Universal Languages

Kenji Anderson came to Oberlin to study English and piano—and left with a deepened love of Japan.

July 13, 2023

Brittany Moseley

Kenji Anderson.
In addition to his studies toward a double degree, Kenji Anderson fueled his fascination for Japanese culture through Oberlin courses and social events.
Photo credit: courtesy of Kenji Anderson

Kenji Anderson grew up around native Japanese speakers. His mother is Japanese, and when his family visited his grandparents in Japan, he would pick up words and phrases along the way. But it was his Japanese classes at Oberlin that expanded his knowledge and fueled his passion for the country’s language and culture.

As a Princeton in Asia teaching fellow, Anderson looks forward to strengthening his language skills and immersing himself in the local community of Yakage, a town in the Okayama prefecture, which will be his home base for at least the next year. As a fellow, Anderson, who departed for Japan on June 19, teaches English in local preschools and provides administrative support to the Yakage Town Hall.

“One of the really great things about Princeton in Asia is the focus on community,” he says: “Both the community of the other fellows, but in particular, the community that you’re entering into, because we have specific roles and specific jobs cut out for us in the community.”

Anderson, a 2022 Oberlin grad who studied English and piano performance, also pursued his interest in Japanese culture and language through his classes and social ties on campus. He credits an East Asian studies course on fantasy in Japanese literature and movies for sparking his interest in the subject.

“I’ve always been really interested in living in Japan,” he says. “Over my time at Oberlin, my general interest in Japan became combined with my interest in English and literature.”

Anderson also took several Japanese language courses. “It was a cool way to really work on a skill that I grew up around. It was also great to have the language-learning process defamiliarized to me.”

Oberlin’s Double Degree Program was definitely what drew me in. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to study in the college coming in, so I landed on the English major, which was also one of the best gifts of Oberlin.”

Anderson grew up in “a pretty musical household” in Emporia, Kansas. He began taking piano lessons at an early age and went on to learn the violin. For a while, he considered life as an opera singer. When it came time to apply for college, he was interested in studying at a conservatory, but also wanted to attend a school that was academically strong. For him, Oberlin was the perfect fit.

“Oberlin’s Double Degree Program was definitely what drew me in,” he says. “I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to study in the college coming in, so I landed on the English major, which was also one of the best gifts of Oberlin.”

Anderson sees a connection between his chosen majors. Without even realizing it, he invokes musical references when talking about his English major (“Texts are a great instrument for learning about life generally,” he says at one point). He even conjoined them for his English honors thesis: a musical literary analysis on opera, which focused on the art form’s text.

Outside of his coursework, Anderson was involved with the Japanese Student Association, which celebrates traditional and contemporary Japanese culture through events held throughout the school year. Early on, he also worked with Ballet Oberlin in a musical capacity and contributed to the student newspaper the Oberlin Review as well as the student-run literary publication Wilder Voice.

Anderson admits that Oberlin’s close-knit campus community—roughly 2,900 students pursuing studies across the college and conservatory—was a surprise at first. In time, that very dynamic became a highlight of his experience here. “By the end, it’s really nice, because you can’t get too wrapped up in your own world,” he says. “You run into people so you’re pulled back into the community. That’s a really valuable experience I had at Oberlin.”

Founded in 1898 and affiliated with Princeton University, Princeton in Asia is dedicated to promoting appreciation and cross-cultural understanding between the U.S. and Asia.

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