Hosted a cultural exchange program for AAI and Japanese scholars in NYC

By Ajani Balde, Student Relations Team
March 1st, 2019 — Ashinaga USA, which has welcomed Japanese Ashinaga scholars once a year since 2017, hosted a cultural exchange program for two AAI scholars and two Japanese Kokoro-Juku scholars visiting the US on February 24 in New York City.

The Japanese scholars Yukie Toyoka who studies English communication and Chikako Nozaki, a liberal arts student with interests in history were accompanied by Kokoro-Juku staff member Shu Yanagishima. They were visiting several universities in the US, including Harvard and Princeton University as a prize for winning an English speech contest in Japan. The AAI scholars who assisted were Pepe Sibandze who studies aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and Molefi Bakang, an entertainment arts major at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

This is the second time a cultural exchange program was held between AAI and Japanese scholars, the first one taking place in February, 2018 in Boston. The purpose of these events is to connect AAI scholars with Japanese scholars and allow them to share and learn from each other, creating a wide and strong worldwide network of Ashinaga scholars from different backgrounds.

The program began on February 23, when both AAI and Japanese scholars arrived at their accommodation in Union City, New Jersey, a 15 minutes bus ride to our new office in NYC. Through sharing accommodation and meals together it was our hope that the scholars could form a strong bond beyond their shared status as Ashinaga scholarship recipients. Later on the 23rd, the scholars went to the local super market and bought ingredients to prepare dinner together.

On the morning of February 24, the group arrived at midtown in Manhattan, there they took turns to talk about their lives as scholars. The Japanese scholars went first and covered their lives in Japan, living at Ashinaga Kokoro-Juku, and the year-round activities they participate in including Tsudoi and Bokin. The AAI scholars talked about their paths to university; from being interviewed at the Japanese consulates in their home countries to study camp in Uganda, coming to the US and adjusting to their new lives and participating in Tsudoi.

After the program, scholars went on a field trip including Grand-Central Station, Times Square, and Central Park. After walking around the park and catching the train by The Museum of Natural History, the group headed to South Ferry to take the Staten Island Ferry. A true highlight for the scholars was seeing the Statue of Liberty while being trailed by dozens of seagulls on the Hudson River, complete with a beautiful backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.

Overall, this was a great experience for both AAI and Japanese scholars. Having two AAI scholars who didn’t know each other very well meet with the Japanese scholars helped their bonding. They shared many moments of laughter and personal stories. They were able to learn from each other and their experiences as Ashinaga scholars.