Message from the President

Message from the President

As the world becomes more interconnected and businesses expand beyond their national borders, we live with an increasing number of people of different cultural backgrounds. The frequency in which we interact with people who are culturally different than us will only increase with time. The need for global citizens is heard around the world today, but by the time current middle school and high school students become working professionals, being a global citizen will not only be necessary for those who work internationally, but for everyone.

 

The basic elements of what make a global citizen are simple. They are the skills necessary in doing everything from leading negotiations with organizations from another country, providing products or services to international consumers, to simply building a relationship with someone from another cultural background. These elements are ①understanding another person’s values and perspectives while also understanding one’s own position objectively, ②working towards personal and common goals, and ③fostering relationships and empathy through dialogue.

 

The skills of global citizenship can only be gained through practical experiences. For example, to foster the ability to empathize with a diverse group of people, it is necessary to be exposed to and discover the differences in cultures and values. In addition, improving the ability to express oneself and one’s own culture can only come from practicing and trying different ways to communicate. And the best way to achieve this is to start the process early on.

 

However, these international opportunities to gain practical language experience and global mindedness are often limited to studying abroad and are only accessible to a select few.

 

Kizuna Across Cultures (KAC) facilitates the online language and cultural exchange program Global Classmates for high school students studying Japanese in the U.S. and English in Japan. Through the 6-month exchange, the two classes engage in an exchange of messages, photos and videos on a variety of topics using Japanese and English to develop their friendships.

 

For the U.S. students, engaging with native Japanese speakers is extremely valuable; however, they are especially inspired by seeing their classmates abroad use their limited English to actively communicate and find out more about them. It is also a great opportunity for them to improve their communicative competence, which is difficult to gain through regular class interactions.

 

When KAC was founded in 2011, we were an unknown organization trying to start an online exchange program that was unfamiliar to most. Therefore, it took us about 6 months to finally find schools in both countries to participate in the program.

 

In early 2012, we launched a trial run of the program with a pair of schools. Soon after, due to the support we gained from individuals, progressive organizations who understood and shared our vision, and passionate teachers who committed to participating in the program, we have been able to connect over 3,000 US and Japanese students in just a few years.

 

The majority of students who participate in our program have never had an international experience before and would not have been able to connect with students from other countries otherwise. The program’s impact and value are shown through the participants themselves; over 80% of participants believe they know more about each other’s culture, strengthened their desire to learn more about other cultures, and feel more confident to communicate in Japanese/English after the program.

 

We seek to make a long-term impact at a grassroots level to inspire youth to become global citizens who go beyond their communities to contribute to world peace and prosperity, as well as help solve global issues. We do this by fostering mutual understanding of the differences in cultures and values and helping them learn to express themselves and their own culture.

KAC will continue to use ICTs and work with schools to bring the opportunity to engage with the world to the students’ everyday classroom, so that they can embrace being part of this globalized world and become future leaders.

 

Ayako Smethurst

Co-Founder, Board Member, President