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.

M.I.
Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School

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.

M.I.
Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School

Favorite American food so far!

S.U.

My favorite food I ate during the stay in Washington, DC was crab cakes. I ate it at Alexandria beside the river and I was looking forward to eat it ever since I came here because my host family was recommending me it day after day. We sometimes eat crab in Japan but we don’t often, so it was good filling my mouth with crab.

Y.Y.

The highlight of my dinner was the delicious pizza with onion and mushroom. I still remember the crisp crust and the melted cheese filling my mouth.

S.S.

My favorite food I had over the stay here was a chili dog from Ben’s Chili Bowl, a combination of chili and hot dog that we never get to see in Japan.

K.Y.

My favorite food has been Philadelphia Cheesesteak so far. Compared to other kinds of sandwiches, they have higher but better taste. I would love to bring them to Japan for my friends if it were possible.

T.M.

I liked the African American soul food. I especially liked the BBQ ribs because it was big and had a lot of sauce on it. I also liked it because it was strongly flavoured.

M.I.

On my first day of this stay, I got to eat Azerbaijani food which my host mom made for me. My host mom, she experienced Peace Corps at Azerbaijan, so she made exactly how her host family in Azerbaijan taught her how to cook. Lentil soup, soup made out of green vegetable, and some Azerbaijani tea. These were a completely new eating experiences for me.

Learning US, Learning Japan

Today was the first day we started our activity in the School Without Walls. After we prepared ourselves by moving our desks in a circle, we first discussed the program for Japanese lessons for elementary students scheduled in the afternoon. I think it was a great opportunity also for the students from DC because after the Japanese students came up with some activities, Japanese students lectured about some Japanese expressions and games to the DC kids. Soon after that, we got to hear from our first guest, James Jones, the Communications Director of DC Vote. DC Vote is an organization that fights for full voting representation in Congress for the more than 600,000 residents of the District of Colombia. As he explained the history of DC, we learned that since Washington D.C. was made as a federal district, residents in DC literally have no right in US House of representatives. They get to vote for their own representative in house, only she actually has no right to say the opinion in house. I found it very interesting because it was a great example of factors what makes DC very special and different from any other cities. These facts were things that I wouldn’t know about if I hadn’t come here. I was really surprised that residents in DC struggle with this problem because voting rights are what Japanese obviously have when they get to the certain age.

Our next guest was Operation Understanding DC. They are an organization that prepares leadership development programs to promote more respect for black and Jewish people in DC community. Their workshop included two very interesting activities; first, we hold someone else’s hand, each hand with different person, then we had to untangle our hands. Second, we split up into three groups, and each groups got two cards with the name of different groups of people written on them, like Christians, Black people, or teenagers. Then we came up with stereotypes toward those group of people. We realized that we done our second activity very quickly, which meant that we already knew many stereotypes toward those groups of people, and we are unconsciously using these knowledge when we judge someone. Living in one of homogeneous nations, Japan, it is more difficult to notice such diversity of people and stereotypes we have toward them so these activity opened my eyes to those facts.

After lunch, we all took metro and went to Malcolm X Elementary School, where the next activity took place in. If I would name the morning we just had as ‘knowing US activities’, the afternoon activities more focused on Japanese culture. Malcolm X Elementary is one of these Freedom Schools, that students are from not very wealthy families. It was interesting though to hear that one of the aim they are trying to achieve is to help kids to gain knowledge just like the black people whom participated in lunch counter sitting-in on 1963 had. In other words, black people at that time could take action to fight against discrimination because they were educated to do so. And one of the important things they have learned earlier should be ‘non violence’. Since we already learned about this event when we visited the Museum of American History a few days ago, this example was understandable for us; it was one of these great moments that we could connect something new with what we have learned earlier in this program. Anyways, after we were taught about the Freedom School policy, we split up into two groups and gave 30 minute lessons of Japanese culture to each of two different groups of 1st grade students. Our group taught Origami and some games. Afterwards, we all went to the cafeteria, and we sang some songs together and moved our bodies along with rhythms and lyrics.

Overall, we had fun teaching small children, and at the same time, we learned a lot from children. We could see that kids enjoyed learning new things, and we were surprised by how quickly they learned them. To be honest, it was very difficult to teach something to kids, or even just to get their attention. However, we also realized that once they were interested in something, they can really concentrate on that topic, and they can absorb many things. By seeing their smiles with origami hearts and cranes they have made, and by hearing them saying some Japanese words like ‘konnichiwa’ or ‘arigato’ that they have learned, we could be proud of ourselves that we could help those kids to take a very first step into learning different cultures and international mind set.

Our last guest today was Rock Newman, a boxing promoter. We noticed his enthusiasm and passion by the way he talked, and he explained his own background about stereotypes, using some good examples. The most outstanding example was about a black man who married with Chinese woman, lived in China, and was discriminated by Chinese people, just because they were ‘afraid’ of black people by the image they had in their mind about black people. As I summarize today’s activity, I came up with one of these absolute key words of the day: stereotypes. From the workshop by OUDC and Rock Newman’s story, we have learnt that we can not get rid of stereotypes and return to pure minds like kids in Malcolm X Elementary had, but at least we need to be aware of them.

M.I.
Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School