A strong tradition is emerging at Kalamazoo College with at least one student placing among the top three finishers in a prestigious Japanese speech contest for the fourth year in a row.
Madeline Schroeder ’23 finished third out of 10 finalists on March 13 in the university division of the event organized by Detroit’s Consulate General of Japan. Participants wrote five-minute speeches in Japanese that they delivered through Zoom this year after they were selected by a committee to advance past a preliminary round.
Schroeder’s speech, titled “Period of Change,” detailed her experiences attempting to study abroad through K including the challenges she and her family faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Japan instituted strict border-control measures in 2020, foreign students weren’t permitted to enter the country, ending her dreams of studying abroad.
The Center for International Programs (CIP) “worked hard to find alternatives after the extended-term program in Kyoto was canceled,” Schroeder said. “Our last chance was to study abroad this spring in Nagasaki, but the College canceled this program in December. I was not surprised, but I felt disappointed knowing that I would not have the study abroad experience I dreamed of when I first came to Kalamazoo College. The hardest part was realizing that even though I did everything I could, things still didn’t work out.”
Schroeder turned to community activism, gathering students who faced similar situations to work with the CIP and help them find study abroad opportunities.
“I asked the CIP a lot of questions about paperwork and contacted other departments such as the Student Health Center or the University Studies Abroad Consortium, the partner organization for the Nagasaki program, when the CIP did not know the answers to my questions,” she said. “At the same time, my sophomore friends were beginning to apply to or consider study abroad programs, so I gave them advice and listened to their concerns and frustrations about the complicated application process. If only a little bit, I wanted to decrease the number of students who were disappointed like me.”
Through this work, Schroeder overcame the difficulties she once had making friends as a first-year student. “Now, even if I’m alone, my family and friends are in my heart,” she said.
After her speech, Schroeder took questions in Japanese from the three contest judges, who represented a variety of Michigan non-profit groups related to Japan. In response to their questions, she said she still plans to visit Japan after she graduates, perhaps through the JET Program, a competitive employment opportunity that allows young professionals to live and work in Japan.
“I would love to visit Kyoto, where I originally planned on studying abroad,” Schroeder said. “It’s a large city with lots of natural areas, so there is a lot to explore. I still hope to stay in Japan for an extended period of time so that I can learn more about the language and culture.”