Prestigious Scholarships Enable Student’s Dream of Studying in Japan

Written by Michael Rouleau

Brandan Sumeersarnauth ’17, an environmental earth science (EES) major at Eastern Connecticut State University from Stafford Springs, CT, is the recipient of two prestigious scholarships that will enable him to study in Japan this coming spring. He is one of only 25 undergraduate students nationwide to receive the $2,500 Bridging Scholarship for Study Abroad in Japan, as well as one of 800 American undergraduates to receive the $5,000 Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

Japan has intrigued Sumeersarnauth for years. From the underlying messages of anime (Japanese cartoons), to the lyrical content of the music, to the food and language, he said, “I made the connection that the things I hold important morality-wise are also important in Japanese culture.”

Eastern EES students Brandan Sumeersarnauth ’17 (left) and Mike Manzi ’15 presenting their research on the eroding bluffs of Block Island at the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) Northeastern Section Meeting in New Hampshire in March 2015.

Sumeersarnauth believes, for example, in “wabi-sabi,” a Japanese philosophy that recognizes the beauty of imperfection and impermanence. It’s a concept that seems to be contrary to mainstream consumerist society. “Think of an old musical instrument, or an old truck with a bunch of dents,” he said. “Most people would throw it away, but each dent is a memory or story, and gives it more value.”

Sumeersarnauth is also drawn to Japan for academic reasons. Throughout his schooling at Eastern, he has studied coastal geology, particularly in the Northeast. “Japan is a big island nation with a 360-degree coastline,” he said. “It is affected by all the things Rhode Island and Connecticut are affected by, but on a grander scale. With its location in the Ring of Fire—affected by earthquakes, subduction zones and volcanoes—it is also a great place to study tectonic processes and seismicity.”

While enrolled at Musashi University in Tokyo, Sumeersarnauth will not study science. His spring 2016 semester will focus on humanities, foreign policy and language—a curriculum that will work well for him, despite his other interests. “With my career I want to be on the international scale of things,” he said, “so I figure by learning a different perspective on global issues from my own, it will give me that necessary foundation to work on that scale.”

To satisfy his science-related interests, Sumeersarnauth plans to visit the National Science Foundation, the Geological Survey of Japan and different mines in the region to observe mineral collections.

The goal of the Bridging Scholarship is to promote study abroad in Japan by larger numbers of American students, thus increasing understanding between the two countries. The Gilman Scholarship has a broader aim; to make study abroad accessible to lower income students as well as diversify the countries in which students study. For both scholarships, the hope is for students to gain a better understanding of other cultures, countries, languages and economies—making them better prepared to assume leadership roles within government and the private sector.