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New worlds

Reflections from an international student on her year spent studying at Mount Saint Mary’s.

September 6, 2018

In August 2017, Sesera Katagi ’20 boarded a plane, leaving her hometown of Otsu city in Japan’s Shiga prefecture. Her destination: Los Angeles and a year-long stint as an international exchange student at Mount Saint Mary’s University. The English major from the University of Shiga Prefecture had heard of Mount Saint Mary’s a year before, and she was intrigued by its reputation as a women’s university that inspired its students to be unstoppable in whatever field they chose to pursue.

Over the next year, Katagi explored new worlds in the classroom, on campus, around Los Angeles and beyond. Below, she reflects on her experience at the Mount and shares her advice for being a global citizen. Her story reveals how international students help bring more of the world to our Mount students, and how the diversity of our University community ensures that each student — domestic and international — has the chance to experience diverse cultures and perspectives first-hand.        

Sesera Katagi '20, right, shares a moment with Montserrat Reguant, PhD, chair of language and culture at the Mount.
Sesera Katagi '20, right, shares a moment with Montserrat Reguant, PhD, chair of language and culture at the Mount.

My first few days passed quickly. I was excited. I didn’t get homesick at all. (Well, I missed my cat that lives in my home back in Japan. Sadly, there are no cats on Chalon Campus!) The weather was nice all the time, and the view from Chalon Campus was beautiful. Everything was new to me and exciting. There were people from so many backgrounds. Everyone at the Mount made me feel at home. The cafeteria staff would smile and talk to me, so I could feel at home when I got food there. I also felt at home as I got to know people and made friends. I liked that the Mount is a small university, so when I walked around the campus, I could see my friends often.

I lived in a large double room in the Carondelet dorm with another exchange student from the same Japanese university. I enjoyed living on campus because I had never lived on campus before I came to MSMU. It was great that I didn’t have to wake up too early for classes. I sometimes woke up 10 minutes before a class meeting time, but I could go to class on time! Also, it was fun to talk with my roommate and other students in the dorm.

During her time on campus, Katagi assisted in Japanese classes on campuses and participated in the Mount’s International Language and Culture Festival. She also got involved in the student-run Sakura Society club and other international events on campus, including festivals, dinners and cultural outings in Los Angeles.

It was fun to see how people learn Japanese as a second language in English. I enjoyed attending the classes and communicating with other students in Japanese. Also, I performed the tea ceremony as the Sakura Society club festival. It was a bit difficult to perform and explain about the tea ceremony at once in English, but I was glad to get a chance to show other students how tea is served in a Japanese tea ceremony. I enjoyed myself a lot in these experiences.

It was really meaningful to get to know American students. I got to know many wonderful people and got to know each other both on campus and outside school. I learned many things from them, not only English, American culture and academic study but also more important things for life. I and my friends often talked about Japanese culture because most of my friends are interested in Japanese culture, such as music, food, anime. It was fun to talk about Japan with them. I’m happy that I met them while staying there. I hope to see them again someday.

I also had the chance to get to know other international students from China. We went to places like sushi restaurants and the Getty Villa together, and shared our different backgrounds.

In Spring 2018, Katagi presented a comparative study on Japanese and English linguistics at the University’s annual Academic Symposium. She also took advantage of her time in Los Angeles to travel to other destinations in the Western hemisphere during breaks in the academic calendar.

The paper focused on rendaku, which is unique to Japanese speech. Language is a passion of mine. I’m interested in linguistics, so I study linguistics. I took “Introduction to linguistics” in fall semester at the Mount and I wrote the paper for the final paper of the class.

I think I am most interested in these things that can be called culture. There are various cultures and perspectives about things in the world. In my opinion, there is no “best” culture in the world because different cultures are just different from one another. Sometimes these differences cause a conflict between people who have different cultures, so I think sharing them or interacting help us to understand each other and avoid conflicts.

I went to Mexico and Cuba for two and a half weeks during Christmas break. I stayed at Mexico City and Cancun in Mexico, and Havana in Cuba. I have been interested in Mexican ancient culture since I was a child. I thought, well, it’s easy to visit Mexico from L.A.! And I just chose Cuba because it is close to Mexico and Cuba would be so different from Japan and the U.S. for political reasons. I visited many ancient ruins in Mexico, such as Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan. I ate tacos every day in Mexico and I loved it. I visited many museums and walked around the old town in Havana. The trip was really fun.

To be a global citizen, I think the most important trait is to be curious. Probably, the second important trait is not to be afraid of doing new things. Trying or learning new things stimulates us and helps us to come up with new ideas, becoming creative and adaptable. Also, we can learn to adjust to new environments and deal with problems around us better by trying new things.

Katagi believes her year at the Mount was a transformative time. Her studies at the University opened up new ideas and pathways for the future, and the friends that she made here continue to enrich her life. 

I loved hanging out with my friends. Taking a school shuttle, my friends and I sometimes hung out in Westwood and Sawtelle. I also loved just watching movies and talking with my friends in the classroom or the dorm. I miss my friends from there so much!

Back home now, I’m continuing my studies here. I am a third-year student in Japan, so I still have time to study in the university. I study both English and Spanish now, which I began studying at MSMU. I’m still studying various culture in the world. I am thinking of learning new things, such as something about business for my future career. Of course, I have to improve my English skills more, at least keep the skills because many people forget a second language if they don’t use it. I’m interested in a trading company job as a future career. Such jobs require English or other language skills and culture comprehension.

If I have any advice to give to other students who are thinking about studying in a different country, I want to say: “Don’t be afraid to do new things.” It is important to talk to people even though you cannot speak the local language. Interaction with others is significant to learn their real culture and understand the country. I think if people are open to learn, there is always a way to learn about many things.

Learn more about global initiatives at the Mount at msmu.edu/global.