Prefecture. My host family was very nice to meet and I hope to visit them in the near future!"

Miyajima Island:
"Miyajima was such a beautiful place! I am happy that I live in Hiroshima !"

Hiroshima Castle:
"Hiroshima Castle was very beautiful! It was the first Japanese castle I was able to see while being in Japan !"