We are each a citizen of many communities. I am a member of my family, a student at UC Berkeley, and a computer scientist. I am also an American. It is only natural that we have a stronger affinity for smaller, more closely-defining categories: I identify much more closely with other students at my university than I do with other Americans in general. However, there is another, greater category to which we all belong, though we often take it for granted: we are all citizens of the world. It is important, as we go about our daily lives, not to lose sight of this fact. Thankfully, there are some organizations which exist in order to remind us of this, to give us the opportunity to expand our knowledge and awareness of the world.
One such organization is the Japan-America Student Conference (JASC), first held in 1934 when a small group of Japanese students invited American students to Tokyo in order to promote peace between the two countries. Aside from a short wartime hiatus, the conference has continued ever since, bringing Japanese and American college students of diverse backgrounds and interests together, alternating host countries each year. Its more famous alumni include former Prime Minister Miyazawa of Japan, and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
JASC gives students the ideal opportunity to escape the daily routine of college life, and for one summer, to have an incredible "out of the classroom" experience. It brings students from all walks of life together, to learn from each other, to solve problems together, and to develop friendships. It gives students realistic experience as citizens of the world, introducing them to their peers from across the globe and fostering international relationships.
This year's American delegates hailed from locations as diverse as Maine, Florida, Texas, Chicago, Oklahoma, Colorado, California, and Washington, just to name a few. There were scientists, artists, and aspiring politicians among the group, some with lots of international experience, and some who had never left their own coast before. There was incredible diversity just among the American delegation. Nevertheless, we had only three days to get to know each other during American orientation at Stanford University, before heading across the sea to meet our Japanese counterparts. We arrived on-site in Kyoto/Shiga late in the evening on Wednesday, July 27, to be welcomed by the gracious, smiling Japanese delegation, bearing gifts and greeting us in English they had worked long and hard to polish.
The next month was spent at four sites in Japan, each with a different theme and tone of discussion and exploration. In Kyoto, we hosted an Environmental Project, where we discussed the Kyoto Protocol and learned about global environmental issues. Field trips included famous Kiyomizu Temple, as well as an overnight temple stay. The conference took a more somber tone in Hiroshima, where we studied issues surrounding the atomic bomb, including meeting with atomic bomb survivors, visiting the Peace Memorial Museum, and seeing Prime Minister Koizumi speak at the 60th anniversary peace memorial ceremony on August 6. At our next site, in Okinawa, we visited several US military bases and met with the generals, as well as the American consul general, the mayor of Okinawa city and the vice-governor of Okinawa prefecture, to discuss the issues surrounding the American military presence in Okinawa. We did a short homestay with local families, and spent our evenings socializing on the beach, shopping in international Naha and enjoying the tropical weather. At the final site, in Tokyo, we were joined by Chinese students from Peking University and held a trilateral conference, discussing modern social issues affecting our three countries.
How could a group of uninformed, mutually unconnected students from two radically different countries overcome substantial linguistic and cultural barriers to discuss critical issues facing the world? This was a question that I asked myself before the conference. JASC tackled some pretty serious topics, from global warming to nuclear nonproliferation, from poverty and hunger to globalization. Each member of the delegation brought a unique perspective and set of experiences, and JASC provided the forum for academic discussions and friendships alike to blossom. Through time spent together in research, discussion, and travel, differences were overcome and the lines of communication quickly strengthened.
A group of 16 students who had participated in last year's conference acted as our mentors, teaching us about JASC tradition and inspiring us to be passionate and make a difference. I wasn't the only one with doubts before the conference, but we were told from day one, "You can and will change the world." That change has already begun, from the start of new research and policy proposals, borne of JASC panels and roundtable discussions, to international friendships which span the globe and will last a lifetime. It was once said, "The relationship between two countries is nothing more than the sum of the personal relationships among the citizens of those countries." Japan and America stand as an example to the possibility of longstanding, deep-rooted international friendship and cooperation, and JASC is at the forefront of celebrating and furthering that relationship.
I walked away from JASC with two important gifts, knowledge and courage. I gained this from my peers at the conference, as well as from all of the panelists, presenters and professionals we had the pleasure of meeting throughout the course of the conference. This knowledge and courage, which lie at the core of the JASC message, is really all that it takes to change the world. Knowledge enough to effect change in the world, and the courage to follow through. Through JASC, I also gained pride in my achievements and my country, hope for the future, and a renewed sense of direction. I went to JASC as a computer scientist with greater aspirations, and came home a responsible, active citizen of my world. JASC taught me how to be myself, while at the same time getting involved and making a difference in the world as part of my everyday life.