Delmar’s Homestay

From rice ball snacks, to really hot baths, my homestay experience in Japan was amazing.  Leading up to the trip, I had been very excited for the opportunity to live with a Japanese family.  I had already met my host brother when he visited in D.C. and was excited to meet his family and experience Japanese lifestyle.  My host family was extremely hospitable and I was always comfortable, but also felt that I was able to adapt to the way they lived during my brief stay, and hopefully was able to contribute to the family.

My host family was composed of my host brother, who I had met before, his little, very cute, 8 year old brother, and his mother and father.  It just ended up being that their family was very much like mine, as I have a little brother the same age.  The family was also really into soccer, which I love, and was a great way through which we had something in common.  Together we watched the Japanese national team take on the very capable Dutch, in an international friendly.  As we watched I found myself cheering and exclaiming as much as everyone else, as together we cheered on the Japanese side.

Having had a homestay experience in Shanghai, China, I was curious to compare that experience with that of mine in Japan.  My two experiences were quite different.  My family in Shanghai only had one son and lived in a small apartment in the center of the city.  My family in Japan, lived in the outskirts of Tokyo, with a small, very local train line running through the town.  The town was more of a residential neighborhood than an actual town as there were very few businesses, besides a restaurant or two, a supermarket and a dry cleaner.  However there was a real sense that I was in a Japanese neighborhood.

My host family lived in a two-story house on top of a hill, which although unpleasant to walk up each day, proved worth it as there was a view of Mt. Fuji when the weather was clear.  Each morning I would awake and go eat breakfast, often being able to marvel at the mountain from the dining room table.

Breakfast varied as sometimes we would eat more traditional food, and other times more Western.  It was explained that many families nowadays do eat more Western food for breakfast, like cereal or an egg. However, rice balls and miso soup still frequent the meal. Overall this was the case with all of the food while with my homestay family.  The food in general was very Japanese, with lots of miso soup and rice, but more Western dishes were also served.

Like the other participants will tell you, it is common for Japanese families to take warm baths at night.  The family will heat up some water in the tub, which will be used by everyone in the family.  Each person has their turn, rinsing off before entering the bath, where he or she can relax in the water.  Although quite different from what we are used to in the U.S., the experience is truly relaxing, as after a long day, before going to bed, you can just lie down in the tub and enjoy the warmth of the water.

My experience with my host family was one my favorite experiences of the trip.  I had a wonderful time getting to know my host brother’s family and trying to involve myself as much as possible in their lifestyle.  From rushing to school in the morning, eating a rice ball snack, or taking a bath at night, I felt that I had a good taste of how many Japanese people live.  Still, I know that I was not able to completely have the Japanese experience as I was only with the family for a short time, but still I think that I learned a lot.  Hopefully, I will have the chance to learn more.  I will have to go back!

Delmar Tarrago
School Without Walls

The Keio Experience

From the jam-packed bus that took us to the school, to sitting in a statistics class with the teacher lecturing in Japanese and students falling asleep, spending time at the Keio High School was one of my more memorable experiences during my time in Japan. I had been really looking forward to meeting and interacting with Japanese students my age and most definitely had this opportunity while at Keio.

“Does every American family have a basketball hoop in their driveway?” I was asked. Although sometimes shy, students were very welcoming and wanted to learn more about the U.S. and practice their English. I had a great time trying to give them a sense of my life back in D.C. while learning about theirs in Japan.

Besides meeting and hanging out with students my own age, I enjoyed experiencing Japanese high school. In terms of how classes are run in Japan, there are a few major differences from how they are run in the U.S. First off, each grade is separated into different groups, 6A, 6B, 6C, and so on. Each group has about 30 students and has its own classroom. Instead of the students moving from class to class, with different students in each class, like it is in the U.S., the group of 30 students remain in their classroom for the entire day, with teachers coming to this particular classroom to teach. I found this very interesting because this is typically how an American elementary school is run. Once in middle school, and especially in high school, classes are more divided by skill level, and students are given more freedom to select their courses. Because of this, different students will be in different classes and students must move from class to class, with teachers having their fixed rooms.

I also noticed that many of the classes in Japan consist of a teacher lecturing with a powerpoint. I know that in the U.S. we have really come to value hands-on projects and a more engaging classroom environment. I had never really thought much of this until experiencing class in Japan. There, the teacher stands up and lectures for the entire period, at times referring to a powerpoint, but rarely asking questions to make the experience very engaging.

I can’t really say that the American high school “style” is better, nor that the Japanese is either, but merely noticed these differences while at Keio. Because school is such a big part of our lives as students, we are very used to school being run the way it is, in my case, the American way. While experiencing Keio, it was refreshing to get to see a different high school experience, one that although different, I am sure would be fun as well.

Delmar Tarrago
School Without Walls

November 15th – UN Global Compact

Friday, November 15th was a packed day for us as we rushed around Tokyo hearing from different organizations and companies.  We first heard about the United Nations Global Compact Network and its involvement in Japan. The United Nations Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles. These ten principles deal with a respect for human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption. By agreeing to this compact, business can help ensure that markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere.

We also heard from a representative of the Kirin Group, a company best known for its beverages, especially its beers. Now one may ask why it was that our group, all underage, was hearing from a representative from this company, but of course there is a reason. The Kirin Group has been committed to the recovery in the Tohoku area and so we heard about its efforts in that regard. The representative, Mr. Shiraishi, is the General Manager of the Kirin Group’s “Corporate Shared Value” department, which looks to improve the competitiveness of the company while simultaneously creating value for society by addressing social issues.

I found this presentation to be especially interesting. The Kirin Group makes about 2,186.1 billion yen a year, which roughly equals 21 billion U.S. dollars, so having the opportunity to meet with someone who works with such a large corporation was special to me. The Kirin Group is also one of the largest sponsors of the Japanese soccer league, and of course, I like soccer. Because of the Kirin Group’s large involvement in the Japanese soccer community, one of the ways through which the corporation gives back to the Tohoku region is by running soccer camps and workshops in the area. However, what I found most interesting was their support of Tohoku through their “Hyoketsu Wanash” alcoholic beverage. This RTD (ready to drink) alcoholic product is special in that it uses the Japanese pear (Wanashi), a product of Fukushima.  According to the Kirin Group, due to misinformation, Fukushima’s agricultural products have suffered from falling prices and declining sales. By selling this drink, Kirin hopes to portray the Fukushima area, and its products, as not only delicious, but safe, thus revitalizing the area’s economy.

Delmar Tarrago
School Without Walls

Keio University

On Tuesday the 12th, the group had the opportunity to visit Keio University’s Shonan Fujisawa Campus.  We had already visited the Keio High School, located on the same campus, but this time were going to hear a series of lectures and discussions from professors from this school.

The lectures were interesting as we learned about the school’s GIGA, Global Information and Communication Technology and Governance Academic Program, which is taught in English, and heard about interesting “Tomodachi” stories, stories about U.S.-Japan relations.  When not hearing about these, we had the opportunity to have a tour of the campus, given by current international students, as well as eat with these students in the university cafeteria.

The Keio University Shonan Fujisawa campus is much like a college campus in the U.S.  It is not in the middle of the city and instead is in the suburbs.  As we walked on our tour, trees were displaying their fall colors and many students were sitting or playing around while eating lunch.

The Keio University has six campuses around Tokyo, but the Shonan Fujisawa campus is the only one that we visited.  The university was founded in 1858 by Yikichi Fukuzawa, who can be found on the 10,000-yen note.  Now, the entire Keio University, between all of its campuses, has a total enrollment of 33,481 students, 1,203 of which are international students.  Fifty-seven of these are from the U.S., so studying at Keio could be a possibility for some in the group.  We met some of these international students as we ate lunch with them in the school cafeteria.  The food was good and the students engaging as we asked them about their lives in Japan and their experiences going to Keio.  Overall these students agreed that the experience was different but they all appreciated the experience that they were having.

After eating, and after receiving a tour of the campus, we headed off to our last lecture.  This lecture, given by Professor Naoyuki Agawa, who had actually lived in Washington, D.C. for a while, was about the history of U.S.-Japan relations.  This was especially interesting to me as I like history and am interested in U.S. relations with other countries.  Instead of giving a broad history of events between the two countries, he instead spoke about very specific, but very interesting, and often funny, exchanges between the two.  He told us about when samurais were taken on a U.S. tour in 1860 and how the youngest of these samurai, “Tommy” Tateishi Onojiro, became very popular in the U.S.  He also told us about Yamakawa Kenjiro, a president of Keio University, who had been a samurai who eventually attended Yale in the United States.  His stories were interesting and I enjoyed hearing about these events in U.S.-Japan relations.

Overall our experience at the Keio University was great and with most students in the group having a couple years until college, Keio University is now on their radar.  As everyone enjoyed the trip, and are interested in returning to Japan, attending Keio University may be the perfect opportunity to do so!

Delmar Tarrago
School Without Walls

Rescuing Little Blue Riding Hood

On Saturday I saved Little Blue Riding Hood from the Big Bad Wolf, brought color to a black and white world, and heard “La Cucaracha” sung in Japanese.  An eventful day, no doubt.  It was the Cultural Festival at Keio SFC High School, where our hosts go to school, and much was going on.  The event was full of performances from different clubs, plays from the older students (12th graders) and my favorite: interactive adventures from the younger students (10th graders).

In Japan, school is a bit different.  Each grade is separated into classes (6A, 6B, 6C, etc.), each with their respective classroom.  Instead of students moving around to different rooms, as is done in American high schools, the teachers are the ones that come to these classrooms.  This being said, students form very strong bonds with their fellow classmates as they spend almost all of their classes with these 30 or so other kids.

During the festival the fourth grade classes (the Keio equivalent of 10th grade) put on different “interactive adventures”.  In the first one that I visited, I was on a quest to save Little Blue Riding Hood, who was currently in a quarrel with Little Red Riding Hood, and had also been captured by the Big Bad Wolf.  I had to shoot the birds that were “being too annoying” with a rubber band gun, complete a riddle, and kill the wolf that had abducted our blue-caped friend.

The fourth grade classroom had been divided into smaller rooms, decorated with scenery and all, and actors that gave the participant (me) a task to complete in order to move on to the next room.  By killing the birds I was given stones with which to kill the wolf, by solving the riddle I was given the wolf’s weakness, his stomach, and with this I could proceed to the final room and finish the deed.  Sure enough I was greeted by a 15-year old dressed up as a wolf, and lo and behold, Little Blue Riding Hood tied to a chair!  The stones (really balled up pieces of paper painted gray) became quite handy as I had to throw them into a shoebox taped to the wolf’s stomach, thus finishing the mighty beast once and for all.  Little Blue Riding Hood was saved and I was assured that he would go on to mend his friendship with Little Red Riding Hood.

This was one of the interactive adventures that a class had put on.  The students had come up with the idea and planned and set-up the entire experience, complete with costumes, scripted lines, and riddles to solve.  Another adventure involved a “manga world” where everything was in black and white.  My goal was to bring color to this colorless, and mute (because there’s no sounds in comic books) world.  I started off in the black and white room, but by solving riddles moved from room to room, each with a different color, in order to make the world colorful again.

Whether while saving Little Blue Riding Hood or while bringing color to a black and white world, I really enjoyed my experience during the Cultural Festival.  The interactive adventures were incredibly creative and fun, making me wonder why we don’t do this in the U.S.  It must have been a lot of work for each class to organize and prepare for their interactive game, but they had their day to shine as I traveled from room to room, solving riddles and restoring order, fully impressed by their work.

Although the interactive adventures were my highlight of the festival, I also saw many different clubs offered at the school, and through each I got a better picture of Keio SFC High School.  I heard the choir club sing, with songs ranging from “Tomorrow” from Annie (in English) to “La Cucaracha” (in Japanese).  I tasted the amazing baked goods from the cooking club, or saw students in the Karuta club play the traditional card game.  As I experienced all of these I was met with smiling faces and welcoming people.  Although I knew that this was a special event and that school would not be like this, I was excited to go and attend class with my host brother and experience the clubs for myself and make friends with these fun and creative people.

School Without Walls

DC Students Finally In Japan!

After months of anticipation, we are finally in Japan!  We’ve only been here for a couple of days and D.C. already seems so distant.  Just a couple days ago I was going to school, eating Chipotle, doing my everyday routines, but now I’m an ocean away in the land of the rising sun.  Now ramen and sushi pervade the menu, futons replace beds, and Japanese is spoken wherever I go.

Our trip to Japan wasn’t the easiest, however.  Like any good trip there were passport troubles, missing luggage, and of course a super long flight.  On a more serious note, there was also the incident at LAX.  But these didn’t stop us as we made it safely to Japan.

So far in Japan I have been really struck by the trust and safety that I sense from the society.  It is an interesting contrast as just before coming we experienced the aftermath of a violent incident in the U.S., but are now living in a country known for its safety.  I had heard the statistics about crime (or lack of) in Japan before our trip, and I can totally feel this safeness now that I’m here in Japan.  What has struck me most is that bikes are not locked up.  Everywhere that we have been I have seen bikes parked on the sidewalk and never are there locks on these bikes.  This has been incredible to me!  I ride my bike in D.C. and leaving it unlocked, even for a mere minute would be unthinkable.

Another trait that I have noticed about Japanese culture and society is a sense of responsibility within Japanese people.  From the very first day, while walking about, I had immediately noticed that there is very little litter on the streets, but at the same time, there are practically no trash cans.  I was confused and asked Shinobu, one of the Japanese coordinators on the program (she spends a lot of time with us and is super helpful and great!).  She explained that if people have trash while out, they merely wait until they get home to throw it away.  A logical thing to do, I guess, yet I cannot imagine the U.S. functioning in this manner.  Perhaps this sense of responsibility is connected in some way to the safety that I’ve also noticed in Japan.

Various times throughout the trip people have asked me about how Japan has compared so far to China.  To answer simply: they are completely different.  In China I was in Shanghai, and although a large city like Tokyo, streets were not as well paved, traffic was chaotic, trash could be found on the sidewalk, the differences were many.  Japan, at least from what I have seen from Tokyo, appears to be much more organized.  At times there are no sidewalks in Japan, but traffic gives way to the pedestrian and one does not have to constantly look over one’s shoulder in case of incoming vehicles.  Buildings are well built, compact, and very few have looked run-down.

Japan has been very impressive so far as not only have the tourist attractions amazed me, but the society has as well.  The city is well-kept and is as modern as any other, yet seems to be one of the safest that I have ever visited.  When entering shops you are always greeted and after purchasing something, always thanked, maybe even bowed to (the other day at 7-11 the man at the cash register gave me a full-on 90 degree bow after I bought some ice cream; nothing like the U.S!).  People have been friendly and a deep sense of respect for one another can be seen in the society.  I have found Japan to be very interesting and feel that I have already begun to notice many different things about the culture and society, yet only a couple of days have passed.  So far the program has been amazing as I’ve experienced a lot, learned a lot, and know that there is still much more to come.  I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to take part in the program and become part of the larger Tomodachi family.  I look forward to spending the rest of my three weeks in Japan learning and experiencing another culture in order to understand a society that has really impressed me.

Delmar Tarrago
Tokyo, Japan

Meeting Akira

On Sunday November 3rd we met with the staff from the Akira Foundation and headed out. It was our first time meeting the staff and although we knew that they would be running the Japan-side of the program, we did not know much about who they were. Of course, they were friendly and ready to show us around and so after introductions and a brief run-down of what we could expect during the next couple of weeks, the group, joined by our new friends, Hirofumi, Atsufumi, Megumi, Ken, Sosha,  and Marina, went out to enjoy Tokyo.

We set out for Akihabara, a district in Tokyo known for its stores selling electronics.  As it was already midday we decided our first stop should be lunch.  With different people wanting to eat different things, the group split up into two. One, incidentally all of the males, went to eat sushi, while the other, all girls, went to eat more traditional Japanese food.

When Americans think of Japan, we often think of sushi. However, as I soon learned, sushi is not a common dish, and instead is something that is eaten only occasionally, maybe once or twice a year.

We sat down on stools surrounding the conveyor belt that rotated in a circle in the center of the small, compact restaurant. In the center of this conveyor belt there was a chef preparing the sushi, working masterfully, as he responded to special orders from knowledgeable customers.

As plates moved past me on the conveyor belt, I had no idea what was what. However, I picked whatever looked interesting and soon was stacking plates high. How this sushi bar worked, and how many do in Japan, is that the color of the plate indicates the price of the dish. Patrons stack their plates on top of each other as they continue eating. Once finished, a waiter will count up your total based on the amount of plates that you have stacked up and the colors of these plates.

Delmar Tarrago
School Without Walls

Delmar’s Summer Reflection

More than a month has passed and the TOMODACHI U.S. portion of the exchange is long gone.  It feels like forever ago since I walked the streets of D.C. accompanied by 11 other amazing students.  However, as each day passes, it also means that I am one day closer to going to Japan and being reunited with my 6 Japanese friends, while being immersed in a culture that is not my own.  Despite not having been to Japan yet, I still have experienced and learned a lot from the program so far.  From Congress halls to elementary school classrooms, I had the opportunity to see many parts of D.C. that I would not have seen otherwise.  I learned, toured, and even participated in an array of programs that worked for social change in my community.  Sure I had heard of D.C. Central Kitchen, and the name Mundo Verde might have rang a bell, but with the TOMODACHI program these names became much more than names as I found about how and why these programs operate.  I helped teach a class at Mundo Verde, I prepared food at Martha’s Table, I saw the workings of a solar powered house at Catholic University, and I truly became involved in these programs, even if just in a small way.  I was no longer a mere bystander in the struggle for social change, and I did all of this while laughing and smiling, and having a great time with my American and Japanese friends.

I remember walking into American Councils on the very first day of the program wondering how the next couple of weeks were going to play out.  Still, a month later, some days seem like a blur of amazing activities and experiences, but it is safe to say that the program was a success (and I haven’t even gone to Japan!).  I met a group of out-going, lively, energetic, and open-minded students that I had the pleasure of working and spending time with.  Many of these students did not look like me and did not have the same experiences as me, yet the 12 us got along very well and learned a lot from each other.

Some of my favorite experiences from the program were my interactions with my Japanese counterparts as we spent time together and explored the city.  We take our daily lives for granted, just assuming that what we do is normal, but little do we realize that what might be normal for us, might be different and perhaps even strange for people elsewhere.  As cliché as this might sound, it is honestly true, as I know for a fact that very few times do I actually sit down and reflect on why it is that I live my life the way I do.  With the Japanese students visiting D.C. however, I had an opportunity to see my culture through their eyes, and hear their observations on a lifestyle that I live each day.  “You let your guests just serve themselves?” they would ask in disbelief.  “Why are there so many American flags throughout the city?”  “Why are portions so big?” “There’s so much space!”  As they asked questions I would ask myself for these answers and begin to think about things that I hadn’t thought about before, even if these were things that I would experience near-daily.  Why are there so many flags in D.C., and in the U.S. in general?  Oh, it’s because we like our country.  Wait, why do we express this patriotism by hanging flags on our buildings?  Why is it so widespread?  What does the flag symbolize?  Don’t flags in other countries symbolize the same thing and have the same significance?  They don’t?  And thus the dialogue was created not only within myself, as I began to think about my culture, but also with my Japanese friends as I tried to give them answers and as they fed me information that not only helped me understand their culture, but also mine.

Despite whatever differences our two countries might have, there is also much that we have in common.  As a teen I have hobbies and interests that I enjoy, and of course teens across the globe, including Japan, will have similar passions.  Throughout the program students pulled out their Ipods, sharing headphones, as they showed each other what kind of music they enjoyed and what kind of music they were familiar with from each other’s country.  I saw this universal appeal of music in a picture perfect moment while visiting Words Beats & Life, a hip-hop non-profit in D.C.  The DJ was showing us how to mix music and as his hands moved back and forth on the turntable, the group, Japanese and Americans both, bobbed their heads as they stared intently, watching what he was doing.  Nobody dared to speak, entranced in the music that he was playing.

One of my interests is sports, and one of these sports is Frisbee.  I remember very well taking a lunch break with the group and pulling out a Frisbee from my backpack.  The second that the Frisbee made its appearance, people’s eyes lit up, not because people had had experience playing Frisbee before, but because the game could appeal to all.  Moments after I had unveiled the disc, the Frisbee was soaring in the air as the whole group cheered and laughed as we passed the Frisbee in a circle.  It was experiences like this one that perfectly characterized our group and our cultural exchange as we were so quick to work together and to have an amazing time as a group.

I also found our visit to Congress to be an outstanding experience from the program.  As we walked through the halls of Congress, with interns and representatives zipping  to and fro from meetings, it was quite amazing to think about what makes up D.C.  The federal buildings, like the Capitol, is the part of D.C. that is immediately thought of when mentioning the city, but until then, it was a part of the district that had felt pretty distant to me.  As I stood in one of the most important buildings in the country, I couldn’t help but think about how different it was from the rest of the city.  Sure, I had known that there was a stark divide between the federal aspect of the city, and the part of the city that I more so call my own, but actually being in the Capitol and seeing the suits and ties and our lawmakers walking by, really drove this point home.  Being in the Capitol felt like being in another world, one quite different and quite distant from D.C.  I really enjoyed meeting Representative Mike Honda from California, not just because of what he said, but because of the experience that surrounded it.  We stood outside of an Appropriations Committee meeting, waiting for him, and sure enough he appeared.  He was not tall and presidential like, but still he commanded attention as he talked and answered our questions.  He went straight to the point and made sure that his position was clear on each issue.  Our question and answer session, which was merely our group huddled around him in the hallway, was cut short however, as Mr. Honda had to rush back into the meeting to vote.  This really left an impression on me, as Mr. Honda was able to take the time out to talk to us, leaving a meeting to do so, and having to return to vote on a decision that would affect our nation.

I’ve had an amazing experience in the program so far, and I know that our trip to Japan will not let me down.  I’ve made such amazing friends not only with my fellow D.C. students, but with a group of six kids that live an ocean away in Japan.  I look forward to stepping off the plane and setting foot in the land of the rising sun, and being able to say “I’m here!”.  I look forward to meeting the rest of my host family and seeing how they live, as I know that as similar as their life might be, there will also be many differences.  Overall, I am excited to be around the hustle and bustle that makes up their everyday lives, whether it is during a touristy visit to a famous location, or during my commute to school.  As the Japanese students saw when they visited D.C., the everyday happenings that we take for granted can be so interesting for someone coming with an outsider’s perspective and it is these daily experiences that I look forward to while in Japan.  The U.S. portion may have come and gone, but I know that our trip to Japan will be here before I even know it.

Delmar Tarrago
School Without Walls
Washington, DC

DC Day 10: July 31, 2013

From SW to NE, we’ve been crisscrossing the city.  On Wednesday we met at Brookland Station, in NE, to visit the Catholic University School of Architecture.  We toured the solar-powered house that they were building for the State Department’s solar decathlon, a competition between various college teams to see who can build the most cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive home.  After touring the house, and seeing the architecture department of the school, Professor David Dewane presented a lecture on his work.  Mr. Dewane was very enthusiastic and spoke extensively about a variety of topics including the need for our generation to make change.

After his passionate talk, we ate lunch at the Catholic University cafeteria and headed on to Columbia Heights.  In the heart of Columbia Heights there’s a small, public charter school named Mundo Verde (Green World).  The school stays true to its name and uses a curriculum focused on sustainability and English and Spanish bi-literacy.

At Mundo Verde we had the opportunity to teach a class.  We divided ourselves up into three groups, each with two Americans and two Japanese.  One group taught the kids Japanese games, another origami, and the last a Japanese song.  I was in the group that taught them a Japanese song.  The song was easy to learn, and quite catchy, and before I knew it, it was stuck in my head.  I thought it might be hard to teach the kids the song, given that they didn’t know any Japanese, but they caught on quickly and we soon were singing the song as a round.  The origami group worked away with their group of kids, as they folded the pieces of paper into hats and animals.  The Japanese game group laughed and shrieked as they cheered for their friends.  All in all the experience was a breath of fresh air as, instead of being talked to and someone else leading an activity, we were the ones in charge, and we were all having a lot of fun!

Had it been a “normal” day, Mundo Verde would have been the last stop and it would have been time to go.  Instead, we walked further down the block to Words, Beats and Life (WBL), a non-profit urban arts academy that uses hip-hop to transform lives and communities.  I knew that the Japanese students were very excited to visit this non-profit and I was excited as well, as WBL is a program that I participate in and I wanted to show off the amazing experiences that I’ve had with the program.  We heard from the director, Mazi Mutafa, about what WBL does, and then had the opportunity to engage in the classes themselves.  On that day, WBL was offering a graffiti/muraling class, a breakdancing class, and a DJing class, and we were encouraged to sample the different classes and participate in them.  At first, I thought that the Japanese students might be shy, but instead, they jumped right in.  They clutched the spray can with determination as they spray painted Japanese characters for “friend” and “love”, they bobbed their heads as the DJ showed them how to mix music, and stood in awe as the break-dancers leapt and spun.

I was proud that the Japanese were having such a great time at a program that I participate in, and I was proud that WBL could see me with my Japanese friends.  The sight of the group huddled around the turntables, as the DJ mixed rap with every single genre possible, was a great display of cultural exchange and cultural bonding.  It was clear that the music he was playing transcended any cultural differences that we might have.

They left with WBL t-shirts, which they’d wear continuously for the upcoming week, a testimony to the great time we’d have.

I noticed that each group was having a lot of fun teaching the children. Although the idea of teaching small children had originally seemed daunting and tiresome for some, everybody left happy and refreshed, as the kids were cooperative and fun to play with.  Who knows, maybe some of the participants are future teachers?

Wednesday was one of the longest days of the program, but arguably one of the most fun.  It was a day largely composed of arts.

Japanese students spray painting Japanese kanji next to Americans spray painting American letters.

Japanese students bobbing their hands to the music mixed by the DJ.

Arts as a bonding force, universal impact.

Delmar Tarrago
School Without Walls
Washington, DC

DC Day 5: July 26, 2013

We changed things up this Friday and met at School Without Walls (or Walls for short), where we’ll often meet from now on, instead of going to the American Councils office.  I was excited as even though I knew no students would be there, it is my school and I felt proud and excited to go back and show my new Japanese friends.  “Why such a strange name?” I was asked.  “You mean you don’t have a gym or a field at school!?”

Once settled in, a panel of experts came and talked to us about issues in U.S.-Japan relations.  Three organizations were present as well as a student our age that had traveled to Japan in the past.  Not only was the panel interesting and informative, but it also made me excited to go to Japan from what I was hearing about their experiences there.

After the panel discussion and a quick lunch at school we all walked to the White House.  I’ve been past the White House many times, often moving on quickly in order to avoid the large crowds of tourists, but today I became one as we all took a group photo in front of the White House.  The Japanese students were struck by how small the White House was, as they had already had a mental image of a large building symbolic of the United States.

A short metro ride later and we were in a very different part of the city.  No longer were we surrounded by tourists and important government buildings.  Now we walked past people just hanging out on the street, a Hispanic lady selling drinks, and overall just a whole lot more diversity.  We were in Columbia Heights, going to the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC).  Yet again I was very excited as I wanted the Japanese students to experience and learn about Latin American culture and its presence in the United States.  In the past week they had seen neighborhoods that were predominantly African American and compared these to those that were not, and they had heard bits and pieces about the Latino population in the U.S., but they hadn’t really had a chance to see it.  Now we were in the colorfully painted building, comparing Japanese culture not only to American culture, but also to Latin American culture in the U.S.  Before long a circle was made and participants in LAYC performed different Latin American dances and even the director of the program was coaxed in to dance a little.

Being Latin American myself I was proud to see the Japanese students having such a good time dancing Latino dances and comparing cultures.  A theme that we’ve discovered during our time together is the diversity found in D.C., and the Latin American community is a fundamental aspect of this.  Today, I was glad that they were finally able to experience another group of people that make up the United States and compose its mixture of cultures and colors.

Delmar Tarrago
School Without Walls
Washington, DC