TOMODACHI Youth Ambassadors Program: American Students from New York City Experience Educational Exchange in Fukushima
The TOMODACHI Youth Ambassadors Program connected high school students from New York City and Fukushima for ten days of service-learning and positive youth development exchange programming. After participating in a three-week pre-trip seminar on topics ranging from Japanese history and culture and digital media production, to U.S.-Japan relations and environmental resilience, nine students from New York City traveled to Tokyo and Fukushima Prefecture from July 25 to August 4, 2018. Over the course of the trip, participants were immersed in homestays with Japanese families, culinary exploration, educational exchange with youth from Futaba Future High School in Fukushima, and tours of the Tohoku region provided by the Japanese youth development organization, Katariba.
The American youth spent the weekend in Tokyo with Japanese families who welcomed the participants with warmth and kindness, providing a first-hand introduction to Japanese culture filled with generosity, respect, and home-cooked meals. Natoya German, a participant from the Bronx, NY, shared, “My host mom is still texting me–sending me pictures of our dog, food, and other things. She tells me she can’t wait to come to NYC and I tell her I can’t wait to go back to Japan.”
Their journey continued with a week of in-depth learning in Tohoku Japan’s Tohoku region, where students heard from local residents, fellow students, business owners, government officials, and educators about the humanitarian and environmental impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster in the region.
As part of the students’ research into disaster response in the region, they had the opportunity to visit Iwaki, Hirono, Naraha, Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba, Namie, and Kawauchi in Fukushima Prefecture, which were all affected by the disaster. Two former residents served as guides, and the group visited an intermediate storage facility where they learned about procedures for replacing contaminated soil. The students described these experiences as highly impactful. The towns were like time capsules; there was minimal physical damage. Nursing homes, houses, gas stations, and businesses still stood exactly as they had seven years ago. While many residents were scattered by the disaster, the communities remained resilient in their efforts to restore Fukushima.
In reflecting on her experience in the region, Gianela Campos from Brooklyn, NY wrote, “My trip to Japan has taught me the true definition of resilience. Resilience is not only the ability to go through obstacles; the people of Fukushima have taught me that to be resilient, your attitude towards others matters.”
Many participants cited their exchange with students at Futaba Future High School as the highlight of the trip. Despite the language barrier, the students had the opportunity to get to know each other through interactive workshops, peer-education, and community-building activities.
This program was funded by TOMODACHI’s Fund for Exchanges through generous contributions from Toyota Motor Corporation, Mitsubishi Corporation, and Hitachi, Ltd.