Showing a friend around town can often teach natives a thing or
two about the place they call home. But do it for four weeks
straight, in a group of 60-plus American and Japanese students who
have come together to study social change, and even a familiar world
can quickly look like a very different place.
In many ways, that's the point of the venerable Japan-America
Student Conference (JASC). Each year, students choose a theme and
travel around the alternating host country, sharing academic debates
on the topic, late-night chats, sightseeing, and the all-important
experience of learning how differently international peers may view
It's all by way of promoting greater contact among members of two
countries that share similar interests but still in many ways have
limited understanding of one another.
"It's an intercultural, academic boot camp," says Lisa Pavia, who
attends Webster University in St. Louis, Mo. "I've been thinking
about friendships as well as trade issues. You can study about US-
Japan relations, but this is experiencing it. You have to learn to
communicate on an interpersonal level."
Doing that can often be serious business - students join in study
groups that range in topic from multilateral relations to mass media
to international law. But a variety of factors draw participants to
the conference, which was founded in 1934 and resumed after an
interruption during World War II.
From their starting point at Tokai University in Honolulu,
members of the millennium JASC traveled across the United States,
touring such places as the Holocaust Museum in Washington and the
United Nations. They were feted by diplomats and did community-
service projects together. And by the time they reached their final
stop at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., they had worked
through the intangible steps of blending a group of people who, just
weeks before, had little more in common than an interest in learning
about another country.
The process can literally point students' lives in new
directions. Chinazor Ojinnaka, who just graduated from Howard
University in Washington, D.C., said learning about JASC made him
rethink his plans to go to medical school.
"It just hit me, and I started questioning my goals. I researched
Japan, and realized I had more of an interest in international
relations," says the delegate, who will spend next year teaching in
Japan. The conference "was confidence-building and character-
Part of that comes from things like learning how to deal with new
international roommates - "Ameri-delies" and "Japa-delies" are
teamed up. …