Collaborative International Events by the GSE Program and Legacy Foundation Japan

Over three days in June 2023, Kyoritsu Women’s University’s Global Studies in English (GSE) Program and the Legacy Foundation collaborated provide international exchange opportunities to students from Japanese and American universities. The Legacy Foundation Japan was founded in 2020 and is dedicated to empowering the future of African Americans and people of African descent in Japan. The Foundation’s mission includes education and relationship building to bridge communities for positive changes while building stronger mutual understanding with Japanese and other nationalities residing in Japan. These goals are strongly aligned with the GSE program that seek to empower students to actively live in our global world by expanding their knowledge of a wide range of societies and cultures while developing their intercultural and linguistic competencies.

To celebrate Juneteenth (officially Juneteenth National Independence Day), the Legacy Foundation sponsored a group of American students from the Coahoma Community College’s Gospel Choir to visit Japan. While in Japan, they performed their heart moving songs at various places. Juneteenth is an important moment in American history and marks the journey towards independence for all Americans. While many people remember the American Civil War (1861–1865) as ending America’s history of slavery, it is not as straightforward as that. During the Civil War, on September 22, 1962, President Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation. From January 1, 1963, slavery was abolished. However, the ongoing Civil War between the Union (free states) and Confederacy (slave states) continued. The news of freedom was slow. The actual end of slavery in the United States came at different times as the Union army brought news of the Emancipation Proclamation to the former Confederate states in the South. The news of freedom for enslaved people in Texas came on the historical day of June 19 (Juneteenth), 1965 when the Union army enforced emancipation of Texas’ enslaved population. That is the short version of how to Juneteenth holiday came to be for Americans.

Juneteenth is a time of celebration for the US. In honor of Juneteenth, Professor Sarah Asada worked closely with Legacy Foundation’s Executive Director LaTonya Whitaker to develop a series of events to create opportunities for genuine connections between Japanese and American students. From June 14 to June 16, 2023, three events were held to provide opportunities for students from Kyoritsu Women’s University (KWU; Japan) and Coahoma Community College (CCC; USA) to learn more about each other’s countries and culture through various activities.

Day 1: “US-Japan Joint International Seminar” 

On June 14 (Wednesday), Kyoritsu welcomed the Coahoma students to the Kyoritsu campus in the heart of Tokyo for the “US-Japan Joint International Seminar”. First, students from Asada’s GSE Seminar provided a tour of the Main Building. The American students were very interested in the food offerings of the Kyoritsu Cafeteria and tried out some Japanese snacks and drinks from the Kyoritsu convenience store. The chicken bites (karaage) were a hit! On the 11th floor, Everyone also wrote wishes for the Star Festival (Tanabata) display by the Faculty of International Studies. Then, everyone headed to Building Two to join the many Kyoritsu students waiting in the classroom. Over two hours, students discussed many topics and learn about the similarities and differences of the United States and Japan. By noontime, everyone was quite hungry after a morning of fun. Dean Nishiyama and Ms. Whitaker offered kind words of welcome while President Kawakubo kicked off the welcome lunch with a kanpai. After lunch, everyone parted ways. Groups comprised of American and Japanese students jumped on the subway and headed to the streets of Tokyo, exploring the sights and tasting the food of Shibuya and Harajuku. After a long but exhilarating day of adventures, everyone gathered in Yoyogi to dig into a hearty welcome dinner of yakiniku while chatting and having fun.

【Comments from student】

On June 14th, I went to Shibuya with American students. I would like to share about my wonderful experiences. Our group had four Kyoritsu students and two American students. After the lunch with other students and teachers at Kyoritsu Women’s University, we took the subway to go to Shibuya. We saw Hachiko Statue and went to Shibuya 109 to take Purikura. After that, we went to Harajuku to eat crepes and see Meiji Shrine.

It was the first time that I spent time with people who did not speak Japanese at all, so I was very nervous. Also, I had worried if we can guide them to Shibuya and if the American students can enjoy the trip because I do not have much confidence to speak English. However, I am sure that we explored Shibuya well, and they enjoyed the trip very much. I could not catch what they said a lot of times and relied on translate on the smartphone, so I realized that I need to practice listening English. However, when the American students want to buy something and paid money, I accompanied them and translated what store person said. I could ask the American students if they needed a plastic bag or not, did they want to use what they bought soon after buying, and so on. I gained confidence that even all by myself I could help people from overseas and felt very happy. Also, when we took Purikura, they were surprised by how they were changed in a photo. They were amazed by the beautiful nature of Meiji Shrine and took photos. I think we had a great sightseeing trip.

What I can’t forget is that one of American students told me that this group was the best group, so I felt relieved and very happy. These words and memories will keep shining in my heart.

China Hamazaki

【Comments from student】

For dinner, we went to a Yakiniku restaurant in Yoyogi with the American students. Usually in my university life in Japan, I do not have many opportunities to interact with foreigners of the same generation. Therefore, it was a great international exchange experience for me. Sharing dinner together gave us a chance to talk about our eating habits and personal lifestyles.

Although their clothes, hairstyles, and appearances are completely different, I made many American friends through spending time with them because I knew the same artists and we were in the same groove.  After the meal settled down, the American students sang a gospel song, and it was a sight to behold as about 20 students sang in unison. I had no knowledge of the meaning of the gospel lyrics, but I was very moved by the passion and beautiful singing voice that they conveyed. I was surprised that the American students who had just been talking together became artists in an amazing moment. I had little confidence in my ability to speak English, so after this international exchange, I feel that my confidence in speaking English has increased. Also, I had a lot of fun with other Kyoritsu students from other years.

This project was a wonderful experience, and it helped me to improve my motivation to study the language of English. I would like to actively join international events like this one in the future.

Ran Suzumura(a first-year student in the Master’s Program in International Studies)

Day 2: “International Company Visit” 

On July 15 (Thursday), Kyoritsu and Coahoma students were paired and headed to various international companies throughout Tokyo. The day started bright and early at 8:30am in the hotel lobby. Professor Asada helped students make their groups and gave last minute advice for each group embarked on their journey. The company visits offered opportunities to promote intercultural understanding and collaboration in professional settings. After the visit, many groups enjoyed a lunch together before continuing to other activities.

【Comments from student】

I’ll tell you about my impressions of the international exchange event and what I learned. First of all, the reason I participated in this event is because I want to communicate with people of the same age from different countries.  At the time of the entry to university my only goal was to join the Faculty of International Studies and improve my vocabulary. I think the significance of studying at university is that first of all we gain knowledge. However, everyone has their own goals and objectives beyond that. For example, it could be to get the job they want, to discover something new, and so on. I wanted to communicate, to share my country’s culture and my own ideas, and to help others. When you want to contribute to something or communicate, the language is what you can use. In fact, I could demonstrate this during this international exchange company visit, and I could also speak positively with international students. I was particularly interested in the company visits because I wanted to go to an actual office, learn about what it is like to work and hear from people who actually do the work.

Next, I would like to talk about two things I learnt and felt from participating in the company visit. The first is about the work. I learned that Salesforce, which I visited, provides customer support in a variety of fields. Universal design was incorporated into the company, and everyone was comfortable regardless of gender, nationality, or age. It was a good opportunity to think about issues, such as gender equality and racial discrimination, as well as the nature of work. I also enjoyed the combination of company visits and international exchange. Although some of the staff members who guided us around were Japanese, we heard explanations and asked questions entirely in English, so it was a good learning experience. The second is the difficulty of conversing with native speakers. In university classes, there is often a theme to discuss, but there is no theme and what is asked is not decided in natural conversations. It was difficult to construct sentences with appropriate words and expressions and communicate them to others. There are words and phrases that are unique to local residents, such as “honorific language” and “young people’s language” in Japanese.

It was a very valuable experience visiting a company with an American student, and I would like to continue to actively learn from what I learned.

Moeha Naruse

Day 3: “Juneteenth Celebration at the US Embassy”

On July 16 (Friday), the American students were invited to perform at the US Embassy in Tokyo as they are also a Gospel Choir back home in the US. The US Embassy graciously invited Professor Asada and Kyoritsu students to join the invite the Embassy’s Juneteenth Celebration. During the event, we learned a brief history of Juneteenth. Then, we were treated to the main event: the Coahoma Gospel Choir. Indeed, we felt of power of music. In particular, gospel music has a long history in the US for African Americans. Ms. LaTonya Whitaker shared her wealth of knowledge and singing with students in Professor Asada’s class in 2022 (see 【国際学部】Special guest visit by Ms. LaTonya Whitaker(“Topics in US Society”, Prof. Sarah Asada) | ニュース | 国際学部 | 学部・短大・大学院/教育 | 共立女子大学・短期大学 (kyoritsu-wu.ac.jp)).

【Comments from student】

Students from Coahoma Community College had a performance at the American Embassy on June 16th. They were dressed up for it, so their atmosphere was different from the last two days, and they all looked fabulous. First, it was a precious time and a wonderful experience to visit the American Embassy and listen to gospel music. I was surprised that the Embassy was involved in this event, and most of all, I never expected to visit the Embassy in this way. I also didn’t expect to cry that much, but their voice and singing were so moving that it made me cry. It was the first time ever I had that feeling, and I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere. They sang some songs, and especially, “Glory” was a memorable song for me. I felt that they were particularly emotional to sing this song. On the way home, I searched the lyrics I remembered and learned that it was a theme song of the movie “GLORY.” I am going to watch this movie this summer. Furthermore, while it made me cry more, I was delighted that they gave me hugs after the performance. I spent three days with them and knew it, but I felt their kindness and warmth once again.

Honestly, I did not heard of “Juneteenth” before this event. I searched on the internet about it and learned that it was important and a big step to have an interest in and understand the word and the history of “Juneteenth.” This event gave me a chance to know about it, and I am glad that I gained so many experiences in addition to the knowledge I gained.

Lastly, I am so glad I could attend this international exchange event. It is one of my experiences that will last a lifetime and a memory I want to cherish.

Izumi Yuge

The 2023 GSE and Legacy Foundation International Events were successful. There were many opportunities for interactions and authentic discussions between American and Japanese students. We all challenged our ideas of the world and ourselves. Professor Asada and Ms. Whitaker would like to express sincere thanks to the Kyoritsu students for their true omotenashi and Coahoma students for their passion in understanding Japan and moving our hearts with their singing talent. Finally, these events would not have been possible without the support of Kyoritsu Women’s University. Thank you to all who made these events become a reality!

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