2014-15 TOMODACHI U.S.-Japan Youth Exchange Program

June 03, 2015 at 11am - 2pm
Charles Sumner School

The 2014-15 U.S. delegation pose for pictures following their presentation at the Charles Sumner School

On June 3, six American high school students who participated in the TOMODACHI U.S.-Japan Youth Exchange Program gave a presentation about their experience in Japan to an audience in Washington, DC that included parents, teachers, friends and program staff. The event marked the conclusion of a successful second year of the exchange program, which focuses on leadership, diversity and social entrepreneurship and brings together DC public school and Japanese high school students for a two-week program in each country.

The reception featured an exhibition consisting of items the students brought back from Japan, mementos from their homestays, and photographs capturing the picturesque landscape in Watari-cho and other parts of Tohoku. A centerpiece of the exhibit was a handmade quilt comprised of individual panels created by the students during the DC portion of the program, bearing images and symbols of U.S.-Japan understanding.

This quilt comprised each participants' visualization of U.S.-Japan bilateral ties.

During the presentations, students reflected on topics like food, places they visited in Japan, cross-cultural differences and Japanese cultural norms. Gabrielle Towson also stated that meeting with Japanese American leaders was a highlight of the DC program. “One of my favorite parts of the program was getting to talk to World War II veteran Terry Shima,” she said. “He showed us that you can still be loyal to your country while having pride in your culture. He was really inspirational.”

Throughout the presentation, the students conveyed the emotional dimension that resonated with them during and after their visit to Tohoku. Malaika Coleman recalled the Takasago High School in-house museum being the most impactful part of the trip. “There was even a clock that was recovered that had stopped in time at exactly the moment the tsunami hit,” she said. The students came to the conclusion that the kemushi, or caterpillar, represents the best way to approach the aftermath of adversity, because the kemushi always moves forward.

Two alumni from the 2013 program were also present and recounted their journey to Japan as a lesson that spoke to the unique relationship between disaster and humanity. Delmar Tarrago thought the exchange was a way to gain insight on the various implications of natural disasters. “New Orleans and Tohoku now have an identity associated with these disasters,” he said. “However, this exchange gave me insight on the concept of moving on, and how we can all choose to commemorate disaster, but also have hope.”

2014-15 participant Micah Guthrie (right) shows souvenirs and mementos from their stay in Watari-cho and Tokyo

The event included an introduction of the newly selected 2015-16 participants. The presentation ended with a ‘thank you’ poem written by this year's participants. The closing line captured how life-changing the U.S.-Japan exchange was to the students: “Thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone, for my new international friends, [and] for investing in my future.”

See more photos from the program here.

The program blog can be found here.