Many students wonder what kinds of programs outside of the standard academic study abroad experience will enable them to make meaningful connections to Japan on a personal and professional level. The Japan-America Student Conference is a student-led exchange program in which students are selected from Japan and the US to participate in academic discussions, build close friendships, and explore each other’s cultures. Last year the 64th JASC was held in the United States. 28 Japanese delegates and 28 American delegates gathered in the United States for one month traveling to Dallas, TX, Madison, WI, San Francisco, CA, and Seattle, WA, and building tight friendships through events and roundtable discussions. All delegates were university students eager to learn each other’s culture and discuss important issues relevant to both countries. They were competitively selected by the student leaders for the student-led conference.
What makes JASC different from other study abroad programs? One reason is JASC’s long history. JASC was initiated in 1934 by Japanese university students who were concerned about the breakdown of Japan-America relations and hoped to ease tension and promote mutual understanding between the two countries. These students came to the United States and recruited American university students to participate in the conference. Amazingly, the students fundraised all of the cost of the conference by themselves. Since then, even though JASC did not meet a few times during the War and because of financial problems, the conference has been going on for more than 75 years. JASC has about 4000 alumni both in the United States and in Japan. Notable JASC alumni include Henry Kissinger and former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. JASC provides delegates not only the chance to make lifelong friendships but also the opportunity to build connections with overseas professionals.
Secondly, JASC is a student-run program. At the end of each conference, delegates elect two executive committees, one for each country. They work together to plan the next conference from promotion and recruitment to logistics and site scheduling. This is why JASC is still so vivid today: new generations recreate the conference every year. JASC provides a chance for the students to build their leadership skills by giving them many responsibilities with the JASC program manager’s support.
Thirdly, JASC is a month-long intensive academic program. The delegates participate in and contribute to small discussion groups called Roundtables (RTs) which are facilitated by the student leaders. New RT topics are chosen by the executive committees every year to reflect important issues of the day, and cover areas such as politics, economics, the environment, and the arts. Due to differences in cultures, academic backgrounds, and opinions, these RT discussions can become quite intense. However, JASC helps each student become more confident expressing their own opinion by providing a safe environment where students can freely discuss their thoughts. During the conference, the delegates also embark on fieldtrips, attend lectures and participate in local activities to deepen their understanding of both their respective cultures and their RT topics. At the end of the conference, each Roundtable gives a presentation about the conclusions they have reached over their monthlong experience to the general public and alumni in an event called Final Forum.
As noted above, JASC provides students various opportunities to build their leadership and communication skills while intensely exploring an academic area of interest. Students are also able to interact with professional alumni and lecturers in various events who can advise them on their future careers – for example, people who direct the prestigious Fulbright program. An underappreciated aspect of engaging in JASC is the lifelong friendships that form among delegates. These delegates help each other reflect on what they want to do later in life and even help each other succeed today – for instance, JASCers have helped each other with study abroad applications and with resumes and CVs for internships at places such as Google or the American Embassy in Tokyo. JASC gives its alumni the confidence, network, and global experience that have helped its alumni become recognized in areas such as business, art, politics, journalism, and academia.
The 65th JASC will commence this August, and delegates will have the opportunity to travel to Kyoto, Nagasaki, Iwate, and Tokyo. The theme for this year’s conference is “Share, Respect, Reflect: Reimagining the Future, Together.” For more information about JASC or the International Student Conferences, please visit their website at www.iscdc.org!
Paul Yarabe is a senior majoring in molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He participated in the Japan-America Student Conference as a delegate in August 2012, and is currently the American Executive Committee Chair of the 65th JASC. Paul is passionate about conducting biomedical research and improving global education.