September 16 marked the start of a six-month-long exploration of globally important, regionally relevant topics of study in the city of Kagoshima, Japan. Twenty-five high school students from area schools converged at city hall early Saturday to begin their participation in Stanford e-Kagoshima City, an online learning course offered by the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE).
The air was stiflingly humid that morning as we headed into the city hall building to attend the opening ceremony. Despite the unbearable heat, the students looked bright and cheery in their uniforms as they walked into the room and deftly took their seats.
We opened the inaugural session of Stanford e-Kagoshima City with many words of encouragement from Mayor Takao Shimozuru and City Council Chairman Keiji Kawagoe to the student body. They remarked on the importance of trying one’s best and remaining positive even in times of challenges. The young people in the room are the future, they said, and they hoped to see many great things from this generation—not only as Kagoshima residents but as global citizens. They emphasized that this program should be one of enjoyment and excitement and not something to be feared. Those words helped ease the tension around the room, and students seemed to fall back on their chairs slightly as they waited for the next part of the program.
SPICE Director Gary Mukai joined the ceremony by Zoom to encourage students to think about some key points:
- Rely on one’s curiosity to add meaning to one’s lives and strive to create a more inclusive world.
- Think about the significance of the learned knowledge as it applies to one’s life.
- Always remind oneself to consider other perspectives on an issue.
- Understand empathy.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or fail to meet expectations. It’s all part of the learning process.
Soon it was my turn at the podium to conduct the first presentation for Stanford e-Kagoshima City. Beyond the self-introductions and course overview information, I wanted most to let the students know that the program would be an opportunity to make new friends, grow self-confidence, speak one’s mind, learn lots of English, and understand one’s importance in the community and in the world. A tall order, but one that I felt encompassed everything SPICE and the greater Stanford institution represent.
The students played an ice breaker game to start things off. They got into small groups to answer random questions, such as “Describe a childhood memory you remember very clearly” and “If you could meet someone in the past who is no longer alive, who would it be and why?” As I went around the room to listen in, I could see that they were slowly getting acclimated to sharing their responses. As time passed, I could hear more laughter and see more smiles around the room. I felt relieved that the outcome was better than I’d hoped to mark the start of their learning journey.
I am grateful for the generosity from the Kagoshima City government, including the department of education staff. Much appreciation goes to Mayor Shimozuru, City Council Chairman Kawagoe, Superintendent Haranosono, and Consul Strader Payton, Public Affairs Office (U.S. Consulate Fukuoka) for enabling SPICE to bring the regional teaching program to Kagoshima. Additionally, Administrative Manager Komura, Director of School Education Division Sadohara, Manager of School Education Divisions Nakamura contributed greatly toward creating a solid virtual learning program. Lastly, my counterpart instructor, Chiemi Hamada, has been at the forefront and is instrumental in bringing about the successful onboarding of the students to the program. I owe her much gratitude.