The highlight of February was undoubtedly Project Rousseau’s inaugural Japanese exchange with schools in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Our students began their stay in Tokyo with our partner school, K-International School (K-IST). Whilst in Tokyo the group visited various cultural highlights such as the Imperial Palace, various temples and the Miraikan Museum of Science. After a few days the group then took the notorious “Bullet Train” to Kyoto and our partner school Gaidai Nishi High School where they continued to take in their surroundings, visiting the Gion District, Arashiyma bamboo forest and more sacred sites.
Perhaps most enriching for students on this trip however was learning about the profound cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan. Over the week the students learnt to navigate these contrasts and gained both an appreciation and an understanding of Japanese traditions. Certainly, staying with host families and attending school with their host siblings heightened this experience and all of the students commented that it was through their hosts that they learned the most about their new surroundings. From gender roles in the household to the lives of teenagers, our students picked up on various cultural differences and all now agree that they are more culturally aware. In particular, Kathy commented that whilst she has “always wanted to know more about the world, I’d never previously pushed myself to do it”. Students were also surprised at how easy it was to manage in a foreign country. With great insight, they attributed this to Japan’s welcoming attitude towards newcomers and in particular their hosts’ generosity and hospitality. As a result, Project Rousseau students are determined to return to Japan in the future, and have found themselves considering an option they never before thought possible: studying abroad. Spending time in both Kyoto and Tokyo also allowed our students to refine their new found understanding of Japanese culture as they began to notice similarities and differences between the two cities and their takes on modernity.
The students also spent time in the classroom at our partner schools. From language lessons to earthquake safety simulations, our students fully embraced being thrown into the deep end at a Japanese high school. An overriding sentiment of the group is the warmth which they were welcomed by the students in Japan. Indeed, there was without a doubt a lot of bilateral learning going on as the Japanese students quizzed their new Project Rousseau friends about life back in the U.S. and in particular their Hispanic culture.
Preparing for our first trip to Asia was a substantial task for both Project Rousseau staff and students and we would like to extend a huge thank you to our Japanese partner schools and host families for their hospitality and help before, during and after our trip. We are already planning our future collaborations and look forward to more Project Rousseau, K-IST and Gaidai Nishi students meeting and exchanging ideas in the near future.