Hagio Prize 6th Year Winner: Catherine Laurence
As 2010 marks the tenth anniversary of this unique and generous award, we have asked past winners to reminisce about their time spent in Japan, as well as how the experience has affected their lives. Here is Catherine's report.
I attended the SOAS Diploma in Modern Japanese course from September 2004 to August 2005. It was an extremely challenging year for me but also incredibly rewarding in many ways. My main reason for wanting to study Japanese, apart from the culture which always fascinated me, was that my husband was Japanese and it was a great desire of mine to be able to communicate and chat with his family who were unable to speak English.
I entered the Hagio contest not ever imagining that I may stand a chance to win it and have an opportunity to travel to Japan, but the receipt of the news that I had been a successful candidate meant big changes for me. I entered the contest not only to see Japan and take part in the work internship and homestay placements, but also and equally importantly to put myself in a daunting situation where I would have to cope in a foreign country by myself, speaking Japanese as a second language.
I saw this opportunity not only as educational but also that it would play a pivotal role in my self development. My greatest wish throughout my studies at SOAS and the opportunity that the Hagio prize offered me would be that through hard work and determination I would be able to visit the family of my husband, and sit at the dinner table with them making conversation and understanding each other. I imagined the whole experience to be incredibly character building and great for self confidence, and I was right.
During my stay in Hokkaido I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with two separate host families who were incredibly kind to me and treated me as a member of their own family - one of them I am still in touch with to this day and have met with them again since my stay in Japan. I undertook a one-month work placement at Ralse Group PLC, a large company which runs a chain of supermarkets and department stores in Northern Japan. I found the work placement a little daunting on my first day, but as time passed I grew more confident in my spoken Japanese. The people who worked with me were so incredibly kind and accommodating. I worked in the Head Office under a supervisor but also had the opportunity to work hands-on in some of their stores, the high point for me being working in the kimono department.
The people placed in charge of looking after me also organised a huge array of activities for me to participate in during my stay, including cultural visits to museums, onsens, and other places of interest - I even took part in classes for shodou and cookery. In all, it was far more comparable to an enthralling activity-packed holiday than work!
Winning the Hagio Prize provided me with the opportunity to participate in the work placement which I would have otherwise been unable to be a part of. It was a truly fantastic experience for me, not only to be able to immerse myself in the culture which fascinates me so much, but also for me to put myself in a position where I could seize the confidence to function in daily life in a place where I knew next to nobody. It did wonders for me as a person and I can quite honestly say it was a truly life changing experience for me.