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Student Success Stories

Studying Basketball in Japan

Sherman with friends at the Ichifuku Zushi restraurant in Niiza, Japan, 15 January 2020. Photograph by Thaveesha Basa.

“Play Ball!” For Megan Sherman, a senior majoring in communication and English, these words ignited a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on the other side of the world -- in Tokyo, Japan. With a passion for sports from an early age, which included staying up well past her bedtime to watch Orioles baseball games with her father, Sherman realized one of her dreams -- studying sports in Japan.

In January 2020, Sherman enrolled in Rikkyo University’s January-Term Program. Awarded a Study Away Grant from Virginia Wesleyan’s Lighthouse: Center for Exploration and Discovery and a scholarship from Rikkyo University, a Virginia Wesleyan exchange partner, Sherman embarked on her first international experience, studying at Rikkyo University.

Delving into Japanese basketball culture, Sherman learned that there are significant differences between US and Japanese game strategies. In the United States, “it's more important for players to amp up their own personal stats. They focus more on their own success versus the team’s success as a whole.” In Japan, where teams are composed of both Japanese and European players, “the style of play is completely different,” she observed. “It is more team-oriented with a pass-first mentality,” referring to an approach that emphasizes passing the ball to other players to get the best shot for the team.

Another cultural difference that suprised Sherman was her female Japanese peers’ bewilderment of her passion for basketball. As she explained, “Basketball is not a common sport for women to play. If women watch sports, they watch figure skating or gymnastics.”

Sherman’s exploration into Japanese culture did not end at the basketball court. Through the Rikkyo Program, she gained awareness of Japanese culture broadly. One thing that made an indelible impression upon her was the people’s deep appreciation of daily life. As she recounted, “Even breakfast was a reason to thank those around you.” Sherman also found the Japanese to be polite and open to having friendly conversations with strangers. “The local people were always willing to help me with navigation or anything else I needed. I have tried to embody that same mindset now that I have returned to America.”

With a goal of working as a sports broadcaster or an international journalist, Sherman sees her study abroad experience as pivotal to her future career. “As an aspiring journalist, I must have empathy for and an understanding of different cultures -- not to sway a story or make it overly one-sided, but to have a greater understanding for groups of people and different countries as a whole. I think that this experience prepared me to communicate with a wide variety of cultural groups and to understand how different countries operate.”

Studying in Japan enabled Sherman to make connections with people from all over the world. As she explained, “It forced me out of my comfort zone and made me adapt to a new environment” -- essential skills for a budding journalist. Sherman will graduate in May 2020 and is currently applying for summer internships. She plans to pursue graduate studies in sports journalism after taking a gap year.

For information on Virginia Wesleyan’s study abroad opportunities, including study away courses, the Global Scholars semester abroad program, summer study abroad, and VWU’s exhange partnership with Rikkyo University, visit The Lighthouse: Center for Exploration and Discovery.