“I used to think . . . but now I know . . . .”

PROGRAM NOTE: The last day of the DC part of the program came on July 29, and so we asked all student participants to respond to this final prompt: “I used to think . . .  but now I know . . . .” The range of their responses is amazing, and speaks to the variety of  experiences that deeply impacted the students during the program’s first two weeks. So interesting!

R.M.: I used to think the freedom of individuals and the considerations for others are contradictory, but now I know the considerations are something which should be based on the freedom. I knew this when I visited the US Holocaust Museum and thought about the course of the Holocaust.

Chris: I used to think that I wasn’t as smart and deserving as other people to be included in programs like this, but now I know that I’m uniquely special. I saw this when I was picked to such special programs like the TOMODACHI student exchange and Boston engineering program.

H.K.: I used to think your degree and studies by college basically determines what you do as in lifetime job, but now I know what attracts you throughout your experiences regardless of when it is, can connect you to another job. For example, Mrs. Mya Fisher from the U.S. Japan Council went to a science high school but is currently working with helping programs going on between the two countries.

Clinard: I used to think that it was difficult to be a social entrepreneur but now I know that it is fairly easy to do something that establishes change. This is important because it inspires people to go out and do something positive in order to benefit their communities or just to simply benefit someone else’s life.

A.O.: I used to think that every gender had responsibilities but now I know that there is a country where gender does not pertain to what jobs you get. I heard this when I listened to Ms. White – a Japanese woman that lives in DC and works for Mitsubishi Corporation – saying that in her company, no matter what gender you are, every person is equal and all the work is being done from the people who realize it has to be done.

Kan: I used to think history and politics are far from our daily lives. And I wasn’t interested in history so much but now I know that to learn and share the history are necessary to understand others and our own cultures. This is important because we need this knowledge to build friendship with other countries in the future.

Maxx (Michael): I used to think Japan was more of a diverse independent voiced country with a political system like ours but now I know that the Japanese or most of them at least are introverted and focused on respect within a system that doesn’t elect the president. For example most Japanese stay to themselves and apologize often but some like E. can see themselves as more and this is important because it shows courage to move forward and I saw this when H, E, and R step out of their comfort zones and step up.

Hiroto: I used to think that America experienced lots of historic events and doesn’t reflect on the things that happened. But now I think US thinks much of its histories and makes something to remember it. Because we saw a lot of monuments in D.C. and also were lectured about historical things by many people, so I felt a difference with Japan and my mind was changed.

Jeffrey: I used to think I knew all about World War II but now I know I didn’t and that there was a much deeper side to it. For example, I saw this when I went to the Holocaust Museum and learned about the countless people who perished along with forgotten cities and towns.

Yeysi: I used to think that I was in the deep of the iceberg but now I know that I can be over the sea level. This is important for me because everyday is an addition to my future and this program is changing my hold on the world. It is making me feel that I can do something for my community and improve the environment that I live in.

R.H.: I used to think a “restaurant” is a place where you have to buy something to stay, but now I know that there are some places that provide a comfortable space for free. This is important because the founders are thinking about customers’ real needs in first priority, and I thought free space is something that they should have in Japan too.

Kiara: I used to think that entrepreneurship was just about being your own boss and making fast money. But now I know that some local entrepreneurs don’t really do what they do for profit, but to make a change or create a safe space for their communities. I saw this when we had Free Minds come to us and Charles shared his background with us. Free Minds helps prisoners express their true feelings through creative writing and I think it’s wonderful that a woman would stop by a jail almost every day to help them with their different interests in literature.

Tempestt: I used to think that it wasn’t so dangerous in other countries, but now I know that mostly all immigrants move to the U.S. for safety reasons. This is important because I have met students from Cardozo High School that said they moved to the U.S. because it was dangerous to live in their home country.

Rio: I used to think that there is a big wall between white people and black people because I heard the news white police shot black, but now I know many Americans are very friendly even if their skin colors are different. I saw this when I was on the train. People were truly mixed and I thought that was my stereotype.

Ayane: I used to think if you make a mistake before, it will follow you your whole life, but now I know it will not. This is important because the story that we heard at DC Central Kitchen completely changed my mind. I had heard about second chances. I realized you can make your future by yourself. I really liked the words, “It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, what matters is what you are going to make right now.”

E.N.: I used to think that social entrepreneurs have a different goal for their future, but now I know they are all people who thought of a way to make a better society and worked towards it. This is important because I now know that anyone can be a social entrepreneur. If I start questioning my surroundings and think of a solution, I can become one too!

Kamashae: I used to think that justice could never and would never be served concerning the Black Lives Matters issue. Now I know that justice can be served, it’s just how you go about receiving it. This is important because all races/people should be treated fairly under the laws’ eyes. I saw this when our group talked with Ms. Mary Beth and how she kept saying how the voices of the youth are more effective in most cases than voices of adults.

A.O. – Day 10

Today was our last day being together working in America. From the early morning to 4 pm, we worked on our group and individual projects for our presentation about what we had learned through this valuable 2 weeks in America. Every Japanese and American took each other’s hands and we were able to create a fascinating presentation, which ended up with the DC students saying goodbye in Japanese.

Thinking that we are almost going to Japan is exciting but I also felt a little bit disappointed about the fact that we just have two more weeks to be together in this TOMODACHI program. Reminding myself about all that happened in the presentation we had today, I thought again how this program is providing us such a wonderful and valuable experience with all the exceptional programs our chaperones and founders got ready for us.

To be the last Japanese writer for the last day of learning together in America, I would thank everyone that is related to this exchange program. Thank you very much. Every minute, every second, changed our way of looking and thinking about things and most of all, changed the inside of ourselves.

Keio SFC High School

Kamashae’s Day 10

Kamashae blog jul 29Today was a very busy day! We met at American Councils and got started right away. We first focused on sharing pictures together so we can create our final presentation. We broke up into three groups of small presentations: American culture, big ideas, and a program overview.

We focused on highlighting the American culture in Washington, DC as well as the lifestyle Americans live. In the big lesson group, students focused on their personal take away from the programming in sessions we were given to be enlightened on Washington, DC history and a lot of social entrepreneurship and activism talks.

We also had some individual pieces of our presentation, including Tempestt Martin starting the presentation by greeting our guests as well as Elijah Davis being our host, introducing each group to have the floor and concluding the ceremony. The individual pieces also included different perspectives of poetry as well as just reflecting on their time being here in Washington, DC and/or their excitement to travel to another country.

I believe this final presentation was very much necessary because we have summed up everything from the DC side of the program including the perspectives of both Washington DC students and the Japan students.

Friday, July 29 was a very bittersweet day and I believe it came rather quicker than everyone expected. In the next couple of days we will be boarding the plane heading to Tokyo, Japan and it feels all unreal but I am ready for the road that has yet been paved in my life…

Shae Tolliver
Columbia Heights Education Campus

E.N. – Day 9

The lectures we heard today were very interesting for me. It was easy for me to relate to and also it gave me more ideas of what I could do to make my dreams come true.

In the morning, we went to the Halcyon House to listen to lectures from people who support social entrepreneurs. They told us that they believe in supporting individual entrepreneurs. By this, the individual entrepreneurs will feel confident with themselves and they will keep doing what they believe is positive for the community. They hope these things will inspire others to help the community in their way, too. I thought this shows connections between people in society. It is really important for people to know that they are part of the society and that they can do something to change it better.

Halcyon House4What I thought interesting was “The Thinking Room” for people who don’t work well in front of desks. I thought this was a great idea because there is a lot more diversity, compared to countries like Japan, in America. There are many different kinds of people and I think it is great to respect their ways.

Afterwards, they told us that everyone can be social entrepreneurs. We just need to identify the problem, then come up with a solution for it. For the solution, we need to put some creativity. Before, I had always thought it was hard to become a social entrepreneur, though after I heard this lecture, I thought I might want to start looking at things critically and questioning things to become a social entrepreneur. Also, I thought I should step out of my comfort zone more because you learn most when you make mistakes.

Halcyon Group shotWhen I heard his story, I remembered about the earthquake and tsunami that happened in Sendai, a few years ago. I was living in Australia when it happened so I was not directly affected by it. At first, I didn’t know how it affected people in Japan although after some time, I started to understand and think of what I could do. I thought that I could raise some money for it so I decided to collect money from my school and donate the money raised. I did a speech in front of the whole school to inform students about this disaster and I gave paper cranes that I folded to students who donated. A paper crane symbolizes hope and peace in Japan. I gave them these to show that it was a great help for my home country.

Also, when I was in Australia, I was in a community circle named St John Ambulance. There, I learnt some basic skills to help people who got suddenly hurt. I wasn’t able to continue it in Japan though I would love the opportunity to do some volunteering for my community again.

In the afternoon, we heard a lecture by Ms Mary Beth Tinker. She told us about equality, justice, and peace. I learned that children have power to change the society and they have more power to change the society than adults. When she read us a letter from a child who was bullied, I reflected towards my own experience. When I lived in Australia, I was bullied by people in my grade because I didn’t have an Australian citizen. Most of my friends turned their backs towards me and they wouldn’t talk to me at all. It hadn’t been long since I left Japan so most of my ways of thinking were “Japanese.” They weren’t the type of people who would say what they felt, strongly towards other people and I didn’t either. This led to being bullied and I couldn’t tell them that I was very hurt by their actions until I finally went to a friend who wasn’t involved in this and she went to get a teacher for me. At that time, I was scared to say my opinions out loud. Even after, I got bullied many times and I started to realize how important it was to say my opinions out loud to other people. Now, I try to say my opinions to other people because they won’t be able to understand if I don’t tell them with words.

Mary Beth TinkerIn this lecture, what stood out to me was how Ms Tinker told us that “Life should be fair.” She told us that life is supposed to be fair for everyone and we should fight for our rights. She fought for her rights herself when she was a child, and she went all the way to the Supreme Court for her case. She also told us that when someone speaks up for a better society, someone else even if it may not be during your time will appreciate for your doings. This gave me courage and I think now that I would want to step up and speak out to make the society a better place. A great example of that is Jehanne Darc. She is a girl from France who ran a troop. It was unbelievable at that time because she was young and a female. This didn’t stop her and she spoke up for her country. In the end, she was burned to death. Her ending was very depressing although people nowadays know her bravery. I admire her very much because she sacrificed her life to speak up. I want that courage, too and even if I might not be able to make a huge difference when I am in high school, I thought that I might want to at least give it a try. Making an impact to the whole school may be difficult though volunteering for the society might be something I could do. After all, like she said, “Little things can make a big difference.”

The last speaker was Mr Andy Shallal. He was a social entrepreneur who started a restaurant to connect people together. He wanted to make a space where people could discuss about the society.

In the afternoon of July 28th at the Busboys and Poets, the TOMODACHI group are gathered around eating dessert. We discussed about the society with Mr Andy Shallal during our time here.

In the afternoon of July 28th at the Busboys and Poets, the TOMODACHI group are gathered around eating dessert. We discussed about the society with Mr Andy Shallal during our time here.

One thing we discussed about that I took interest in was how young people communicate nowadays. Many use Social Networking Services (SNS) to communicate though I, personally, don’t think it is a good idea. While texting is a really easy way to contact people far away instantly, one can’t see their facial expressions. I think this leads to a lot of misunderstandings. Thoughts that one was thinking while texting the other, may not reach the other in the way it was intended. This, I think, is a really big problem which is why I like to talk directly rather than through SNS. Mr Shallal agreed with my opinion and he told me that the restaurant he made was a place where people could speak their opinions directly to one another and it was one of the reasons why he started the place. I was really happy to know this because it gave me a sense of connection and I felt more confident with my opinion.

In conclusion, I feel great gratitude towards the speakers of today. It gave me power to speak up my opinions and I am determined to discuss more about the society. I want to hear more opinions, too.

Keio SFC High School

Clinard – Day 9

Hello! I have returned to share with you. Today is 7/28/16 and I had an awesome day.

Halcyon House3During the morning time, we traveled to Georgetown and visited the Halcyon House, an incubator for social entrepreneurs. Ms. Danielle Reed gave us a tour of this house. The house was huge! There was lots of space to move around. I saw several offices where entrepreneurs commit to their work. I even stepped inside of their creative “thinking room”.

At the end of the tour, we spoke with one of the leaders of the fellows program. He spoke on what it truly means to be an entrepreneur and also what it means to be a “social” entrepreneur. He explained that everyone has the ability to make a change in his or her communities. His words really stuck with me and I am now determined to make change and to impact those around me.

Later on the afternoon, we went to the SAIS building and were given knowledge from Mary Beth Tinker. She talked about her experiences as a child. She spoke on the rights of children. She stated that the children are essential to creating a change in specific environments because they are very persuasive. She gave off positive energy and made it clear that we as teenagers can stand up for whatever we believe in. Ms. Tinker said that we have the power to make change in our communities. Her words were very empowering and I have also been inspired from her to make change in my community.

Group with Mary BethIn the evening, the TOMODACHI group traveled to “Busboys and Poets” to have dessert. I had a cheesecake and a hot mocha that was “cho oishii desu” or very delicious. While the group consumed their desserts, we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Andy Shallal. He was the owner of the establishment. He shared his thoughts on self-expression. He also informed us of African American history relating to civil rights. That was pretty interesting.

Busboys dessert2At the end of the day, I have walked away with the knowledge learned from the guest speakers that the TOMODACHI group has met today. After today, I plan to become more involved within my community. I now know that I have the tools needed to positively impact my community.

Clinard Smith
Eastern SHS

R.M. – Day 8

Zoo group cropIn the morning, we went to the National Zoo. I personally saw pandas, birds such as flamingos, owls, ducks, and Asian animals such as giant pandas, fishing cats. I’ve found so many differences between Japan and D.C. since this program started, but when it comes to the zoo, it was not so different from ones in Japan.

After we had lunch at American Councils, we learned about quilting, and drew pictures which are representing things we learned in this program, and ourselves. It was a little hard to think of something representing both this program and me, but I felt the possibility of our imagination or creativity.

Free Minds GroupAfter that, we met people from a nonprofit organization called Free Minds Books Club, which helps prisoners, mainly prisoners incarcerated when they were teenagers, to read books, write poetry, and restart their lives. I read a poem written by a prisoner, which was about his gratitude to his mother and his hope for his return to the society and meet his mother. It made me realize the importance of having the help of parents, and also it made me think of the reasons why people commit a crime.

At last, we ate dinner at a church in Columbia Heights, and learned mural paintings, how to sing rap songs, how to spin and mix music, which were completely new experiences for me. Many people, especially Japanese people, are likely to think of hip hop, or murals as uneducated culture in a bad sense, but I found that they were wonderful cultures, and to understand these cultures can help people to solve the problem of poverty.

Ryoto blog photoWBL-R-DJ WBL Group hiphopThe most impressive thing for today was that there are many arts or activities we can do with low cost, and it can sometimes help poor people or prisoners to restart their lives. Many people usually do not pay attention to such cultures, but I thought that we cannot understand the world without understanding of these cultures.

Keio SFC High School

Yeysi – Day 8

Today we had a day full of fun, at first we went to the zoo. It was surprising seeing that was the first time that Kan had a chance to see a Panda. At the zoo we had to interact with nature and animals that are very important for our environment and for our life, as well.

Quilting workshop2After that, we had a Quilting Workshop with Jacqueline Corbett Armstrong. The workshop was based on learning about quilts, specifically learning the language of the quilts and also to know deeply the expression that can be showing in every single quilts through images or words. Additionally, we drew our own quilt where we connect two countries; Japan and United States.

“We believe in the power of reading and writing to teach, build community, inspire individuals and change lives.” Those are some words that I found in the book “The untold story of the real me.” We received this book from Free Minds Book Club in the Workshop that they provided us. We heard inspirational stories that people with hard paths are having difficulties, however Free Minds is helping people in prison encouraging them to learn how to read or write and also to express their feelings through poems.

Free Minds1In our final activity we went to an activity of Words, Beats & Life: hip hop classes. We did fun activities where we learned about DJs, graffiti and rap. Those activities are a type of self expression. Every time, we had an opportunity to discover what are we interested in. It can be something that will make us someone in the future.

WBL Yeysi Rina GrafittiI know that every time that I stand up, I have to stand up for myself but I know that I also have to stand up for everybody because each of us needs to know, in fact, that we are the light in the dark and the one that has to make everyone feel like a someone.

Yeysi Rodriguez
Cardozo Education Campus

Christefer – Day 7

Anacostia River shadeIn the morning the group and I traveled to the Anacostia River. There we meet with a group of people from the Aquatic Resources Research Center. That’s where we saw different aquatic life they obtained ranging from blue catfish to long-nose garfish and from jumbo shrimps to diamondback turtles. They showed us an educational video that a local took with his son’s RC submarine and hooked a GoPro camera, and then he navigated the submarine through the Anacostia River to show what’s underneath the surface. This showed us how people can be neglectful and allow waste to travel into the river. We then got on a boat to traverse the river. We got a firsthand look on how sewage, chemicals, and bacteria affect the water.

In the evening we went to an elementary school to help teach kids about Japanese culture. We taught from grades kindergarten to 5th grade. We taught them origami, a Japanese song about frogs, Janken (Japanese rock-paper-scissors), and how to read and count in Japanese. Some of the classes we taught knew some things already about Japan like: their fast trains, what the red circle on their flag meant, and some of their fashion. At the end of the day it made all of us feel good to teach kids new things to introduce them to Japan, and also encourage them to study abroad and get them interested in our program.

Amidon TeachingAmidon teachingIn conclusion today was very influential to me. The trip to the Anacostia River has taught me more of how the locals around the area treat the environment. It influences me to help advocate proper recycling and disposal of waste. The evening activity with the kids helped me on a personal level. I love working with children and I never thought I would get a chance like this to work with kids. My working expertise may not be in the educational teaching to children, but I value my time helping kids.

Christefer Mitchell
Washington Mathematics Science Technology PCS

Hiroto’s Day 7

Today we went to the Anacostia River Experience and at first, we were lectured about environment with cruising along the urban river. Then we watched a movie about environment in the center.

Our main event today was a presentation for kids in Amidon Bowen Elementary School. I taught them how to make origami.

My most impressive experience today was learning about the environment at urban river because l thought that we have a similar situation in Japan. Tama River in Tokyo was polluted by hazardous substances made in factories, but people and government worked to solve the problem of pollution and then the river became more clear than before. We learned today that if you litter even only one water bottle, it will connect to the environment directly. So this urban river has such a problem and it will be better if people change their mind.

Can you see anything except nature?

Can you see anything except nature?

Hiroto Konno
Miyagi Furukawa Reimei High School

Kiara – Day 6

Hey guys! It’s Kiara. Today was a very interesting and beneficial day. We started off with getting into our designated groups to practice our presentations for students at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School tomorrow. After working on that for a few minutes, we sat down to a workshop on social entrepreneurship led by Scott Rechler, the co-director of LearnServe International, a program that identifies high school students with a passion for wanting to make a change in the world and provides them with the knowledge and beginning tools to transform their schools and communities-as well as themselves.

We all participated in an activity in which we wrote down what “pisses us off” in regards to our communities and the world in general. After creating our lists, we all got in groups and shared what we wrote. After sharing, Scott asked us to pick the one thing that makes us the most mad and create our own nonprofit organizations that could combat the problem we all chose. From this, I learned that entrepreneurship isn’t just about making money and being your own boss. A lot of entrepreneurs take the risk of developing their own brand just to make a change in what they and others see error in, whether it be in their own cities or the world. I also learned that making connections with other organizations is the best way to broaden your horizon and get your ideas into the public quicker.

In the afternoon, we went to Union Station to have lunch and visit the memorial dedicated to the Japanese-American patriotism in World War II. Topaz, the internment camp in which Mary Murakami and family were transferred to in 1942, was one of the 9 other inscriptions of the other camps on the walls. Quotes engraved on the semi-circular granite complement the statue of the Japanese cranes wrapped in barbed wire, perched on a tall, square pedestal.

A beautiful but hot day in Washington, DC highlights the beauty and sophistication of the Japanese cranes- one part of the memorial dedicated to the Japanese-American patriotism in World War II.

A beautiful but hot day in Washington, DC highlights the beauty and sophistication of the Japanese cranes- one part of the memorial dedicated to the Japanese-American patriotism in World War II.

After taking a few pictures near the memorial, we walked to the DC Central Kitchen to learn more about how the organization came to be. We then heard the background story of Angelo, one of the chefs at the kitchen. He told us about the time in his youth where he was a mid level drug dealer, serving 13 months in prison before deciding to start cooking at the kitchen per his probation officer’s request. His story reminded me about the power of second chances and how amazing your life can turn out to be despite the past challenges you’ve lived through.

DCCK Group Photo cropAfter taking a tour of the kitchen and listening in on a class, we went to the National Portrait Gallery to rest and speak about our final presentations.  Amazing ideas and reflections were shared among my group members and I honestly can’t wait to see what we make from our combined experiences throughout this program.

Our final activity was at the Marriott, where we heard the owner of the hotel and an employee speak on their past. The general manager, Thomas, spoke on how the loss of his brother only pushed him to succeed in life, dedicating everything he does to him in order to give him the motivation to keep working. We then heard the story of one of his best employees, who had only been in the United States for 3 years and working at the hotel for 1 year. She explained that the “American dream”, to her, is about finding an opportunity for yourself as an immigrant to have a fulfilling life filled with honest work in America.

Marriott group shotWell that’s it for now. I’ll see you guys soon. Take care <3

Kiara McRae
Dunbar SHS