Published June 26, 2023 by Jack Wellschlager

2023 Japanese Prize Winner: Jack Wellschlager

This year's Japanese Prize winner, Jack Wellschlager shares some thoughts about his experiences with the Japanese program over the past four years.
My first class at Bowdoin College was Japanese. My last class at Bowdoin was, also, Japanese. A lot has changed since those first classes—for one, 8:30 class periods changed to 2:50s—but plenty has stayed the same. From the moment I met Aridome-sensei in his office, the Japanese program has remained a consistent home on Bowdoin’s campus. When I was a frightened first-year student, language table was the first scheduled dinner I could look forward to. I was excited to speak limited Japanese with my classmates, and I was able to ask the many professors and upperclassmen I looked up to for advice. When I was a sophomore, the COVID-19 pandemic kept us from Bowdoin’s campus and those familiar language tables, but my friend Shin-san and I still waited after every class with Selinger-sensei to chat about our lives and our studies. Even separated by states or oceans, our community stayed strong. As a third and fourth year back on campus, I became able to speak fully in Japanese during my classes with Aridome-sensei and Morita-sensei. Since language tables were back, I could help my underclassmen friends, just like my upperclassmen friends had helped me. I also met with Japanese heritage learners like Katayama-san, Lamm-san, and Sturk-san, who were all kind enough to spend hours speaking Japanese with me as learning assistants. In these years, I was able to build rich relationships not only in Japanese class, but through conversations and jokes spoken only in Japanese. Next year, I will be traveling with the JET Program to Osaka, Japan, where I will teach English in Japanese schools. While I was applying to this program, I met countless times with Aridome-sensei, Selinger-sensei, and Morita-sensei. I even got in touch with upperclassmen who went on to work with JET, like Soren Birkeland and Izzy Halle. These people, along with the rest of my friends in the program, helped me get to Japan. In other words, they have literally changed my life. Again, much has changed in these four years. I can speak, understand, and read much more Japanese, COVID seems here to stay, and I have even graduated from Bowdoin. The many connections and memories I have made in Bowdoin’s Japanese program, however, remain, and I can’t imagine a better way to have spent my four years at Bowdoin.