Message from the Executive Director


Inspired by the Great East Japan Earthquake, Kizuna Across Cultures was started by a group of Americans and Japanese based in Washington DC in 2011. We came together, hoping to do something to encourage young people in Tohoku and expand their future horizons. We saw potential in the use of virtual tools and launched a pilot program to connect an English class at a high school in Tohoku with a Japanese class at a U.S. high school for online interactions.


When we started, online exchanges were not common, so we had to design our own program from scratch  with input from the participating teachers. However, we were quickly convinced of the tremendous potential of Global Classmates, a virtual bilingual exchange program, as we saw high school students, who had never had friends their own age overseas, excitedly interact with students from the partner country and quickly hone their communication skills and cross-cultural awareness.


Soon, we began working with high schools from outside the Tohoku region and, as of 2023, the program has grown to be offered to approximately 80 schools and over 2,200 students annually across Japan and the United States.


Even during the years when in-person international exchange programs were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Global Classmates program continued to serve as the only place for many students to connect with peers internationally. 


Impactful experiences such as international exchange have a profound and formative impact on a young person’s life and trajectory, but only a small percentage of high school students have the opportunity to visit foreign countries. Furthermore, as we have instant access to all kinds of information on the internet, we face the challenge of easily surrounding ourselves with the opinions and thoughts of those with similar values and backgrounds to us, which makes it difficult to bridge the gap between groups of people with different views and experiences.


With this in mind, Kizuna Across Cultures is committed to cultivating the next generation of leaders who can build bridges between people with different views and foster collaboration. We do so by creating a safe environment where young people can experience firsthand the excitement of bonding with peers from another culture through meaningful dialogue and face the challenge of conveying thoughts effectively and avoiding misunderstanding when communicating across a language barrier.


As I have been involved with Kizuna Across Cultures’ programs for more than 10 years and also become a parent myself, I have come to believe that, despite technological advancements, many components of the educational process cannot be shortcutted nor automated. I have seen that appropriate and personalized guidance can make a big difference in a young person’s growth and development.


We are convinced that collective enthusiasm of the people involved in our programs – the tireless guidance of the teachers, the meticulous support of the KAC staff, the relentless spirit of inquiry of the experts who advise us, and the commitment of the sponsors to the development of the next generation – are all contributing factors to the outstanding experiences and learning that the students gain.


We value our Kizuna Across Cultures community and together we will continue to challenge ourselves to provide powerful learning experiences that are cutting-edge while also being practical enough to be smoothly incorporated into the everyday reality of the learning environment.


Ayako Smethurst

Co-founder & Executive Director 

Kizuna Across Cultures