There are only a few weeks’ worth of classes to orient you, a couple weeks to draft interview questions (and seek out interviewees), and then one week jam-packed with information, subway rides, new spaces, and important people. If like me you haven’t had any experience interviewing, get ready to be thrown into the deep end. I think you’ll find that, surprisingly enough, you can swim.
As someone who has lived in Japan, going to Tokyo for the Practicum felt nostalgic, familiar, and warm. As someone who has never been to China and can’t speak the language (aside from managing to read some characters which are used in Japanese as well), Beijing felt new, bewildering, and exciting. While at times I felt unprepared for my time abroad, and all of the research, interviewing, and note-taking I had to do, I do feel that being in the environment — in new spaces, public, academic, and governmental — added to the penetration power of the topics, themes, and rhetoric we discussed. It is one thing to read about Japanese revisionism and its effect on Sino-Japanese relations. It is another thing to be in the Yuushuukan war museum and see it around you. In that sense, the East Asia Practicum can be an invaluable tool for contextualization.
If I could do this course again, I would have taken a short course of interviewing in preparation, just to feel more comfortable with this skill. I’d recommend the same to students who like me are new to interviewing and may have trouble crafting questions. In terms of the practical aspects of the trip, I would have downloaded maps.me before I left the US, in order to have offline maps of Tokyo and Beijing at my fingertips. Lastly, I would have ordered the “AIS Unlimited Travel Sim For Asia”, which can be used in both Tokyo and Beijing and remains activated for 8 days – just enough to cover your week abroad. I wouldn’t have bought it through Amazon.co.jp though, even if it is a few bucks cheaper – in the end I didn’t end up receiving it at all due to a mix up at the hotel! The AIS Sim can be ordered through the American site and shipped to you with more than enough time to spare if you buy it in advance.