You never know what might strengthen international relations. For Daiki Takenaka ’20, it was running 5Ks with the Mayor of Richmond, Indiana, and eating fried foods at the Wayne County Fair. Cultural, grassroots experiences mattered as much as the things that might build a resume.
Takenaka is one of the first Japanese students in the new Double Degree Program, an academic partnership between Earlham and Waseda University in Japan. As an Earlham student, he was able to take part in the EPIC Advantage, an initiative that funds research experiences and internships. Takenaka took part in an EPIC-funded internship over the summer with the Richmond mayor’s office. It included duties such as designing a web page, helping to create a video explaining Richmond’s bike lanes and their signage, entering data for the city’s finance department, and working with the Infrastructure and Development Department.
“I was working with the mayor’s office, but it didn’t stop there. I had exchanges with a lot of departments,” he says. “I also went with the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County to attract a Japanese company to locate a factory here. We visited the site and made a pitch. The company chose not to locate in the U.S. at this time, but they did not rule it out in the future.
“This was a very exciting day for me. Through this experience I learned that northwest Richmond is very attractive to companies in other countries looking to expand into the U.S. Richmond is the biggest city in Wayne County, so the labor force draws from the city and the nearby areas. Richmond has low taxes, and its location along U.S. 70 makes it easy to distribute their goods.”
But it wasn’t “all work and no play” for the Peace and Global Studies major.
“I got to experience an American summer,” he says. “I ran 5Ks with the mayor, and I went to the county fair and the Fourth of July celebration. I was shocked that people would deep-fry so many foods. My favorite was the funnel cake.”
The academic rigor of Earlham also surprised Takenaka.
“Earlham is a lot tougher for the students,” he says. “It was culture shock for me to see that students attend class every day. In Japan, if you can pass the exams, you do not go to class, and this is a big problem in Japan. Professors aren’t really there to teach, they are interested in research and publishing. They are not really willing to pay as much attention to students as the professors here. Exams are kind of easy, and Japanese (college) students are free to play.
“Here it is not hard for professors to have a relationship with students. It is natural and convenient. I have gained a lot of help because of these relationships and opportunities.”
As part of the Double Degree Program, Takenaka spent two years at Waseda studying toward a political science major. This is his second and final year at Earlham. He will return to Waseda for a final semester in fall 2020.
He sees his academic studies in Peace and Global Studies at Earlham as a helpful extension of his studies in Japan. “PAGS combines a little bit of knowledge of political science with humanities and economics. It is much broader.”
Takenaka, who was born in Atlanta and has dual citizenship, said the Double Degree Program is a great opportunity for him.
“Obtaining a degree from an American college will help me to go to an American graduate school if that is something I want to pursue,” he says. “This opens up my options.”
He says the city department internship also was a great opportunity.
“I wanted to have experience in local politics,” he says “I wanted to have experience in how closely local government works with its citizenry.”
One of the most rewarding parts of the internship was learning about Richmond’s Sister City relationship with Unnan City, Shimane Prefecture, in Japan. Takenaka designed a webpage about the sister cities and learned that before the two became paired, a group of Earlham students visited Unnan City to learn about rural Japan.
He’s fascinated by the many Earlham-Japan connections and is happy to be part of continuing the bond. Earlham’s first Japanese student graduated in 1893. Earlham admitted 24 students during World War II, and had the first Japan Study program.
“Earlham, the College as a whole, has had a great impact in growing knowledge between the two countries,” he says. “Before I knew Japan and had friends in Japan. Now I have friends here, and I’m able to share my experience with both groups. That sharing will lead to knowledge about both cultures, knowledge that doesn’t have to do with the top governments and how they are working.
“We can build relationship from our grassroots experiences.”