Student delegates to represent US in Japan

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Twenty-three students and two faculty members will be taking an all-expense-paid trip to Japan in December — not as a vacation or a study abroad program, but as participants in the Kakehashi Project. This is Occidental’s first year participating in this program.

The project is supported by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japan-U.S. Educational Commission to foster understanding between American and Japanese students by facilitating an exchange of culture between the two nations. International Programs Office (IPO) Executive Director Robin Craggs said this will be done through a variety of activities that will focus on Japanese history, politics and culture.

Just what these activities will be, however, remains a mystery. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to send the IPO or the student participants an itinerary of their activities or even where in Japan they will be going, according to Craggs. Despite this lack of information, students do know that they will be spending one of their eight nights in Japan at a homestay.

Diplomacy and World Affairs Professor Derek Shearer informed the IPO of this opportunity over the summer, according to Craggs. IPO then earned a recommendation from the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles for Occidental to participate in the program.

Michael Ozaki (first year) said he is most excited about experiencing the homestay and practicing his language skills. He is enrolled in Japanese classes at Occidental and volunteered at the Keiro Intermediate Care Facility in Los Angeles, a retirement center for Japanese senior citizens, during high school.

Dean Jorge González and Japanese Professor Motoko Ezaki will be traveling with the students. González has traveled with classes over the past 20 years to places such as Mexico, Spain, Vietnam, Germany and France. He said he is interested in the economic development of Japan and the demographic challenges it faces, but he is most excited for the bonds that will develop between the faculty and students.

Students interested in being a part of the Kakehashi Delegation had to go through an application process including three essay questions. Eighty-three students applied for 23 spots, said Craggs.

Students range from first years to seniors and come from a wide variety of majors, which is reflective of Occidental’s academic diversity, according to Craggs. This breadth of experience is seen through student’s motivation for participating in the program.

Kelly Fitzgerald (sophomore) grew up in Hawaii, but her family emigrated from Japan. Her family cooked traditional Japanese food and spoke the language while she was growing up, Fitzgerald said. She is looking forward to meeting new people when she gets to Japan.

“The fact that every single person has their own stories, background, likes, dislikes, family is so crazy to me,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s just going to be amazing to be immersed in a different culture in a different language and to meet different people.”

Anthony Quach (senior), a double major in biochemistry and economics, is interested in continuing his studies on-site. He was unable to study abroad during a semester due to his schedule, so he looks at this program as a substitute.

“In international economics, we studied the rise of Japan as a powerhouse and the problems it was facing and the successes it experienced,” Quach said. “I thought that it would be interesting to go to Japan and see firsthand what about the economy allowed it to grow so much and what about it interested economists internationally.”

Chelsea Blankenchip (junior) has been taking Japanese for eight years. Language, however, was not her primary motivation for going to Japan. As a biochemistry major, Blankenchip is interested in learning more about Japanese science programs. She also wants to experience Japanese culture that she learned about in class.

“I’ve been spending so much time devoting time to this language and this culture that it feels hollow not to go and experience it first-hand,” Blankenchip said.