“The Most Enriching and Most Refreshing Nine Weeks of My College Life”*

PRIME 2011, Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan

PRIME is an excellent program that exemplifies experiential learning at its finest. Students collaborate extensively with professors from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and international universities to design a unique research project that is conducted abroad over the summer. A large part of this collaboration for me was made possible by Doshisha University. In this paper, I discuss the preparations and thought processes that went into creating my project, the cultural awareness preparations with PRIME (workshops, surveys, etc.), the cultural tidbits that I learned over the course of my stay, what I took away from my experience abroad, and how it has affected me as a person. I address how PRIME has helped me develop cultural awareness on a global scale and analytical skills to conceptualize the experience through self-initiation and self-evaluation. In addition, I discuss how the international symposium at Doshisha culminates in an informative exchange of ideas and research while building ties across cultures.

I had always entertained the possibility of studying abroad sometime during my college career, but I never thought I could realize this idea until I came across PRIME. Before PRIME, I had never been involved in research, worked in a real lab, or written a research proposal for an individual project. Not only was the program itself a rewarding adventure, the application process was a learning experience too. I had to take the initiative to contact a mentor and prove myself by expressing my interest and dedication in order to be accepted into the lab. After I started working in the lab, I was presented with an array of opportunities to not only learn new procedures and protocols in a laboratory but also to meet new people and learn from their experiences. In addition to working in a laboratory and participating in research for the very first time, I had to come up with a proposal for my summer project. This was possibly the most rewarding process, as I had to read many scientific papers while learning and incorporating what I had read to bring forth a proposal that was both scientifically accurate and realistic.

PRIME student Iris Hsieh with friends and colleagues on a crowded Kyoto street.

I spent most of my winter quarter and all of my spring quarter learning new, different imaging programs that would be relevant to my project - and the more I learned, the more interested I became in the research I was conducting and my own project. In addition to my preparations in the laboratory, PRIME hosted a cultural workshop prior to departure to help soften any culture differences or critical incidences that could happen while we were abroad. It was an eye-opening discussion and I felt the topics covered as well as the scenarios presented were highly effective in helping us prepare for our nine-week trip to a foreign country.

Soon afterward, we all flew to our respective countries and settled down. I can honestly say that my time abroad in Kyoto, Japan was the most enriching and most refreshing nine weeks of my college life so far. It was not just the cultural differences that I met and adapted to, but rather, simply being immersed in a completely new culture and that sense of discovering something new every day as you live your life in a foreign country. I met and worked with so many people that I would never have had a chance to meet otherwise and learned so much about their lives and our differences. To help us understand and process the cultural differences, PRIME asked each of us to reflect on our experiences through a weekly survey. We were also encouraged to share cultural experiences and photos of our travels in our weekly reports.

In addition to the culture, there was the research. We had weekly Skype conferences with our mentors to discuss our progress, our problems, and our questions. We were free to structure our project and our schedule, and the most novel part was that there were no concrete answers to what we were doing. The research we were doing was new and so we had to think outside the box because there were no textbook answers to look up on Google. I believe that this kind of learning inspires students to problem solve and to look past what is on the surface to arrive at a result or an answer. In order to go through all this, students such as I had to work with other students on our teams as well as students and mentors from our country. This type of transnational exchange of ideas is a good model of what researchers do when they collaborate or go to conferences – and to be able to experience this as an undergraduate is extremely humbling. In short, PRIME has been the reason for my personal and academic growth. It is the single most positive effect that I have had here at UCSD and it is an experience that cannot be equaled, no matter how many classes you take.

*Excerpt from One Student's Experience of Experiential Learning Pacific Rim Experiences for Undergraduates (PRIME) in Collaboration with Doshisha University in “Education in Action,” pp. 24-28