Building cultural bridges in Japan

3 Mins read
Students in Japan.

Students share their experiences with the Kakehashi Program, which sponsored them on a week-long trip to Japan

In Japanese, “kakehashi” means bridge-building. And 10 students at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy had the opportunity to build those bridges as part of the Kakehashi Program, an immersive exchange program paid for by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and coordinated by the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE).

“The Kakehashi Program is a wonderful opportunity for our students to appreciate the emerging geodynamics of the Indo-Pacific region,” said GPS professor Ulrike Schaede, who helped to secure the opportunity for the students. 

From Jan. 14-22, the selected students met with government officials, politicians and university professors and students, experiencing “many on-site visits that combined into a memorable and highly educational trip,” Schaede added. The tour included traveling to Tokyo, Yokohama, Sendai and Matsushima.

“During the day we would either explore Tokyo or travel 40 minutes south to Yokohama, which is San Diego’s sister city, and for three days we stayed in Sendai,” said Delaney Crabtree, Master of International Affairs (MIA) ’23 candidate. “We got there by the Shinkansen, which I believe is one of the fastest trains in the world. And day to day, we got around by bus. We had a fantastic bus driver, especially considering the tiny roads!”

A unique experience, from dining to diplomacy and disaster relief

David Mendoza, MIA ’23 candidate, said during the trip, students focused on learning about the concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific from the U.S. State Department and MOFA, as well as about Japan’s disaster preparedness since the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. 

“Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this Japan trip was visiting the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to better understand the U.S. and Japan’s positioning toward increased cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” Mendoza said. “As someone who aspires to work in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, the experience has only furthered my drive to work in diplomacy.”

Crabtree, who will be starting a career in the aerospace field upon graduation this summer, said her favorite moment was meeting the NASA Asia representative Garvey McIntosh. 

“It was amazing to see how Japan and the U.S. work together in terms of space exploration and national security,” Crabtree explained. “I learned that the company I will be working for is a part of a project with Japan, the U.S. and other nations to go to the moon. How neat is that? It was a fantastic experience to learn more about foreign service life and the new frontier of technology.”

Many students remarked on how well JICE planned the daily schedule, ensuring students were exposed to a number of aspects of Japanese culture — including visiting a Buddhist temple, taking a Japanese cinema course for a day on Tohoku University’s Kawauchi campus, and trying out a number of traditional cuisines.

“They refused to give us ramen or sushi because we have too much of that in the States,” laughed Reed Harbeck, Master of Advanced Studies in International Affairs (MAS-IA) ’23 candidate. 

Harbeck, who was briefly stationed in Okinawa but had not visited mainland Japan before this trip, added that the experience complemented his studies and provided him a more well-rounded view of the country. 

“I’m in the military and in the Security of the Asia-Pacific track, but it was really nice to step away from that track a bit and see the economic and cultural side of Japan,” Harbeck said. “It was really nice to add those tools to my toolkit and understand the region a bit more from the Japanese perspective.” 

Connecting with GPS alumni

As part of the trip, students also had the opportunity to connect with GPS alumni who live and work in Japan

“Professor Schaede organized an alumni event in a beautiful park in Tokyo,” said Isman Cyair, BA/MIA ’23 candidate. “We had people from the beginning years of GPS to us as current students exchanging experiences and witnessing how impactful our alumni are around the globe.”

Mendoza added that meeting other GPS alumni in the region confirmed his belief that there are a wide variety of career opportunities in Japan. 

“We were previously told that the GPS alumni community in Tokyo was incredibly strong and close-knit, but it was not until I saw it with my own eyes that I truly believed it,” Mendoza said. “Hearing what led to their paths strengthened my resolve that I had chosen the right graduate program, as well as choosing Japan as my focus.”

Harbeck said it was enlightening to have conversations with alumni about their personal journey that brought them to Japan. 

“They all said that they still rely on things they learned in courses at GPS and explained how it informs their decision-making,” Harbeck said. “It was really cool to hear they still use what they learned here and how it applies to their jobs now.”

To see more from the student trip, view this Flickr album

Trip participants: 

  • Zachary Belgum, MIA ’23
  • Alayna Bone, MIA ’23
  • Brandon Callegari, MIA ’23
  • Delaney Crabtree, MIA ’23
  • Isman Cyair, BA/MIA ’23
  • Robert Daquila, MIA ’23
  • Reed Harbeck, MAS-IA ’23
  • Jaha McClean, MIA ’23
  • David Mendoza, MIA ’23
  • Marcia Yang, MIA ’23
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Virginia S. Watson is the Assistant Director of Communications for the School of Global Policy and Strategy. She has spent her entire career in editing, writing and design, both in industry and higher education. She holds a master's in technical and professional communication from Auburn University and a B.S. in journalism from Troy University.
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