Sierra’s Reflection on the DC Program

The TOMODACHI program has helped me realize many things about myself, my home, and the world I live in. I learned that I am very dependent on my mother and I have many fears that are holding me back. Throughout my travels with the TOMODACHI group, I noticed that they all got to their destinations by themselves even the Japanese students. That really convinced me that I am capable of doing a lot of things on my own. The trip to Japan will just put what I learned into action and prove to everyone and myself that I can be more independent. Some of the many fears that I have are elevators, the metro, and planes. I have conquered the fear of elevators and the metro throughout the program. It has made me feel more brave, empowered, and free. I can travel to a variety of places more easily and quicker using the train and elevator which is so satisfying. I will soon conquer the fear of planes once again on the flight to Japan. I have rode on a plane to Florida and back, but I was petrified with fear the whole time. This time the flight will be longer and that will be a challenge. I will not however let that stop me from completing my dream. I know now that I can do this and the only thing to fear is fear itself.

This program has also helped me appreciate my home, Washington DC. I have been sheltered most of my life and the area that I live in is not the best neighborhood ever. I grew to really dislike it and I just concluded that all of DC was like that. I was shown through this program that I couldn’t be more wrong. Traveling to Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, and many other places showed me the different sides of DC, that I did not think existed.

I was also made conscious of the fact that I live not just in DC in America but on Earth and there are so many things happening on it. TOMODACHI taught me to keep up with the news because it is all relevant and important. The program showed me the variety of cultures and how they are different yet similar to mine. I now want to explore the world, my first stop being Japan. The next one maybe France, South Korea, Thailand, Spain, Sweden, or New Zealand. Who knows? There are so many options to choose from.

Sierra Queen
Hospitality High School

Noah’s Summer Reflection

My summer experience in this program has changed how I look at the world. It has given me a different perspective on DC, and a greater appreciation for the new friendships and the experiences we have shared together.

My favorite activity was the visit by the Pulitzer Center. The activity we did with them caused me to notice things about DC that I have never noticed before. One thing includes how much history has been preserved in DC and how every person has a story. We were assigned the task of taking 2 photos of DC, 1 of something familiar and another of something that we never noticed before. I was surprised by how little information I knew about the place I called home. In my head, I thought that I knew everything that there was to know. I was completely wrong! I learned that DC was a center of spreading ideas and a catalyst for change.

Another experience that will always stick with me was our brief time with G. He was able to connect us all with words. We had to form a circle, each person said they were powerful, but there was a catch. Each one of us had to say it louder than the person before us until someone was shouting it. I was nervous, but standing there together all laughing and getting to know each other caused me to feel powerful. This wasn’t because I just said it but by hearing it get louder one person at a time. I learned that together a group of strangers can become friends and our voices are stronger together than separate.

Another activity was when we played an icebreaker that showed all the things we had in common. This taught me that the words that come out of my mouth have to be honest, because if your words are powerful, then they have the ability to contain emotions and feelings that connect people. I want to connect nations and to do so by seeing that underneath all the differences are in culture. I had this idea, that in order to change the world that you have to be the best person at what you do. I have come to understand that you just must try your hardest.

When I think about going to Japan I get a little fidgety from the anticipation. Learning Japanese culture, personally, is something that this program has made aware to me. During our time in Chinatown with the Japanese students we had an awesome time even though it was raining. I remember Takuya’s infatuation with soul food and Ken’s astonishment when he found out that walking on a red light was common in DC. Their moments captured what it means to step out of normal life and experience a side to life that you do not understand.

When facing something new the first time it is challenging. This is a humongous challenge, but conquering of my fear of flying is something that I am looking forward to. Shun, my host brother, has told me how much he liked learning about hip-hop culture and we talked about how Naruto is coming to an end. We are still getting to know one another better and we will continue to. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to meet all 12 TOMODACHI and I am looking forward to staying connected.

In conclusion, my experience with everyone I met and everything I have done with them, was the greatest experience of my life time. It allowed me to see how different people are but also how they are the same, even if they are from a different country. This experience has taught me so much about myself, it allowed me come out of my comfort zone and embrace diversity. I can truly say that this experience has helped me grow as a person, student, and friend.

Noah Dyson
School Without Walls

Micah’s Reflection on the DC Program

During my D.C. journey with TOMODACHI U.S.-Japan Youth Exchange Program, I learned about the history of Japanese and American relations, which I knew little about. Meeting people and organizations with our group was a fantastic learning experience. I felt it was an amazing honor and privilege to learn first hand the history of Japanese-American experiences of internment camps from Veteran Terry Shima and internment camp survivor Mary Murakami. It was amazing hearing about how they both stayed loyal to their nationality even though their own country forced them into quarters and chose their professions. I found it relatable to the oppressive history of Blacks in America, and realized some things are so similar that I wouldn’t have realized. This realization of common struggles changed my view on whether people can be blamed for how they are. Some things I am ignorant to, and I am more similar to people than I could’ve imagined.

I also enjoyed exploring parts of D.C. and D.C. organizations with my group that I hadn’t known myself. Groups like Operation Understanding D.C., an organization that taught and challenged our group to destroy our personal stereotypes. It was great that I continued to learn new things about my city with fantastic friends.

The opportunities our group received are priceless. I will never forget being able to go to the home of the Japanese Ambassador, trying Japanese food for the first time, having my first glimpse of a robotic toilet, and getting to see a traditional Tea House with my greatest friends.

Presenters would be invited to other events we did so I constantly got to stay in touch with the people who taught me so much. It was so fun meeting with Greg, who was the first one to teach us about Japanese language and culture when it was only the American group, and catch up with the newest anime news with him

The new friendships I’ve gained from TOMODACHI are what I believe to be my greatest take back from our exchange so far. I base my best memories on what I reminisce of the most. I loved sightseeing spots in D.C. I never knew about in all my time living here, getting to see the creative sides of all of my peers, hearing their poetry and different views affected by a different culture, having tastes of what I may experience in Japan, and meeting historical figures that gave history and moral lessons that I found affected my personal development.

I’ve appreciated every part of the TOMODACHI US-Japan Youth Exchange Program so far, and cannot wait to experience Japan!

Micah Guthrie
Washington Latin PCS

Gabby’s End of Summer Reflection

This summer has been an amazing learning experience that I have been able to grow from. I am immensely grateful for the experiences I have had this summer, and the impact that this program has had on me personally. One of the most illuminating parts of this program was when we were given the great opportunity to listen to two World War II internment camp survivors, Terry Shima and Mary Murakami. This presentation taught the entire group so much more about the history of the relationship between Japan and America.  I found this conversation very insightful and interesting, and was amazed by some of the experiences that these two Japanese-Americans went through. This presentation also taught me about the importance of self-perseverance, and overcoming prejudice and discrimination.  This in addition to another panel presented by younger Japanese Americans who worked in the field of American-Japanese relations, gave the group and me a wealth of information about the history, growth, and future of the relationship between our two nations.

This exchange has opened my eyes to many new cultures and viewpoints, and has helped me to expand my worldview, and the way I think about my role as an American in American society. While talking to our new Japanese friends around the city, many of us learned more about ourselves as Americans just from answering our Japanese friends’ questions about our city, and our society. I feel that this summer was a great way to start the process of expanding my knowledge of Japanese culture, and hearing the Japanese students discuss their homeland and its culture made me even more excited and intrigued to travel there next month.

Through this program I have also been able to gain new global friendships, and have become friends with many amazing new people both American and Japanese. I am very thankful for the opportunity to meet these new friends through the TOMODACHI program. As a group we have begun to develop a connection with each other, and I am excited to travel to Japan and strengthen these bonds even further. These friendships have helped me to grow as a person, and I feel as though our group has truly developed a TOMODACHI community that will last a lifetime.

The first part of this exchange has also heightened my excitement to travel to Japan in November, and explore the country and its culture further. I am really looking forward to learning more about the history of Japan, and the people who live there. I am truly looking forward to staying with my host sister Maika, and meeting her family and friends. I hope to meet and befriend many more interesting people while I am in Japan next month.

Overall, the first part of this program was very important to me for several reasons. Thanks to this program I have learned so much more about culture, history, friendship, and myself. I am anxiously awaiting next month, and our departure for Japan. I cannot wait to go and explore the country I have heard so much about for myself.

Gabrielle Towson
School Without Walls

Luke’s Reflection on the DC Program

Over the summer I took part in the TOMODACHI US-JAPAN Youth Exchange Program. During this program, students from the Tokyo high school Keio SFC came to Washington DC for visitation and educational purposes. They saw the city that my fellow Washingtonians and I have grown up in, but also learned a lot about American culture.

Although this part of the experience had the focus on the Japanese students, I still learned a lot and I feel I gained many memories that I’ll keep forever. We went to the holocaust museum, the national building museum, and the museum of American history where we went into detail about the civil rights movement, including a live performance of a civil rights movement-era sit in. The DC portion of the trip brightened my summer in a surprising way, every morning I would look forward to seeing my tomodachi again. I was expecting to be the tour guide, a role no one wants. Instead I was the guided. I learned so much more about my city and was able to pass on my existing knowledge onto our Japanese counterparts. Their constant barrage of questions inspired me to want to learn what I didn’t know. Not only was it educational, but also social.

I made friends from halfway across the world, and friends halfway across DC. It was also very exciting to meet Ken, the Japanese student I will be living with for part of the trip. We have stayed in contact since he left Washington, and so have our parents. I would not have met Ken, or any of the other 5 Japanese students.

It is an understatement to say that this experience was the highlight of my summer, and I’m eagerly awaiting to leave for Tokyo.

Luke Nogueira
Duke Ellington School of the Arts

Malaika’s Reflection on the DC Program

The TOMODACHI US-Japan Youth Exchange Program is a life altering experience that I am very grateful to be a part of. I really appreciate that it is a two-way exchange, giving me the opportunity to meet peers from the other side of the world. I also value the friends I’ve made closer to home. Between the students from the DC side of the program we attend five very different high schools. The probability of us meeting and bonding so quickly before the program was slim. The Japanese students were so polite and fun that I have become more excited to visit them in Japan and see where they call home.

A compliment we received from the Japanese students was on our knowledge of our city. However, I’ve learned that I have a lot more learning to do when it comes to the history of my city. I would like to continue learning and exploring to be able to share more accurate information. I am happy to be able to say that I have not simply visited, but learned from and further analyzed many different places throughout the district. I have made it my mission to continue to expose myself to the distinct cultures in the four quadrants of DC.

I have always valued my community and appreciated how fortunate I am. In this experience we participated in several inspiring service projects that have further opened my eyes. I have learned more on why it is important to give back. These service projects brought us closer as a group. Thanks to this program my want to do more than the required 100 hours of community service needed to graduate has increased greatly. I’ve been able to see the impact lending a helping hand to those in need of one has had directly.

A change I’ve seen within myself is the betterment of my ability to take in and process information. Throughout the program we had many meaningful conversations, panels, tours, etc. I think it is very important to be able to listen to people and their stories. Some of the greatest lessons come from others. They share their stories to help you avoid making the mistakes they have made. They share their experiences in hopes of inspiring others to be a better person. From this, I’ve learned that it is important to take advantage of all opportunities and to listen, because it can really impact you in a positive way, like this program has for me.

Malaika Coleman
McKinley Technology High School