Having been in the field of international relations for my entire career and with no professional experience as an educator, it was a big decision for me to accept the invitation to teach Stanford e-Kawasaki. It is hard to believe that four years have already passed, and the fifth year of Stanford e-Kawasaki has just started.
An opening ceremony was held on September 30, 2023 in Kawasaki City Hall, and I was able to attend the event in person for the first time. The Honorable Norihiko Fukuda, Mayor of Kawasaki City, addressed the new students, saying “Kawasaki is a diverse city where many of its residents have come from other parts of Japan as well as from outside of Japan. As our city has proven, I want you to learn in this program that diversity brings strength, possibilities, and innovation.” Dr. Gary Mukai, Director of SPICE, encouraged the students to stay curious, think critically, and show empathy as they embarked on the six-month-long course that provides an overview of the United States with a focus on diversity and entrepreneurship. The ceremony concluded with each student giving a self-introduction in English from the podium. Seeing the spark of excitement in their eyes, I felt excited myself and fortunate as well to have this opportunity to work with young students like them.
A few days after the opening ceremony, I visited Kawasaki High School and Tachibana High School to meet with the students from this year and last year. Students from these two public high schools are selected for participation in Stanford e-Kawasaki annually. The “senpai” (upper class) students shared their experiences with their “kohai” (younger class) students and offered advice on how to handle assignments. It was nice to see a sense of community emerging around Stanford e-Kawasaki in each school. The conversations I had with the students were also informative, and they helped me understand what this program means to them. Below are some examples of their reflections.
Before, I studied English only as a subject. Now I see it as a communication tool that changed my attitude towards English study.
Lessons on diversity gave me an opportunity to think about my identity as a Japanese living in Japan. Lessons on entrepreneurship gave me a hint to think about my future.
I enjoyed the discussion board because it was so exciting to learn what the other students thought of different topics.
I discovered myself through this program. I found out what I think, what I’m interested in, and what I want to learn.
I’m still on a learning curve, but I have come to believe that my role in this program is to help students enjoy learning. Most students are in the 11th grade when they enroll in this program. I believe that it is meaningful for them to have an opportunity to learn for the pure joy of it before they start their last year of high school when they have to study hard for college entrance exams. I also want this program to be a space where students feel encouraged to give things a try and embrace mistakes. One day I visited my son’s elementary school in Colorado and saw a poster saying, “Mistakes are proof you are trying.” I truly wish I had this poster around me when I grew up in Japan. What I can do now as an educator is to be that poster for the students.
Kawasaki City will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2024. I hope that the students in this program will help to shape the future of Kawasaki City in the next 100 years.
Finally, I would like to express my deep gratitude to all the people who have supported this program. In particular, I would like to thank Mayor Fukuda for his vision and leadership. I would also like to thank Section Chief Kentaro Kojima, Kawasaki City Children’s Future Bureau General Affairs Department Planning Division, for his regular communication and support and his many predecessors who have helped to make what Stanford e-Kawasaki is today.