Erik Hornberger always wanted Japanese to be a part of his career, but as a busy graduate student in Electrical Engineering at the University of Kansas, there wasn't enough time to participate in semester study abroad programs. Fortunately, the CLS Program was short enough to fit Erik's academic schedule, and intensive enough to help him meet his ambitious goal of learning enough Japanese to work as an engineer in Japan.
While on the CLS Program in 2013, Erik was able to meet with engineering professors in Himeji, Japan to tutor him on specialized vocabulary during his free time. He also enjoyed meeting with a group of students and language partners at the host institution. This time allowed him to learn about Japanese culture and connect with students his age.
“The most valuable skill that I learned on the CLS Program was how to join local communities. As someone who has participated in four different study abroad programs in Japan, I can say with confidence that CLS does the best job giving students the opportunity to interact with the host community and culture, and the strict language policy is a big part of that.”
Erik returned to the United States to finish his degree but his experience encouraged him to study abroad again, this time with the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships (FLAS) program, through which he studied Japanese in addition to math and science with other Japanese students. Ultimately, Erik's study abroad experiences on FLAS and the CLS Program led to his employment with a medical device engineering organization in Yokohama, Japan where he worked on software development for magneto-encephalography (MEG) brain imaging and proton cancer therapy.
“I was the first and only western employee at my company, so this experience really challenged me and my language skills.”
Installation layout of a cyclotron: a machine that delivers proton beam therapy, a type of radiation therapy. Source: Sumitomo Heavy Industries, Ltd.
During the three years he spent working in Japan, Erik continued to hone his language ability, authoring several academic publications and speaking at conferences in Japanese. He also helped to foster relationships between his company and research universities both in Japan and abroad, and led efforts to modernize his company’s software development practices.
"My most defining experiences all stem from learning how to be part of Japanese communities during the CLS Program. I became a regular in hackathons and developer meetups around Tokyo, became involved in several churches and faith-based groups, and even got married in Japan."
Erik returned to the United States in 2019 and enjoys accompanying his wife as she experiences American culture for the first time. He now works at Apple developing open source research and healthcare software using the skills he developed in Japan.
"Even six years after my CLS summer, I am continuing to benefit from the program and I am hopeful that my language aptitude will be a defining aspect of my career."
December 10, 2019