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A new study abroad program will send Beacon College students to the land of anime, gaming, and technology for 12 weeks starting in February.

Beacon in Tokyo is the latest entry in the college’s global education portfolio and takes students for a semester-long engagement in the “land of the rising sun,” a nickname that China bestowed, as from its perspective, Japan was located where the sun appears to “rise,” according to World Population Review.

Provost Dr. Shelly Chandler said Beacon students have a healthy curiosity about other cultures, specifically Japan.

“Our students are in love with Japan and its culture,” said Chandler, who is in the office of academic affairs. “There is a natural affinity to Japan and the program and curriculum will add to that.”

The 12-week program will kick off on Feb. 5 and will include instruction in Japanese pop culture, its economy and even the technology behind anime.

Two faculty members will run students through these classes while making time for road trips and other cultural learning opportunities.

The new offering builds upon the school’s already successful study abroad program to Italy.

Although the coronavirus pandemic nearly eliminated study abroad programs in the U.S. in 2020-21, the number of students who participated the next year rebounded up to 188,000.

Among those with learning differences, 10.5% studied abroad in the 2021-22 school year, according to the Institute of International Education. That number is typically half of the rate of all students who do so.

“Statistics show that very few students with learning disabilities are able to participate in a study abroad program,” Chandler said. “So, we created one for our students. We see how much they grow from being in the program.”

That evidence has come from the Italy program.

Dr. Nicole Casillas, an assistant professor of human services and psychology, has been in Italy, taking students to historically significant cities like Florence, Prato, and Rome as well as Tuscany.

“They have demonstrated tremendous growth in personal development, such as being self-reliant, self-assured and simply embracing their full potential,” said Casillas near the “bittersweet” end of the trip. “Our students are not just learning from me in the classroom but I, too, am learning from them and it’s wonderful.”

The plan is to offer the Tokyo version of study abroad each spring while Tuscany remains an option for students every fall.

Business management instructor Michael Fallon will accompany Beacon students to Tokyo in the spring.

“I can’t wait to witness the personal and academic growth of those who choose to be part of this enriching experience,” said Fallon, who accompanied students to Tuscany last year.

Fallon said the benefits that students can receive from a study abroad program go far beyond academics and classroom learning. For those with learning differences, the lessons can be even more impactful.

“Experiential learning is an integral part of study abroad programs and highly beneficial for students who learn differently,” he said. “Many students gain increased self-advocacy skills that last a lifetime.

In addition, spending time with a group that must work together to figure out their surroundings often means honing new skills, Fallon said.

“Students with learning disabilities often discover hidden strengths and talents, which lead to increased confidence in their abilities and in how they navigate academic and personal challenges,” he said.

The plan is to use the first year in Tokyo as a base, setting up a foundation to build upon.

“We want to develop our students into independent adults who will be able to find rewarding work after graduation,” said Chandler. “We believe that the time in Japan will develop independence, increase self-awareness, improve adaptability, and improve teamwork and leadership skills.”