Our 2013 Shinnenkai was held January 13th at University Texas San Antonio’s UTSA. This year it was a joint event hosted by JASSA, North East Independent School District and UTSA. Students from Churchill and Madison High Schools were invited to share their experiences from their Kizuna Program sponsored trip to Japan. Also the Japanese students from Touno High School in Iwate Prefecture and Tsukuba Kokusai Harukaze High School in Ibaragi Prefecture gave a presentation of their experiences during the tsunami in 2011.
Second VP Zach Kuentz opened the festivities with a warm welcome to everyone and he gave an overview of the days events. The first thing on the agenda was to enjoy the food which was brought by all the attendees. The food line was filled with both Japanese and American cuisine, everything from sushi to pizza. After everyone had a chance to partake the meeting was moved into the auditorium. The Churchill students shared some experiences of their trip to Japan and hosting the Japanese students. You can read their comments in the story below.
Next the students from Touno and Tsukuba HS gave a presentation on their experiences during the Tsunami. Each student gave their part of the presentation in English. The audience sat there spell bound to hear what these students went through and real life devastation to their home and lives in general. When I looked around the room many were wiping away tears. The strength these students displayed is hard to explain unless you hear them speak about their experience and see the pictures from the actual Tsunami.
On behalf of JASSA we would like to extend our appreciation to all who participated in this presentation.
"Hosting a student from a foreign country is a challenge but also very enjoyable! The largest challenge would be the language barrier between both the host and the host student! The language barrier is very strong in the beginning but it begins to fade away after spending time with each other and finding other ways to communicate and send the message to each other. Although we only hosted the Japanese foreign exchange students for a short amount of time, we began to form a bond and feel more closer to each other."
"Being the host, you are constantly with your host brother/sister, making sure everything is fine and they can become very dependent on you. It's natural of course since you are the one who is able to speak English fluently and they have to rely on you for helping them out. I can only imagine what they go through when they try to explain what is happening in a foreign language. Learning a language isn't done in an instant, it takes a lifetime. All that time it takes to get your point across in another language helps you understand each other more and all the time you spend with each other does make you feel like they're your own sibling. Now, this may all vary depending on who you're hosting or the host family themselves. You could be paired up with a host sibling who is a quiet person who doesn't talk much, or an outgoing person who isn't afraid to give it their best and try to talk with you. Overall, it is a very fun experience for all and it encourages whoever is involved to further their knowledge in the other's language."
"The Kizuna Project has been one of the most insightful experiences that I have been able to be a part of. Going to Japan had always seemed like a distant dream, but it was made possible through the Japan Foundation and all the kind hard working people. Not only was it a fun trip, but it was also very touching and eye-opening. All that I was able to see and learn about showed me how strong and brave the Japanese people were; it was so touching to see their hospitality to foreigners and learn how they helped each other through the harsh times."
"My stay with the host family and at the host school was wonderful. Being able to experience Japanese culture and life up close was not something I’d expect to be doing at fifteen! Now recently we were given the opportunity to host students from Japan to our homes and school. Being able to show my host sister my life and other American/Texan cultures was a great way to blend our two cultures. In the short amount of time and language barrier, I feel like I was able to communicate to her on another level; speaking was difficult, but that was no stopping the way we could interact through simple hand gestures and random vocabulary outbursts."
"I took my host sister to many Texas icons, we ate many different Texas/American cuisine, also I was able to show her my own Vietnamese culture for example: lending her a traditional Vietnamese dress to wear. I enjoyed the 3 days of hanging out with my host sister and all the other students, it was a friendship created in a few days that will last forever. I wouldn’t want to call this the last part of the project because, we are constantly creating new bonds everyday; we will never stop going to different distances to achieve Kizuna. :)"
"Visiting different areas and different countries, I've always enjoyed learning what makes it unique and what it has that all share in common. When I visited Japan, I again observed this. By going half-way across the world and by hosting, I've come to know people I otherwise wouldn't have met, and built a bond with them in only a short time. Even with the other participants, I've come to know them better for we've shared this together our adventures and misadventures in a place we've never known, yet have come to have a deep feeling of respect for. Yes, 3.11 is a day of sadness and we must never forget why, yet like the plants growing in the debris if Tohoku, hope springs. The tsunami and earthquake created a bond between the world and Japan in a combined effort to rebuild and move forward. This is what I have gathered through my participation and I am honored to have been a part of it."
- Evelyn Escamilla
"My experience in the Kizuna Program was life-changing. It's not everyday someone gets a chance to be an important part of society, especially international relations. Before this experience I felt lost and now I feel like I am important. It is my duty to spread the word of Japan's struggles and make sure no one forgets what happened March 11th, 2011. Participating in the lives of people who have struggled and being able to help them fight through tough times is an incredible feeling. The Kizuna Program has truly taught me the meaning of a strong bond."
- Jada Johnson
"Last summer, I went to Japan as a part of the Kizuna project, along with 22 other students in my school district, and experienced first-hand what variety and wonder the country holds. But just as my Kizuna family was drifting apart, we were reunited by the arrival of 23 students of our own age from Japan. My stay in Japan was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, but one of the most rewarding parts was coming back home and getting to extend my hospitality to those who showed the same to me. I took great pride in showing my host sister, Nozomi Motegi, the finer points of the city; going places I don’t frequent and even somewhere I’d never been before: the Tower of the Americas. Experiencing foreign cultures is something that I particularly enjoy, but I was amazed at how much I delighted in sharing my own customs with someone of a different background. I only wish I had more time to spend with my host sister before she moved on to the next part of her trip."
- Michelle Clarke
"The entire project helped me see how there is no real barrier between people in the world. I made friends and discovered an extended family that lives in another country. Everything that I experienced and all the people I met will forever stay in my heart and I hope that they feel the same way about me. I want to thank the Japanese Government, the Laurasian Institute, JASSA, the Kizuna Project, and all the people who contributed to this amazing bond that we all have been a part of. Thank you."
- Madeleine Moser
"The kizuna project taught many of us how to take a closer look into our lives and realize what truly matters. Through meeting all different kinds of people, we realized there is only one kind of person, and it's a human. Through cultural exploration our sense of unity broadened to include American people, Japanese people, and essentially the whole world. The Kizuna project not only instilled in us a desire to help Japan, but a desire to help everyone. Through feelings of pain and love, the Kizuna project has brought me a greater purpose in life. The Kizuna project not only provided a bridge for Japan and America, but gave us our own tools to bridge the world in the future."
- Aleksa Diaz
"The weekend of the Jan. 12-15 was one of the most intriguing times of my life. My family and I had an awesome time hosting Tomoya-kun. I want to deeply thank the current members of JASSA and The Japan Foundation/Japanese Government for helping make this project a success. THANK YOU!!"
- David Christian
"My experience hosting a student from Japan is one that i will never forget. I will admit it was a little akward at first because of the language barrier but I was able to get past that. Me and my host student Nobuyuki Nakagawa were able to bond even though it was hard to understand each other. That showed me that people all over the world are similar no matter what your background is. Me and Nobuyuki had alot of fun seeing the sights around San Antonio and talking to each other. This is something I will hold near to me for the rest of my life."