On a recent Friday afternoon at Stanford, the weather reminded me of some crisp yet clear winter days in Japan. The sun brightly lit the Falcon Lounge on the 5th floor of Encina Hall as six alumni from the 2014 to 2018 Reischauer Scholars Program (RSP) and Sejong Korean Scholars Program (SKSP) cohorts gathered to celebrate the new year. This annual shinnenkai (literally, “new year gathering,” in Japanese) luncheon offers alumni of SPICE’s pre-collegiate online courses to meet or reconnect over lively conversation and delicious food. For the SPICE instructors, the shinnenkai is often the first time to meet alumni in person.
The RSP is an online course on Japan and U.S.–Japan relations that is offered to U.S. high school students each spring, and will welcome its seventeenth cohort in a few weeks. The SKSP is preparing for its eighth cohort, and offers an intensive online study of Korea and U.S.–Korea relations to U.S. high school students. SPICE also offers a third online course to U.S. high school students on China and U.S.–China relations, the China Scholars Program. The CSP is preparing for its sixth cohort.
One of the attendees, James Noh (RSP ‘16, Stanford University ‘22), reflected on his RSP experience following the shinnenkai: “My RSP experience not only nurtured my interest in East Asia, but also made me realize that I wanted to incorporate my interest in East Asia into both my academic and professional careers. Looking back, I think participating in RSP played an important role in influencing my decision to take a gap year to study Mandarin in China after high school and major in international relations with a focus on East Asia.” During the shinnenkai, it was interesting to hear other alumni share thoughts on how their experiences in the RSP and SKSP helped to prepare them for and also shape their college life. Comments ranged from “informing choices” like class or major selection to “honing skills” like writing research papers.
Through the many years in which SPICE has engaged U.S. high school students in these intensive online courses, we have been fortunate to work with many exceptional students such as James. As the instructor of the RSP, I especially treasure the face-to-face opportunities to meet with alumni of these courses. These opportunities are rare treats given that our courses take place entirely online. The annual shinnenkai is truly a highlight of my year.