Class Photo

Instructor Mia Kimura reflects on students of this year’s Stanford e-Hiroshima course.
Stanford e-Hiroshima Class of 2023–24 Stanford e-Hiroshima Class of 2023–24

A class photo is like an optical illusion. From behind the orderly, pixelated representation of this group of students, I can’t help but see the depths and nuances of their minds, courageously shared over the last six months spent in class together. As this year’s course draws to a close, I’d like to share a little about the course and this year’s students, focusing on a few unexpected qualities they demonstrated. I’d especially like to share some of their voices directly.

Stanford e-Hiroshima is a course which introduces aspects of U.S. culture and society to high school students in Hiroshima Prefecture, designed by SPICE, in collaboration with the Hiroshima Prefectural Board of Education in Hiroshima, Japan. Conducted in English over six months, the course is comprised of seven, online “virtual classroom” sessions, followed by an extensive final research project. By examining the United States through the four broad lenses of diversity, entrepreneurship, peace education, and environmental issues, as well as from two specific perspectives of Japanese history in the United States, and the Hiroshima–Honolulu sister city relationship, students are invited to draw comparisons between various facets of the United States and Japan. The ultimate mission of Stanford e-Hiroshima is to provide students with the ability to glean from fresh perspectives insights and learnings relevant to their own goals and visions for the future.

Now in its fourth year, Stanford e-Hiroshima 2023–24 commenced in September 2023 and will conclude at the end of this month, February 2024. The 29 students enrolled are first- and second-year students from 17 different high schools in Hiroshima Prefecture. They are all Japanese nationals, and several have had prior international exposure through participation in programs such as Global Miraijuku and Empowerment Program, or through homestays in Australia, Canada, and the United States. At the onset of the course, however, the majority of students expressed their concern about their ability to communicate in English.

To participate in Stanford e-Hiroshima, applicants are required to write two essays, one describing their personal goals, and another analyzing a current social challenge and describing their vision for a more ideal society. Student candidates are selected from among the applicants by the Hiroshima Prefectural Board of Education based on two criteria: clarity of purpose for joining the course, and desire to solve a social problem. Following the course Opening Ceremony, held on September 2, 2023, Mineko Kobayashi, Teacher Consultant with the Hiroshima Prefectural Board of Education, described this year’s students as impressively motivated, based on their active participation during the ceremony.

My wish for these students going forward is the same as my expectations of them in class: independent thought and 100 percent participation. I’d like for every student to find and speak their own truth, and to experience the joy of their truth being heard.

As instructor of Stanford e-Hiroshima 2023–24, I’ve had the privilege of observing and interacting with this group for nearly half a year, both in our virtual classroom and through weekly assignments and discussion boards. In an introduction to the course, I asked the students to focus on practicing skills and learning together, and highlighted my commitment to creating a space where differences such as in English language ability are respected. While I believe that there will be a place in education for translation services and generative AI tools, there is a policy against using them in this course, and there has been nothing more gratifying to me than seeing a student articulate their thoughts in front of the class, or reading a student’s unique stance written unabashedly in non-native English. These students’ strength of belief and determination to communicate just radiates off the screen and page.

In these students, I’ve observed several qualities such as being well-mannered, respectful, and hard-working. The students are exceedingly respectful of me as instructor, of our guest lecturers, and of each other. They are also respectful of schedules and deadlines. Students may not have been able to attend class due to other commitments, but no student ever showed up late to class. School work, part-time jobs, club activities, leadership roles, extensive interests and hobbies fill the plates of these students to the brim, and yet they consistently show up with their assignments complete, and full of enthusiasm to engage. These are wonderful qualities not to be taken for granted, however, there is a certain precedence for them based on my many years of interactions with Japanese students.

I’ve also observed three qualities which came as a surprise:

  1. Directness of expression. A high tolerance for ambiguity and tendency to minimize disruption is encoded in the Japanese language through, for example, its nuanced use of the passive voice, or sophisticated double negatives. Perhaps by virtue of their using English, this year’s Stanford e-Hiroshima students have surprised me by their directness. Their enthusiasm is unveiled in the use of simple, direct expressions such as “I believe,” “I think,” and “I don’t agree.” These expressions are substantiated by the use of specific, concrete, well-researched, and well-cited examples.

  2. Hunger for diversity. During the third virtual classroom we welcomed Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu to speak on the topic of “Diversity in the United States and in Japan.” The students were quick to identify differences in the way differences themselves are perceived in the two countries. They were also quick to embrace diversity. One student expressed her desire to “make friends that have similar opinions AND friends with opposite opinions.” Another student articulated the need to “see things from multiple perspectives to solve something.” Another asserted, “expressing an opinion and imposing an opinion are two completely different things. One may develop the world while the other may cause strife.” These are the voices of young adults hungry for differences.

  3. Connectedness to past and future. During our sixth virtual classroom we welcomed Maya Mizuno, Program Coordinator at The University of Peace (UPEACE) to speak about Peace Education. As students in Hiroshima Prefecture, one of two regions which have experienced devastation as a result of deployment of nuclear weapons, the topic of peace education is not only extremely saliant but also promotes a world view in which connecting past and future is literally vital. Naivete is palatably absent from this group. “I think it is dangerous to assume that all the history we have learned in our school classes is correct or factual” wrote one student. Their interests reveal a mature understanding that they are not responsible for the past however their carrying forward an understanding of the past, and creation of a future is crucial. This student’s expression gave me goosebumps: “By feeling it through your skin, you can learn how your thoughts and the results you get from taking on challenges are connected.”

I asked guest lecturer Maya Mizuno about her experience with these students, and she shared this description:

In my session, we discuss what peace means and how we can develop society through education. The topic is quite complex. However, the students are very sharp, talented, and passionate, so they demonstrate a high level of engagement in the session activities. I always get inspired by what they contribute to the dialog among us. 

Like Hiroshima Nagasaki Peace Messengers say, “Our efforts are humble, but not powerless.” As long as we keep moving forward, even if it’s a small action, the change will come. I hope that the students carry their experience at e-Hiroshima to become global changemakers in the future.

Like Maya, I’m grateful to the students of Stanford e-Hiroshima 2023–24 for their candor and engagement over these six months. The qualities they’ve demonstrated are bellwethers of hope for our collective futures. My wish for these students going forward is the same as my expectations of them in class: independent thought and 100 percent participation. I’d like for every student to find and speak their own truth, and to experience the joy of their truth being heard. Very much in this spirit, one student reflects on her experience: “I was surprised by American education in Stanford e-Hiroshima; we students could think freely and share our own ideas with friends, and that was so fun!!!” 

SPICE is grateful to Superintendent Rie Hirakawa and Teacher Consultants Mineko Kobayashi and Noriyo Hayashi of the Hiroshima Prefectural Board of Education for their ongoing support of Stanford e-Hiroshima and its students, and to Maya Mizuno for her lecture and contribution to this article.

Stanford e-Hiroshima is one of several online courses offered by SPICE.

To stay updated on SPICE news, join our email list and follow us on Facebook, X, and Instagram.

Read More

Yoshino Dake and Haruka Koga with instructor Rylan Sekiguchi

SPICE Honors Top Students in Stanford e-Hiroshima

Congratulations to Yoshino Dake and Haruka Koga, the 2022–2023 student honorees.
cover link SPICE Honors Top Students in Stanford e-Hiroshima
Stanford e-Hiroshima is an online course for high school students created by SPICE and Hiroshima Prefecture

Stanford e-Hiroshima, SPICE’s Newest Online Course for High School Students: Sharing Cranes Across the Pacific

Stanford e-Hiroshima seeks to underscore the importance of helping high school students understand the interdependence between Japan and the United States.
cover link Stanford e-Hiroshima, SPICE’s Newest Online Course for High School Students: Sharing Cranes Across the Pacific
Young woman standing in front of ruins

Hiroshima Nagasaki Peace Messengers: My Journey to Peace

Reflections on Stanford e-Hiroshima, a watershed in my life.
cover link Hiroshima Nagasaki Peace Messengers: My Journey to Peace