Through the lens of technology, the world has never looked smaller. Google Earth allows one to walk the streets of far off lands from the comfort of home while simultaneously researching another culture with a quick trip to Wikipedia.
But the only way to fully understand a different way of life still involves trekking across the globe.
On Monday, 23 USF students set off on a 16-hour journey to spend 10 days exploring Japan and its culture as a part of the Kakehashi Project. The name of the project comes from the Japanese word “Kakehashi,” meaning bridge, and lends itself to the slogan “bridge for tomorrow.”
The program, which offers American and Japanese students from a different school each year the chance to further explore the others’ world through a cultural exchange, was founded in response to the aid provided by the U.S. government following the 2011 earthquake disaster in Japan.
Since it’s founding, Miami Palmetto Senior High School and Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando have sent students to Japan, and now USF is the first university in the state to participate in the exchange.
“For me it’ll be experiencing hands-on everything I learned in class and everything I’m interested in,” said Cody Buchanon, a USF student studying Japanese.
Mako Nozu, an instructor in the USF Japanese department, said students will visit Kyoto Sangyo University and students from the Japanese university will visit USF sometime within the next year.
Nozu said the Kakehashi program is funded by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Everything from students’ airfare to daily meals will be provided.
“Usually a lot of students here cannot afford traveling,” Nozu said. “Airfare to Japan costs almost $2,000 round-trip, so it is a great opportunity for these students. I’m happy for them.”
Mark Machado, who studies Japanese at USF, is one such case.
“I normally, being a poor college student, wouldn’t be able to go to Japan very easily,” Machado said. “Then to find out I was one of the 23 chosen was like a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan.”
Machado and other students will have the opportunity to experience several Japanese cultural sites and lead a presentation on American and Floridian culture for their hosts.
“We are going to visit Kyoto, the old capital of Japan and there are a lot of temples and shrines that are very old,” Nozu said. “Some of them were built in the 1200s so I’d like them to see those. At the same time we’ll be in Tokyo. (The) Tokyo metropolitan area is the biggest in the world and very, very different from Kyoto so I’d like them to compare and contrast the differences of the two cities.”
In preparation for the trip, Machado said he had to purchase “omiyage,” or traditional gifts, to exchange with Japanese students and dignitaries.
Roughly 40 students applied to participate in the program and 22 students of the 23 going on the trip are currently studying Japanese at USF.
“Japan is very different from the U.S.,” Nozu said. “Some people unfortunately think the U.S. is the only world. I really want them to see, not just Japan, but different parts of the world.”