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Discovering Japan

Recent graduate’s passion leads to international assignment

New alumnus Duncan Shea’s Bridgewater State University experience is aptly described through a Japanese proverb: “We must never forget the explorer’s spirit.”

Curiosity with Japanese culture led Shea to pursue the Asian studies minor, which opened the doors to the once unrealistic opportunity to explore firsthand the East Asian nation.

Shea will travel there to help teach English through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. JET is competitive: each year selecting only about 1,000 of the 4,000 to 5,000 U.S. applicants.

“I’m looking forward to being immersed in the culture,” said Shea, a computer science major from Canton. “I took almost every single Japanese course Bridgewater could offer. I’m most looking forward to living in an environment where I can use those language skills.”

Shea, who completed his degree in December, came to Bridgewater unsure what he wanted to do in the future. He started taking Asian studies courses to meet core requirements.

His professors talked about the JET Program, though Shea didn’t think it was for him since he did not study education. But, he does work with children with disabilities at Pappas Rehabilitation Hospital for Children.

“The more I thought about my background, the more it made sense to take these steps and apply for it,” he said, also praising his professors for their encouragement.

Shea had learned American Sign Language so he could communicate directly with a deaf child, an action that impressed Dr. Minae Savas, a professor of Japanese studies.

“In all the Japanese classes he took, he was always one of the most dedicated, hard-working, compassionate students in his class,” Savas said. “His passion for cross-cultural communication convinced me he would become a great asset in a Japanese teaching program.”

Shea plans to spend at least a year abroad, provided the COVID-19 pandemic does not disrupt the program. He’s not nervous about making his first journey to Japan, because officials there have done a good job containing the outbreak.

Savas hopes Shea’s story inspires others to pursue the JET Program. BSU graduates regularly earn spots, an achievement that speaks to their excellent performance in Japanese courses and respective majors.

“I really admire the students who will not give up,” she said. “This is not something they can do overnight.”

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