S.S.’s Reflection on the DC Program

My experience at the US-Japan TOMODACHI youth exchange program was just simply the greatest time of my life and it will be a piece of me for the times to come.

Our program started with the visit from ‘G,’ a slam poet, and began the shortest 2 weeks of my life. During the program, we not only visited traveler’s sites like museums and national memorials, but we also had the chance to explore the whole city of D.C. With the tour around the city and having a chance to home stay, I saw a different side of D.C that I never thought they had. Before attending this program, I only saw D.C as the home of the White House. But throughout the 2 weeks stay, I found out that D.C was a very diverse city and only a fraction of it showed the image of the White House; which came out to be the biggest surprise of my stay.

Although I enjoyed every part of the program offered to me, I loved being able to do ‘un-normal’ things. Without this program, I would have never taught elementary students Japanese, or experience any forms of hip-hop. I also enjoyed being ‘different’ from others. In Japan, I believe that everyone feels the need to have similar opinions with others, and are afraid to be different. But this program helped me revive my confidence on being different. Throughout all the discussions, it was interesting to see how each and every one of us had a different perspective towards the same thing. Simply being able to hear another person’s opinion and being able to express my own opinion itself was a great experience to have.

Again, my experience with everyone I met and everything I have done with them, was the greatest experience of my life time. All the friends I made there will forever be my friends. In a world where everything is connected, I think this exchange program gave me the most important thing to be connected to. Not Wi-Fi nor facebook or twitter, but GFFs, Global Friends Forever. I am blessed to be able to meet everyone that I met, and would like to enlarge my circle of connection.

Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School

M.I.’s Reflection on the DC Program

I arrived back in Japan three days ago, and I am now telling the story of my journey to my family and my friends. First of all, thank you very much for giving such opportunity to me, and for supporting our program. As I think back on those two weeks, I am feeling that experiences I had there were full of stories I could never heard, places I could never visited, and things I could never finished if I didn’t participated in this program. To be honest, I was pretty much exhausted during weekdays of the program especially the first week, I thought there were too many places to visit, too many people to meet, and too many things to learn. As the program came toward the end, however, I realized myself growing and absorbing a lot of things through this program. After the final presentation, our last goal of the program, I had a great feeling of accomplishment; by the experience of overcoming something together with all of the members.

Since it was my first time staying in United States for such a long time, I saw many new things, and found out many interesting facts. Most of all, I was surprised by the fact that DC is very unique city, a city that is different from any other city. Firstly, I have learned that DC is a city which is designed to be the capital city of US, and residents there virtually have no right to vote except for the president election. I had never thought before to the situation of having a voting right when we get to the certain age, but knowing this fact gave me the opportunity to rethink about it. Secondly, I get to know many places where tourists probably will not see. I didn’t know that while DC holds the wealthiest part of population even including the White House, they also have poorest part of population living in other part of the city. I would never find out this fact if I wouldn’t visit there. Thirdly, I realized that DC is a city with full of diversity. Hearing many different languages spoken on streets, seeing Chinatown, Embassy Row, or Eastern Market, discussing about immigrants in US with group of students in my age who think about international affairs, and speaking with some friends of my host mom who came to US to get job and the Green card, I have learnt that DC is a city which holds people with various family backgrounds. From this discovery, I think I saw a very important part of the United States.

I also learned that there are many problems causing even now, due to this diversity. History of discrimination, act for freedom, and organization for understanding each other or bringing community together. What I have learned there taught me the importance of taking some kind of action if I wish to make a positive change in the community or environment around me. And the person in my age is never too early for making those acts. Those experiences and the fact told by my friends in the group that community service or volunteering work is part of their school work, acted as a very good stimulus to me; I am now feeling that I can’t be staying here, waiting for the environment to be changed, but I need to think about positive effects I may give to the community and move actively.

This program totally changed my attitude toward community, United States, and even my own country, Japan. Again, thank you very much for your support and I hope I can come back to United States in future.

Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School

K.Y.’s Reflection on the DC Program

As one of the 12 participants of 2014 U.S.-Japan TOMODACHI Youth Exchange Program, I took part in uncountable number of activities during our visit to the U.S. nation’s capital, Washington D.C. Through meeting people of different kinds and visiting places that we all know, we’ve learned many, many things.

In the first place, it was not the first time for me to visit the country. Since I’ve lived in Mississippi for 2 years when I was in junior high, I am classified as a “returnee” in Japan. However, since I had my whole family along with me while I was in Mississippi, the first challenge for me in this exchange program was home staying with my host family. So, before the program began, I was always concerned about how I can get along well and live with people from different cultures who I haven’t even met. The question could never be solved without actually putting myself into the situation. Now, after spending a lot of time with the best family I ever met in my whole life, I know that active communication is what I need. Without communicating, as we’ve already learned in many of our programs, we wouldn’t be able to understand each other and break hindrances such as stereotypes. It refers not only to host family but also to people in general, and through actually having communication with every one I meet I could feel it happening. The importance of communication is just one of the things I’ve realized or learned during the program, but I believe it is among the most important things because it is something that I couldn’t have learned if I stayed in my own home in Japan.

Needless to say, as one of the tools to communicate, I realized the importance of speaking English or other languages. However, in addition to that, I thought I have to know more about my own country. While we were in D.C., D.C. students showed us around the city explaining every building we see, which really surprised us. I’ve been living in Japan’s capital for more than 10 years, and I’m sure I don’t have as much information about the city than they do about their own. As one of the members of younger generation, we have the role to spread our own culture to the world. We could see D.C. students, most of whom are younger than us, doing the role, so I strongly felt I needed to learn more about my own country too.

Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School

S.U.’s Reflection on the DC Program

After participating in this TOMODACHI US Japan exchange program my way of thinking have changed completely. I have returned to Japan gaining many things that I did not expect. My motivation for participating in this exchange program was because it would be my first time in America, and I wanted to know about the culture and how companies and the government functions at the world’s most powerful country. However during the two weeks in America, I learned not only the things that I wanted to, but by meeting many kinds of people and experiencing many kinds of things, I learned how the world I used to look and live in was so small and was able to have a bigger view of the world and a different perspective.

As I have mentioned above, we met all kinds of people and experienced things that I would not have been able to if I did not come to Washington D.C. First we met George Yamazawa a poet who told us that our words are powerful and that we are powerful. After this activity, I became confident with my opinion and it was a valuable experience for me. Also we were taught that even though we are high school students, we can send a message to the world by taking a photograph. We learnt that there were people of our age who started an organization helping people who have difficulties in attending to college because of their parents by giving them scholarship. From these things I thought that I can take an action which might give a good effect to the society, and that it can be at any timing.

One of the activities that had great impact on me was listening to the Japanese and American people who have studied abroad and now works for each other’s country. It had a great impact because two Japanese people graduated Keio University, which I will also graduate in the future. The two told that they both used to work at a Japanese company but quit it and studied hard to get a job in America. I admired how they acted by their own will, and their courage in challenging at a different country they barely know about. When I go out to the society I want to work at somewhere I am truly interested in, no matter if it takes time.

I would like to thank the sponsors of this exchange program, my host family and the American Council for letting me have a great experience. As a participant of this exchange program, I think I have the responsibility in reflecting what I did in the program and do something to make a better society by using what I learnt. I only have about half a year before graduating high school, so I would like to think deeply about my future life referring to the inspiring people I met in this exchange program.

Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School

Y.Y.’s Reflection on the DC Program

This program taught me valuable life lessons that I couldn’t have learnt otherwise. I enjoyed being able to meet a bunch of people and hear their life stories. From hearing people’s stories, I learned an important lesson. The lesson that I learned was that we can fight stereotypes.

Since most people in Japan are Japanese, stereotypes are never discussed in schools because it is not a big issue. When we had a workshop with people from Operation Understanding DC, I became conscious of all the stereotypes that I subconsciously had. I was surprised when I was able to write up a whole list of stereotypes for a certain group of people. I realized through the activity that stereotypes exist in everyone, even if they don’t realize it. The activity that we did served as an eye opener for me and made me conscious of all of the stereotypes that I had. After the activity we learned ways that we can combat stereotypes. There were four action plans that were introduced to us. First, examine our beliefs and where it comes from. This is something that can be done individually. Getting to the roots of our stereotypes so that we can know why we think a certain way so that we can find a way to get rid of that stereotype. Second, we can get rid of stereotypes through conscious thinking. Since stereotypes are usually subconscious, by always being conscious of it we can get rid of it. Third, we can change our beliefs. We can change our thoughts on people, so we can change our stereotypes. Fourth, we can increase our options and how we interact with people. By interacting with people we can change our stereotypes and our stereotypes don’t have to make us act in a certain way. I thought that these four plans are a great way to get rid of stereotypes. Now I am more conscious about the stereotypes I have towards people, and I want to put these plans to action to get rid of my stereotypes.

This lesson is something that will stick with me forever. It is such an important lesson that schools fail to teach their students. I will spread the word to make the world a better place.

Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School

T.M.’s Reflection on the DC Program

There are many turning points during life time. For me one huge turning point was moving abroad when I was three years old. I thought that that would be my biggest turning point but this TOMODACHI US-Japan exchange turned out to be a huge turning point. By joining this program, I was able to learn and feel many things. This was my first time to go to America so everything was new and fresh to me.

The first thing I learned throughout this program is the American culture. I have lived in Belgium and in England for around half of my life so I know a little about European culture and I also know about Japanese culture. I was very interested in America and the culture they have so this was one reason I chose to participate in this exchange. By doing a homestay, I was able to learn a lot about the culture they have. The first thing I noticed is how they eat their food. In Japan, we tend to eat as a family facing each other at one big table. Whereas at my host family’s house, everyone was eating separately at different timings. I thought this was unique so I asked a student from Japan how they are eating their food. He said that their host family eats alone as well. Also the bath was a little different from Japan. In Japan, we have a space to clean our bodies out side the bath tub whereas in Europe and America, there is only a bath tub. By doing a homestay, I was able to learn a lot about the interesting differences we have and the American people have.

The second thing I learned by joining this program is that there are many different “wealth ranks” throughout the world. I went to a private school in elementary school and junior high school and I am going to a private school now so I did not notice the huge difference in wealth people have. By doing volunteering; handing out food to poor people, I was able to see the not so bright side of the society as well. We do have poverty in Japan too but it is not as vivid as it is in the US, so it was a great chance for me to see the unfair wealth distribution of tax. The difference between the “one percent” and the poor people.

The last thing I learned was english! The program was in English and there were many difficult vocabulary and terms so it was a great lesson for me. This program will help me pass an english exam we have in Japan so it was great spending time in the US.

To conclude, I was able to learn mainly three things during this stay, culture, politics and, language. It was also great spending time with the students from DC so I hope to keep in touch with them for the rest of my life.

Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School

The End . . .

On Friday, August 1st the last day of the program was dedicated to one thing and one thing only: the final preparations for our final presentation. We all arrived at American Councils and edited some slides in our PowerPoint. We were then visited by Dan Davidson, President of American Councils and had an interesting meeting with him. He discussed what he did for a living and asked question that caused us to evaluate ourselves. After the meeting, we rehearsed our PowerPoint and then settled down to wait for our parents, faculty, and sponsors. Then, we shared our final presentation with our invited guests and it flowed smoothly and everyone enjoyed themselves. After the presentation we had lunch, which included Chipotle catering, and we were able to make our own burritos, tacos, and bowls. We then went to Chinatown to go to Lucky Strike to bowl. There was a “friendly” competition started between the boys against the girls. We had a great time and bonded closer together, but we had to say our farewells to each other.

During our meeting with the American Councils president, Dan Davidson, he asked us questions about our time in this program and what we got out of it. These questions did not just highlight my experience, but caused me to look deeper into myself to find an answer. One example of a question asked is: “From the things you have learned and seen from this program, how has it changed you personally or your point of view of your home?” This question was so inspirational because to be honest some of us did not notice we had changed, but through meditating on this question things started to rise up from the depths of our conscious. We all then realized that we have changed and that change is a good thing. By discovering this he then asked, “When you go back home or continue your daily life, how can you change or better your community?” This question left the biggest imprint on me because throughout the entire 2 weeks we have been meeting with people who are making it their mission to better or change their community or people who are building up to that. I have been inspired, but more importantly I have been given hope that I, Noah Dyson, can help make a better world for the future generations. Hope is essential because it is the essence of life, the driving force that keeps the world spinning.

Noah Dyson
School Without Walls

M.I.’s Post: July 31

We again started our day at the School Without Walls, and continued working on the final presentation. We each had our own duty and things to work on, that we could use our time wisely. We have made powerpoint slides ready, and decided the outline of the presentation. Though preparation time this morning was only about one and a half hours, we could get many things done.

After we quickly ate early-lunch, we took metro and went to Columbia Heights. There, we all spent the next few hours participating in community service at Martha’s Market, a program run by Martha’s Table. Cooperating with other volunteering staffs, we provided food to people who are making their lives with comparatively low income. Using a gymnasium of the school, we gave out food such as fruits, vegetables, or cans of tunas and beans. According to a lady who I worked with, Martha’s Market is a monthly event, and about 400 people visit there every time. The service we did was not very difficult work, which can be told by the fact that we started the service right after the 3 minutes introduction. It was first volunteering experience for most of the Japanese students, but, from this activity, we all learned that anyone can participate in volunteering. In other words, we noticed that there are many things people in our age can do for the community. After we passed out most of the foods during one and the half hours of the service time, we cleaned up the room and carried all the boxes away from the room. Afterwards, we went outside of the building and picked up some trash. By the time we left the place, I have noticed that volunteering is not only doing service, but also taking responsible for cleaning up is important part of it.

Next place we headed was Busboys and Poets in Columbia Heights, a chain restaurant. We found out that Busboys and Poets is a literally unique type of restaurant, which consists of restaurant, library and entertainment space. It was the kind of place I have never visited before. We took a seat at the room which have the performing stage and walls filled with poems and the portrait of world famous people like Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela. With a delightful dessert, we get to talk with Andy Shallal, the founder of Busboys and Poets. Our last guest of the whole program started our discussion by the activity of meditation; to close our eyes and to feel like as our bodies are turning into sand from the top of our head. He said that he always turn off his phone during the day time, and taught us the importance of relaxing ourselves and have a rest for a second in a busy day. In addition, using examples of bees’ and ants’ way of telling the place of food to others, he also told us that the good leader is a person who brings the best of others, not of himself. Then, he talked to us about his experience of sky diving with his colleagues, and showed us that you need to take a risk if you want to change yourself, and something is only scary until you do it. From his interesting stories, we have learnt the quality of the ‘good’ leader the most. We already discussed many times in earlier stage of this program about being a leader, but this time, we focused more on becoming true and good leader; we need to be a leader who always can think of the betterment of someone else.

Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School

Ghana Queen, Milk Thief and Hippie Jesus. Oh My!

On Thursday we all arrived at School without Walls. There we debriefed and organized for the final presentation. We then took the metro from Foggy Bottom to Columbia Heights and walked the rest of the way to Martha’s Market. At Martha’s Market, a program of Martha’s Table, we volunteered giving food to the community. Then we went to Busboys & Poets to visit Andy Shallal. Finally we went to American Councils to work on our final presentation.

What really stood out to me on this day was the visit to Martha’s Table and Busboys & Poets. Let me tell you why it’s a really interesting story. Okay, for Martha’s Table it was really fun giving food to the people who need it, seeing the smiles on their faces made my day. I was in charge of the tuna fish. Two cans for each bag they had. I gave everyone a warm welcome and tried my best to be as polite and kind as possible. I saw many different types of people there. It wasn’t just one ethnic group, which really surprised me. To see in person that struggle is everywhere is a true eye opener. I also wasn’t expecting to see children. For some reason I thought it would be too traumatic for them to be there.

Now here’s where it gets a little crazy. There was a man who came up to me and told me “Yeah girl, black power. You’re going to be the queen of Ghana.” That was fun. After that there was a lady that was stealing a bunch of milk behind Micah’s back. Finally there was a man who looked like a hippie Jesus. All in all, a real interesting experience.

Busboys and Poets was my dream made real. l wanted to live in that Bookstore! Seriously I almost wept when we had to leave. Beside that, there was the conversation with Andy Shallal. He was an amazing dude. I broke down laughing when he told the story of him and his staff going skydiving, but I was also fascinated by how he described the feeling of flying and having all fear vanish. He also had a huge interest with insects particularly bees and ants. He talked about them with such a passion that it made me question my thoughts of them. One thing that he said that really stood out to me was when he said “ Being a leader is not about leading it’s about bringing the best out of others.” That really resonated with me, because I always think I am not a leader because of my temperament, but this shows me that I am a leader.

Sierra Queen
Hospitality High School