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Ralph J. Bunche Exchange Students Impress First Lady of Japan While Presenting Their Study Abroad Experience

Students Terry Jones Jr, Faith Okani, Ruth Davis and Angel Bryant (left to right) present on their time in Japan. Photo taken by Darius Osborne.

Students of Howard’s Japanese Study Abroad program presented a recap of their trip to Japan in front of university leaders and First Lady of Japan Yuko Kishida last week. 

On April 17, the sixteen students shared their knowledge and experiences from their student exchange trip, which occurred from Feb. 28 to March 7 this year, in the Undergraduate Library Conference Room. This presentation was in front of a small audience that included First Lady Kishida, Howard’s Provost Anthony Wutoh and President Wayne A.I. Frederick.

As First Lady Yuko Kishida entered the room, the event kicked off as all in the room bowed with recognition and respect. 

President Wayne Frederick and Tonija Hope, the director of the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center, opened up by welcoming everyone and thanking them for their time. As the event proceeded, four of the Bunche scholars began their presentation of their eight-day experience in Japan, speaking entirely in Japanese.

Students Angel Bryant, Ruth Davis, Faith Okani and Terry Jones Jr. took the floor in front of two TV screens that featured slides with bullet-pointed commentary about their trip. They reflected on the different landmarks, facets of culture, art and their overall experience within their exchange program. 

Davis, a mechanical engineering major at Howard, said that a major takeaway from her trip to Japan was, “seeing how accommodating and structured Japanese culture truly is. It is clear to see how much effort they put into putting their best foot forward consistently throughout their everyday interactions.” 

Davis went on to say how “staying in Tokyo and Niigata Prefecture” gave the group a front-row seat to analyze and appreciate Japanese culture due to their population densities.

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Angel Bryant, a senior international affairs major, expressed how “It has been an honor to be in this space with world leaders that can help guide and shape our futures. I reflect on the question every day, ‘Why did I come to Howard?’ and these kinds of opportunities answer that for me.”

In relaying her experience in Japan, Bryant noted that “Japan identifies themselves as a collective society, which essentially puts everyone’s needs before the individual’s. As soon as I got off of the plane I could see how reflected this ideal was in their everyday lives, from their cleanliness to their punctuality,” she said. “I think America could take a page or two out of their notebook.”

As the group bowed and finished their presentation, all media exited the room as the First Lady Kishida had a sit-down “Q&A” with the study abroad group, answering any personal questions they had to ask.

When asked if she had any advice for students wanting to go into politics and social justice fields, First Lady Kishida responded by telling the students to “always work towards attaining peace and dismantling the difficult issues we face as a human race today.” 

Kishida then went on to talk about her early life in Hiroshima and how her hard work has gotten her to the point that she is in today. She reflected on her competitive college admissions process and says that her only regret during her adolescence was, “not giving it her all.”

First Lady Kishida speaking to Howard students on the importance of hard work. Photo take by Darius Osborne.

Following the Q&A, the students presented First Lady Kishida with a gift of a Howard University personalized tote bag on behalf of Howard University, to which she immediately returned the favor by providing cookies and a note thanking Howard University for their warm welcome.

Upon saying their final goodbyes, First Lady Kishida left the group with a message, telling them to “Work hard, but enjoy the time you have in college. Make sure to leave this stage of life with fulfillment.”

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Before departing, the students, program coordinators and First Lady Kishida took a group photo to commemorate the time they had together.  

First Lady Kishida, Provost Anthony Wutoh and President Wayne A.I. Frederick with Ralph J. Bunche Center students. Photo taken by Darius Osborne

As part of the presentation, Professor Etsuko Yamakita expressed how she has been seeing the growth and progression of her students throughout their time with her. 

“This whole experience has been great for the students. As a Japanese teacher, it’s my job for them to understand the culture mixed in with the language, and I don’t know a better way to make that happen,” she said. “This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the students, but more importantly it is a great memory for them.”

Professor Yamakita, also commonly referred to as Yamakita Sensei, worked closely alongside Tonija Hope, the director of the International Affairs Center, to make this whole thing happen. 

“While I do not speak any Japanese, I was thoroughly impressed with how the class gave their whole presentation in Japanese,” Hope said. “Americans typically speak one language and we are outcasted from the rest of the world in a way for doing so. This program helps give our students cultural and linguistic awareness when considering their place in the world.”

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She then continued by emphasizing the importance of meetings like these, saying “Considering the intimate relationship between Japan and the U.S., it is important that current world leaders get the chance to make an impact on future leaders, especially on a global scale.”

After the event, students and faculty alike spoke more about their appreciation for their experiences and talked about how important it is for students of color to go through opportunities like study abroad programs.

Terry Jones Jr., one of the presenters from the program and a senior Political Science major, explained that “The main thing I took away from this amazing opportunity was the amiability of the Japanese people in their welcoming of us into their country. Especially as black men, we typically aren’t as welcome and/or supported in these spaces, however seeing how open they are to teach me about their culture, it inspires me to carry my newfound knowledge onto the next person.”

Sixteen students from Howard alongside Professor Etsuko Yamakita and Dr. Leonard Muaka, who both work in the Japanese department, traveled to Tokyo together, while Keiwa College students stayed in Washington, D.C. from Feb. 5 to Feb. 12.

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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