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Help 2000 students from US & Japan connect online!

by Kizuna Across Cultures
Help 2000 students from US & Japan connect online!
Help 2000 students from US & Japan connect online!
Help 2000 students from US & Japan connect online!
Help 2000 students from US & Japan connect online!
Help 2000 students from US & Japan connect online!
Help 2000 students from US & Japan connect online!
Help 2000 students from US & Japan connect online!
Help 2000 students from US & Japan connect online!
Help 2000 students from US & Japan connect online!
Help 2000 students from US & Japan connect online!

The fourth Global Classmates Summit took place this past summer and we are excited to share some highlights from the program! Global Classmates Summit selects a handful of outstanding students who participated in Kizuna Across Culture’s virtual exchange program to participate in various activities that deepen their mutual understanding and collaboration over the course of ten days. For this year’s Summit, sixteen high school students (eight from the US and eight from Japan) were selected from a pool of 1,864 participants of our virtual exchange program in the previous year. The past three Summits took place in Washington, DC; however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Summit took place virtually this summer.

During the Summit, students met with internationally minded leaders, discussed and deepened their perspectives through discussions and team building activities. In addition to the themes of "cross cultural understanding," "U.S.-Japan relations," and "public diplomacy," this year's Summit addressed issues facing the international community today, such as "learnings from the pandemic" and "anti-racism and international society.” The Summit concluded with a group presentation via a webinar where participants shared their learnings and presented their proposals for building a brighter future for U.S.-Japan relations and the international community.

It must have been disappointing for the participants, who were looking forward to getting together in Washington, D.C. However, we were so impressed with the positive attitudes and the desire to grow that the students brought to the Summit. It was great to see high school students meeting for the first time in a virtual environment, juggling a hard schedule, overcoming language and cultural barriers, and growing together. It was also valuable experience for us in a time when the use of the virtual space is becoming the new normal. Although there are certain hurdles inherent in the use of the virtual space, we believe that it is possible to deliver experiences that deeply resonate with young people, especially those who have had limited opportunities to do so up until now.

Below are some of the student comments regarding their Summit experience:

US Students:

Through the Summit, I gained a much better understanding of how U.S.-Japan relations are important to many aspects of our lives and governments. I'm interested in filmmaking and writing and my experience at the Summit taught me how to integrate my passion for Japanese culture with this career path. I was able to strengthen my leadership and communication skills and build strong relationships with the other participants. I learned a lot and made some great friends!

 

Even though we were not able to meet in person, we took advantage of ways we could interact with each other online through Zoom, Facebook, and LINE. During the Summit I gained a wealth of knowledge from the guest speakers as well as my fellow participants in regards to U.S.-Japan relations. I also realized that I can contribute to international affairs even if I don't aspire to be a diplomat. I was able to connect with other passionate students and build a community of young people who are motivated to promote U.S.-Japan relations.

Japanese Students:

I have always wanted to be involved in the international community, but I didn't know how to do it. Listening to the stories of those who work in the field has strengthened my desire to contribute to today's globalized society and has broadened my perspective on how to do so. I had hoped to become a public servant, but I also learned that there are many other possibilities, such as being involved in projects that cross national borders, private company's overseas expansion, or public diplomacy, which gave me new things that I want to try in my life.

I became aware of the stereotypes that I had formed without realizing it and the fact that I had been judging others based on stereotypes. Through discussions between Japanese and American participants on topics such as "wearing a mask during the pandemic," "uniforms," and "images of each other's culture," I was able to see how our differences in values and ideas arise from differences in our backgrounds. As a result of my participation in the Summit, I feel that I am now better able to communicate my opinions to others and can think more flexibly and deeply about things from different perspectives.

Holding the completion certificate
Holding the completion certificate

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Since September 2012, Global Classmates, a 6-month bilingual virtual exchange program for high school students in Japan and the United States, has connected over 10,000 students! This year will mark our 9th program with 37 school pairs (74 high schools in total) and approximately 1,900 students.

As we witness the world being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and so many opportunities for youth being limited, we are feeling a renewed sense of purpose in the opportunity our program provides for students to engage with their peers abroad online. We understand that coming up with ways to have students continue their activities from home in case of a school closure is a challenging task; however, as we have accumulated knowhow to run a virtual exchange over the years, we feel confident to provide a meaningful experience at a time like this.

Powered by e-learning technologies, Global Classmates brings quality international exposure to a large number of youth with limited prior international experience and cultivate their readiness and desire for proceeding to advanced international opportunities, while engaging them in U.S.-Japan relations. The curriculum is built on three pillars: cultural exchange, collaborative language learning, and fostering international friendship. Below are some of the feedbacks we received from last year’s students.

Students in Japan:

  • The special topic "Let's get over the difficulties," which was created due to the ongoing situation of the Coronavirus, was what made me especially glad to have participated in the program. I was feeling lonely and anxious because of the sudden cancellation of school and club activities. But when I saw so many words of encouragement from the students at my partner school, Clarkstown High School, I felt united with them and my anxiety and loneliness eased and I felt a little better.
  • The experience of seeing how the daily life of American students were all completely new to me and what I considered ordinary culture and customs were unusual to my partner classmates made me realize that the world is much bigger than what I had imagined and full of fun new discoveries. I also realized that despite the differences in language and culture, there are many people around the world who share your thoughts and interests and this big world is connected as one like a chain somewhere. My desire to have more fun conversations has made me even more motivated to study English.

Students in the US:

  • One of the topics we discussed on Global Classmates was recycling, and another was tech use. It was striking to recognize how similar our concerns were. It was heartbreaking, but also deeply hopeful, to see how much the problems of the new millennium have affected everyone of my generation. Concerns about climate change, technological advancement, online safety — they’re ingrained in all of us. But what that means is that we can all play a role in fixing those problems. And many of our dreams are the same too — we want to go to school, we want to be with our friends. Many students connected over playing similar instruments. I suppose those similarities are to be expected, but it’s really striking to see them in practice. What Global Classmates made me even more determined to do is to work on the basis of positive shared experiences in order to solve shared problems.
  • I've been able to see that the Japanese students are actually very similar to us and so I no longer feel intimidated to talk with them. I’m really enjoying being able to connect with them and become friends!

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We just wrapped up another successful year of Global Classmates! We reached a major milestone of connecting over 10,000 high school students in the United States and Japan since the inception of our virtual exchange program in 2012!

We also had the largest number of participants we have ever had, with 1,894 students from 70 high schools (35 from each country), while also achieving the highest student satisfaction rate of 97%. We are so thankful for all of the dedicated teachers who worked with us to ensure that the students had an outstanding experience and the supporters who made this program possible.

Over the duration of the program, students discussed a wide range of topics such as “favorite food,” “favorite music,” “if you could have any super power,” “bucket list,” and much more. One of the more unique topics covered this year was “Funny Story, Weird Story, Scary Story” by Southwest High School (Minnesota) and Naru High School (Nagasaki). The students shared many different stories such as a time a Japanese student was chased by a wild boar on her way to school to an American student getting a bad haircut that made him look like Willy Wonka and voted on what they thought was the best story. It was a great way to share many unique stories and bond with one another.

There were also pairs that engaged with one another in a different way from their usual discussion topics. Students at Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan (New Jersey) posted messages of condolences in a special topic to their partner school Ueda Nishi High School in Nagano, which was impacted by the typhoon. Students exchanged messages like “we hope you are okay” and “my family and I are safe. Thank you for thinking of us!”

Below are some testimonials from student participants:

U.S.

  • It gave me a great chance to get to know the Japanese culture from people my own age. It also made me reconsider to continue studying Japanese because making new friends from other countries despite the language barriers will be great.
  • I was able to learn a lot about Japanese the language, but more importantly, the culture that's different from mine. This program connected me with students from the other side of the world in a way that I'd never imagined happening. It was truly a unique experience as I'm sure that I would never have this same opportunity elsewhere.
  • With the other teens I had interacted with, we were face to face, which is also good, but the online format made continued contact a lot easier. I could think about what I was going to say and how to say it as well as check certain words in a dictionary to make sure I was communicating effectively. 

JAPAN

  • By interacting with American high school students who are my age, some of the values I had changed. Also, because we exchanged comments in English and Japanese, it made me not afraid to make mistakes and I became less hesitant to use English.
  • I learned about American culture and traditions and gained new values and new ways of looking at things. Before, I found it difficult to express ordinary actions in English but participating in the program improved my communication skills and my ability to express myself.
  • I had always wanted to interact with people from other countries but never had an opportunity to do so. Through this program, I was able to interact with people from another country for the first time. I learned a lot about American schools and culture and it was really fun.

The comments from the students and the results of the Exit Survey show what we have been able to achieve – countless young minds and perspectives have been transformed!

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We always learn something new when we visit classes participating in Global Classmates. Be it innovative ways teachers incorporate the program into their curriculum or the various skills and knowledge students are gaining from talking to their partner classmates across the Pacific. Our recent visits to some of the high schools in the US participating in Global Classmates this year were no different.

Our Vice President Shanti Shoji visited Alhambra High School in California and met with the teachers and students participating in Global Classmates. The students were working on their “omiyage” gifts to send to their partner school in Japan and making cute origami Halloween cards! Ichise-Sizemore-sensei told us, “I love that my students are able to connect with teens in Japan and use the Japanese they learn in my class in a practical way. It means a lot to them to be able to talk with the students in Japan and learn from them.” 

At Marble Hill School for International Studies in New York, the students were working on posting comments on the discussion topic “My Best Travel Memories.” They were having fun sharing photos and memories of their travels to various places like Disney World, Niagara Falls, and Washington, DC, while reading about Japanese students’ school trip to Hiroshima, Osaka, and Kobe. How great to get an insider travel tips from their peers!

At Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Maryland, we were able to hear from the students and Ogawa-sensei directly the amazing impact the program has been making on them. Participating in Global Classmates not only brought confidence to the students in their Japanese language abilities, but it made connecting with Japanese people and using the language no longer intimidating. The experience allowed some of the students to feel comfortable enough to pursue next-step opportunities to engage with Japan, such as applying to go to a university in Japan and go on a summer exchange program to Japan. As one student told us, “I’ve been able to see that the Japanese students are actually very similar to us and so I no longer feel intimidated to talk with them. I’m really enjoying being able to connect with them and become friends!”

We are so thankful for all of these passionate teachers who are doing an amazing job facilitating the program and making a huge impact in the students lives. The program would not be possible without them!

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Global Classmates Summit 2019 took place in Washington, DC from July 25th to August 3rd. The twelve high school students (six from the U.S. and six from Japan) were selected to participate from a pool of over 1,700 participants from KAC’s virtual exchange, Global Classmates, the previous year.

One student from the U.S. had grown close to one of the students from Japan through the Global Classmates virtual exchange. For six months, they had talked to each other on various topics and found common interests, even sending a small gift to one another as part of the Omiyage Exchange project. They were so surprised when they were both chosen to participate in the Summit and were so excited to be able to actually meet in person. The friendship they cultivated online was able to blossom into a bond that will last a lifetime.

During the ten-day Summit, students lived under the same roof and participated in various activities, ranging from teambuilding exercises to meeting leaders and experts in the field of U.S.-Japan relations. At the end of the program, participants presented on what they learned, and shared their thoughts on building a positive future for U.S.-Japan relations and the broader international community.

Coming from very diverse backgrounds, it took the students some time to figure out how to effectively work with one another. However, it was that diversity and their ability to be vulnerable and open with one another that allowed them to develop close bonds with one another, showing tremendous growth as a group and as individuals. Many students also had their own breakthrough moments. For example, one student from Japan who once thought he would never be able to study or work abroad due to his family situation is now determined to find a way to come to the United States to study. Another student from the U.S. who was on a path to become a dentist because that’s what she thought she should do, is now set on following her true passion which is furthering her studies of Japanese and working in international relations.

Below are some of the student voices regarding their Summit experience:

US Students:

I learned so much at the Summit, not only about various topics that we discussed with professionals, but about myself. I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses and how I am able to contribute to this team, my community, and the world. I made lifelong friends that I consider family, and I think if it weren’t for this experience, I would be a very different person. I am excited for the future. I am excited for how I can make a difference and I am excited to see how my fellow participants do the same. As I face many new and challenging situations in the future, I know I have everyone that was beside me in this Summit to look toward when I need inspiration and to lean on when I need support.

Not only did I learn valuable skills that are career related like networking and speaking to experts in their field, but I also learned how to understand and connect to people from cultures very different from mine. Career wise, this Summit made me so much more interested in government and possibility getting a job in diplomacy. I’m so glad I got to have this experience, and it is one I will remember for the rest of my life.

Japanese Students:

I learned how amazing it is to be yourself and accept each other’s differences. At the Summit, we all accepted each other the way we are. We were able to become a family because we all expressed ourselves and at times opened ourselves up to be vulnerable. I think it is because of our differences that we were able to work together and create something amazing. 

This experience transformed the way I think about things. Through participating in activities such as an unconscious bias workshop that made me realize how the world is full of people in various circumstances to having engaging discussions with other participants who have diverse viewpoints, I was able to broaden my perspectives. It was also fun to share a room and learn a lot about each other’s cultures.

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Organization Information

Kizuna Across Cultures

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @KACultures
Project Leader:
Ayako Smethurst
Washington, DC United States
$12,050 raised of $15,000 goal
 
104 donations
$2,950 to go
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