What a week it has been, hosting a group of 12 Japanese women from the Sacred Heart school in Sapporo for a whirlwind visit to the UN and 91st Street. Yasuko Taguchi, former Headmistress at the Sapporo school and currently its Chaplain, was the mastermind behind and the leader of the trip, having received a grant from the Ministry of Education in Japan. Akiko Ichikawa, the English teacher in Sapporo, was critical in her accompaniment of the group; Gwen Hoeffel was in charge of logistics in New York City and also served as one of the chaperones; while Cecile Meijer facilitated the program. Center stage were of course ten high school students who came to learn about internationality, interculturality and interdependence in today’s world.
They arrived on Monday February 9th, eager to learn in a new way what it means to be a student in a Super Global High School back home. The week was packed, with Tuesday and Thursday set aside for the United Nations, Wednesday reserved for 91st Street and hands-on service, and Friday a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Since the Society of the Sacred Heart is associated with the Department of Public Information (DPI) at the UN, we spent the first morning at the DPI Resource Center where Public Information Assistant Felipe gave an introduction to the UN, laced with examples and anecdotes from real life. Later on two Japanese UN staff members joined him, speaking in Japanese of course.
I was impressed with what one of the staff members at the UN said: “If you fight with someone from the same culture, often one of you is to blame. But if you fight with someone from a different culture, you can’t say one side is more to blame. Both sides are to blame. If one side forces another to accept one’s opinion or culture, this lacks understanding about different cultures. We need to accept other points of view.” When I heard this, I thought how difficult it is to understand and accept others. We have different cultures, languages and backgrounds. So, in this age of globalization we need to cultivate our tolerance to overcome the difference of cultures, backgrounds and religions. Also we need to cultivate our ability to communicate our thoughts and opinions.
One of the question posed to Felipe was: “Has the United Nations ever been successful in stopping conflicts?” When the answer was “Yes,” I was surprised. The media often only shows the negative side of news from the UN, so we are made to think that not much is achieved. I think that a free and fair media is the most important thing for our future.
In the afternoon we visited the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations. The students had prepared in advance questions to ask but they also were confident enough to engage in Q&A with the presenter, the Minister of Economics at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations, asking pertinent questions about the materials he had presented.
After lunch, we visited the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations and Minister of Economics Mr. Sekiguchi explained to us about Japanese UN-centered diplomacy, the Millennium Development Goals, the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. We learned how the UN contributes to keep world peace and security, the realization of economic development and respect for human rights. His talk made me realize how the UN works for peace which I had taken for granted. Also we learned how Japan can contribute to the UN through dialogue and cooperation. In today’s globalized world, we need to think how to accept those alien to us, trying to understand each other, to have win-win relationships. Also we need to think critically in getting information. We were grateful for this precious chance to learn from the Minister of Economics at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations.
Wednesday at 91st Street was special, not only because they were each teamed up with a 91st Street student, but because the next 24 hours they would literally do everything together. They attended classes together, went to the service site together, and late afternoon they even went home together for an overnight stay with their student-host’s family.
What impressed me most in New York City is when I spent a night with my host family. I think they originally came from Africa, and there was a Cameroonian flag in my room. I realized that in Japan, if there are two different things, we always try to put them together. But in America, if there are two different things, they always try to accept and respect each other. I think that’s the biggest difference between Japan and America and also it is the first step to live together in this world.
I want to mention the heart-warming welcome and hospitality we received from teachers and students at 91st Street. They respected each of us as a member of the Sacred Heart network and treated us as such. Being part of the Sacred Heart family is such a blessing. When we accept guests from abroad, we would like to do the same thing and expand the welcome we experienced in New York.
– Akiko. teacher
Back at the UN on Thursday, we first had a speaker from UNHCR (the UN’s refugee agency), and then attended the weekly DPI Briefing on how to transition from the MDGs to the SDGs, from the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015) to the Sustainable Development Goals (2016-2030).
The DPI speaker told us that as the SDGs take the place of the MDGs, we as the youth have to give our opinions and change the world. I won’t forget the importance of communicating and sharing what I think. I should not be silent.
What I remember most of what I learned on this trip is that we have to act as leaders for the SDGs. The MDGs were created by each nation’s leaders and decision makers, but in order to have the SDGs go forward, we have to increase our awareness of unachieved goals and new challenges. We have to know more about what is going on in the world now and we have to take action.
Before the briefing began, the students were introduced and invited on stage to sing a Japanese song, Flowers Will Bloom, in memory of the victims of the March 11, 2011 triple disaster north of Tokyo (you can find the song on YouTube, sung in English by Il Divo). Their presentation was instantly tweeted by DPI Media.
Friday was a sightseeing day with a boat tour to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
When we visited the Statue of Liberty, I looked up from the pedestal and saw an airplane with a banner that said “Black Lives Matter.” Everyone’s life is important. All the people are born equal. As people, we should respect each other’s lives. The Minister at the Japan Mission and a UN staff member said the same thing: we have to understand and accept each other’s differences. This includes religious and racial differences as well as small differences in our daily lives. If we can do that, we can realize symbiosis or coexistence.
It was a whirlwind visit but it changed everyone.
What I wanted to tell my classmates was the necessity of transforming the world ourselves. We visited some UN institutions and at every place we went to I heard the same thing - that taking action is important for us, even if our actions are very small. When we see problems around us, we have to take an interest in them and to be eager to solve them. We cannot leave others to solve the issues, without taking action ourselves.
In my opinion, the first step to make this world better is to focus on understanding and respect. We shouldn’t allow religion, gender or race become a wall between people. All people are born equal. Our different cultures should be instruments to understand and respect one another, not instruments to hurt one another.
“What is a global leader?” our teacher asked us at the end of our trip. My answer is: a person who can have conversations with anybody, can talk not only English but also other languages. A global leader is someone who can greet everyone and convey both gratitude and apology, can allow the people around them to be themselves. A person who has a strong personal identity and manages their own health, time and opinions, but who also looks at the bigger picture and tries to help the people around them is a true leader.
I began to understand that the policy of the United Nations is to achieve action through discussion and dialogue. There are different cultures and religions in the world, so it is very difficult, but as long as everyone`s purpose is peace, it isn`t impossible, I think. It will take a lot of time, but to have discussion that leads to dialogue and mutual understanding is the most valuable way to solve problems. I could feel my growth after one week in New York. Our trip is not over. We are going to continue sharing what we have learned with our classmates. By sharing, thinking and taking action, we can show our gratitude to everyone who made this trip possible, and all those who welcomed us.