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Cascade President Karin Edwards broadens her horizons by traveling across Pacific Ocean
Photos and Story by Abe Proctor
Karin Edwards has a new appreciation for those brave souls who try to make their way in foreign lands. The Cascade Campus president recently journeyed to Japan, where she was a featured commencement speaker at PCC’s partner institution, Osaka Jikei Technical College.
“Being in a place where there is nothing familiar took some getting used to,” Edwards said. “It made me think of people who come to the United States and can’t speak the language; I think I have some idea how that feels.”
Fortunately, Edwards settled into her new surroundings quickly and was soon immersed in the culture, cuisine, and landscape of Japan, along with her travel companion Joanne Harris, the semi-retired chair of the Ophthalmic Medical Technology Program at Cascade.
PCC and Osaka Jikei have had an official relationship since 2008, when the technical college began sending groups of exchange students to Portland. Harris’ program welcomes a group of Osaka Jikei students each year, and Edwards and Harris were the second group of PCC leaders to make the journey to Japan. Schools like Osaka Jikei play a role in the Japanese educational system that is roughly analogous to that played by American community colleges, but with more emphasis on vocational training and workforce preparation.
“Our partnership with Osaka Jikei represents a wonderful opportunity for Japanese students to experience American life and culture,” Edwards said. “The last group to visit us is using what they learned in the United States as the basis for their senior project. And working with the Osaka Jikei students offers the PCC community to learn more about Japan.”
She added that she would like to see the PCC-Osaka Jikei partnership broaden and deepen, with the hope that one day PCC students will be able to travel to Japan as well.
Edwards spoke at three separate Osaka Jikei commencement ceremonies – for the Colleges of Medical Technology, Medical Welfare, and Medical Nursing; the Colleges of High Technology and Health Welfare; and at a different College of Medical Nursing in the city of Izumo. She addressed the importance of international cooperation, and of the many positive outcomes that grow out of international student exchange.
“The positive results of international education and intercultural understanding reach far beyond the classroom or the laboratory,” Edwards said in her address. “By working with and learning from one another, we can make our world a healthier place, a friendlier place, and a place that is safe, secure, and prosperous for future generations.”
Edwards noted that the Japanese commencement ceremonies were “very formal, very precise” in comparison to American graduations. Most of the women were dressed in traditional kimonos, and the men in formal black suits.
“There were no beach balls being batted around,” she laughed. “Nobody threw their hats in the air.”
Between her official duties, Edwards took the opportunity to explore and experience the fascinating culture around her. The formality and precision she observed in the commencement ceremonies was echoed throughout Japanese life, she said.
“We took the train everywhere that we could within Osaka and between cities,” she recalled. “It’s an incredibly clean and well-maintained train system, and punctual like nobody’s business!”
Edwards said she was amazed at the sheer number of people she saw virtually everywhere, and at how all of them were able to live harmoniously in dense spaces that most Americans would consider incredibly small and cramped. She was equally amazed at the level of civility and grace that people showed to her, and to each other.
“Everyone was incredibly gracious,” she said. “They treat guests very well. I learned early on that it’s important to show respect and courtesy, but that’s easy when it’s being shown to you all the time.”
And the food?
“Whoa!” she said. “I certainly got outside my comfort zone, but I’m really glad I did. We ate Japanese cuisine the whole time. The barbecue eel was really good, the octopus was good. The jellyfish was the most, like, ‘What?!?’ But it was good! When I got to the airport, though, I said, ‘Can I have some steak and French fries, please?’ ”
Edwards got a chance to take in some famous landmarks too, like Osaka Castle, a perfectly-preserved fortress from the Japanese medieval period, as well as the emperor’s gardens in Kyoto. She was impressed by the value the Japanese place on honoring their history, and by the unique melding of ancient and modern traditions that infuses present-day life.
She and Harris also got to take in a Sumo wrestling match, and even encountered traditional Japanese medicine when the two underwent an acupuncture session.
“We stayed away from the dried caterpillars, though,” she explained.
All in all, it was a wonderful journey, Edwards said, both for herself personally and for the future of the PCC-Osaka Jikei partnership.
“It was life-changing for me to be immersed in another culture like that,” she said. “I absolutely would go back.”