Not sure what program is right for you? Click Here

© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

CIEE Alumni Blog

Back to Program Back to Blog Home

2 posts from June 2014

CIEE Tokyo Alum Awarded Fulbright Fellowship To Research Esoteric Buddhism

Mark with friends 2 (Japan)

In fall 2014, Mark Bookman, a recent graduate of Villanova Univerrsity and CIEE Tokyo ('13), will return to Tokyo on a Research Fulbright Fellowship to explore the knowledge of Esoteric Buddhism . We interviewed Mark to learn more about his experience as a study abroad student in Tokyo, how he overcame perceived boundaries during the experience, and his future plans.

Where are you from? 

I am originally from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. 

What was your experience living in Japan? 

My experiences in Japan inspired unparalleled personal and scholarly development by elucidating the deepest recesses of my being and soteriological goals, subsequently allowing for their cross-examination. These experiences, which extended far beyond the liminal bounds of a traditional classroom setting and allowed me to visualize and resonate with Japanese culture as a semiotic paradise saturated with meaning, may be categorized into two distinct categories: Boundaries to Overcome and Intercultural Synthesis, respectively. 


  Mark with friends 1 (Japan)

Boundaries to Overcome

As the first student bound to a wheelchair in CIEE’s Tokyo program the challenges I faced were significant in number upon my arrival in Japan. Obtaining the necessary medical clearances from the government, securing adequate housing that would accommodate my wheelchair, and discovering how I would reach my host institution were amongst the many issues of immediate concern – let alone any social concerns such as culture shock! However, it was thanks to CIEE’s own Dr. Kirsten Jensen and Ms. Hiroko Watanabe that I was able to find a dorm room inside of an all-Japanese dormitory and quickly become friendly with several of the students there. Shortly thereafter, the academic semester began and I found myself immersed in a world unlike any I had previously known.

Having studied Japanese for several years prior to attending the CIEE program, I was under the (horribly mistaken, in hindsight) impression that I would be placed into one of the highest-level Japanese courses offered at Sophia University. All told, I found myself enrolled in Intensive Japanese 2, an 8-credit course that met for 4 hours each weekday. In addition to my Japanese course, I decided to pursue a course in Contemporary Japanese Anthropology and an additional course in Philosophic Approaches to Buddhism, which fulfilled an advanced theology requirement for my home institution and, unbeknownst to me at the time, would shape my future career path. Each of these classes invited me to play amidst a deep wellspring of Japanese cultural epistemology; however, that experience alone was not unlike the training I had received at my home institution. It was only through my experiences outside of class that I was able to manifest a visceral appreciation for that epistemology and forge an authentic appreciation for what it meant to be “Japanese.”

Intercultural Synthesis

My everyday experiences and civic engagement during the duration of my study abroad program seared a lasting image of Japanese society as generous, vibrant, and valuable beyond measure into my mind. While innumerable experiences may instantiate these values, I will limit my discourse to a select few. Namely, interdisciplinary and syncretic dialogues with my professors during their office hours, enjoying the gradual deterioration of my voice through belting karaoke in some alien tongue that one may hardly construe as a ‘singing voice’, and walking down the streets of the ‘Otaku Mecca’ known as Akihabara. Through each of these experiences I was able to witness firsthand the influence and cultural manifestation of each intellectual entity discussed in class. Likewise, my Japanese language study, which facilitated each of the aforementioned experiences, furnished me with its own rewards. Words cannot do justice to the joy of seeing that one Kanji you have written several hundred times in a vain attempt to commit it to memory inconspicuously plastered on the welcome sign of small, tucked away shop in Harajuku. 

How has your international experience with CIEE affected you or your future plans?

Prior to my experience in Tokyo it was my intention to pursue graduate studies in philosophy. At that time, my proposed graduate research was concerned with the articulation of an epistemological model that would explain the evolution of human judgment and cognition. My experiences abroad, most notably my initial encounter with Japanese Esoteric Buddhist philosophy and philology, have greatly reshaped my future intentions via subsuming my previous research interest into a more comprehensive study of comparative soteriological systems. It should be noted, however, that my decision to alter research objectives was not instantaneous but rather gradual, itself a result of reflecting upon the materials I was exposed to in Japan in conjunction with additional research conducted after my return to United States. In this sense I consider my experience in Japan to be ongoing still, for time-and-time again it has provided me with a static beacon of insight to guide the progression of my research. 

After submitting a proposal to continue the research described above, I was awarded an AY 2014-2015 Research Fulbright Fellowship to return to Tokyo. (Incidentally, I am also the first wheelchair-bound Fulbright Fellow to Japan). Expanding upon three semesters of my undergraduate thesis research findings, I shall continue exploring the complex semiotic, pedagogical, and soteriological episteme of Esoteric Buddhism and its translocalization as manifested by the Shingon and Tendai lineages. 

Following the completion of my Fulbright fellowship I intend to pursue doctoral studies in Buddhism. The focus of my proposed doctoral research entails the elucidation of comparable elements between Esoteric Buddhism and Western philosophy and the subsequent application of conclusions reached by the Esoteric Buddhist episteme as a hermeneutical tool for reimagining various typics within the Western philosophic and religious canons.



20,000 J-1 Exchange Experiences and Counting for Parenthèse and CIEE

Following the recent celebration and alumni event in Paris, the Alumni Relations team caught up with Maryam Bozorgmehr, Owner & Director of Parenthèse and active representative for CIEE's J-1 programs in Paris, to learn more about her, the impact of her organization's work in Paris, and what she has learned from speaking with J-1 program alums.


I started working in international educational exchange in 1990 and set up Parenthèse in Paris, France in 2004, as CIEE's representative for several J-1 programs. ©brett-walsh_15_140401___fr_pr_ciee_maison-de-architecture_10-4305_candid-garden-group-of-4-women-conversing_web


  In the last ten years, Parenthèse has facilitated close to 20,000 American professional experiences for French citizens and residents of all nationalities.  Thousands of stories later, my team and I feel just as passionate about opening doors in a world which, despite all its economic globalization, is still in dire need of adventurous individuals who are capable of empathy and understanding – ones who are willing to take the leap, confront their expectations, handle the risk of some possible disillusionments and reap the numerous rewards of living and working in a culture and a country far from their own familiar safety zone; ones who are able to put themselves in someone else's space.  And adapt. The world needs the freedom and freshness of these personal experiences against the dictatorship of slogans and fear-based campaigns of all sorts. 

As with most great things in life, this experience with a capital "E" also starts with some tedious paperwork. That's where Parenthese comes in. We start by donning our cheerleading outfits and facing incredulous students, telling them that "yes, it's possible". We take them back a few years: Have they heard of the Fulbright Act and the Marshall plan? We bring them up-to-date: Do they have the correct information about J-1 visas? We then quickly put our coaching hat on and start guiding each prospective candidate through the process of securing a summer job or an internship (ideally a paid one).  We remain available if a morale boost or additional guidance is needed.  Last but not least, we make sure that we know our Department of State and CIEE guidelines by heart so that our participants feel they are in safe hands. No guessing games, no incoherent information. Our job is to make it simple for our end-users regardless of behind-the-scene complexities.

We are lucky to be part of each one of our clients' projects,  blessed to see the results of our work and receive daily encouragement.  None of us take that for granted. None of us has had another job with such daily onslaught of thank you emails and postcards. CIEE's alumni event in April brought yet another dimension to all the positive feedback: A face-to-face connection with our Intern/trainee and Summer Work & Travel alumni. These were no longer the anxious candidates that we had seen before their journey, but accomplished, enthusiastic, open-minded young professionals.  Out of the two sentences we kept hearing, the first one was  "I want to go back".  What better compliment to us, to CIEE, to the American employers and host communities? So far, so good: Mission accomplished. The second recurring remark was: "I didn't know I could go back".  Ah, enough patting ourselves on the back. There are still improvements to be made.  It appears that the Trainee program and the availability of J-1 visas for second or third-time participants are not common knowledge. It will be up to us to make sure the information gets out. 

Our alumni are the best proof of these programs' validity and their on-going necessity. The United States is still one of the most accessible countries in the world for students and young graduates. We, along with CIEE's invaluable sponsorship and experience, can still make a lot of dreams come true. What we do every day makes a difference and our alumni can truly change the world. They already have. 

Netoworking 2 Paris