UW News Lab

Haruka Uehara knows that when she returns to Japan, she will bring back a new perspective to her studies in the field of international relations after her experiences in the United States.

She is among 20 students from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, who arrived in September to take part in a peace and conflict studies program during fall quarter at the University of Washington.

“Before coming to the U.S., I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do for the future,” she said. “But coming to this program helped me decide. I am sure I want to keep studying this.”

It is the first year of the exchange between Ritsumeikan and UW. The students received scholarships from Ritsumeikan to take part in the program. The successful collaboration between the two universities carries high hopes for future exchange programs.

The students learned about various topics including causes of civil wars and rebellions, political economy of aid, and psycho-social explanations for ethnic conflicts and nationalism, according to Audrey Sacks, an instructor of the peace and conflict course.

“I’m very interested in peace and conflict studies,” said Chiharu Yamamoto, a freshman at Ritsumeikan. “We studied philosophies and ideas. We learned so many things.”

Topics also include activism and theories of democratic participation.

“We had opportunities to meet other activists and we could talk with them,” said Natsuki Yamakawa, a senior at Ritsumeikan. “We also studied about wars and conflicts and future resolutions.”

“Our hope is they come here and they learn that we share common goals of peace everywhere,” said Anand Yang, director of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, through which the peace and conflict studies program is offered.

Peace and democracy are also the educational philosophies of Ritsumeikan. The peace and conflict program at UW is a welcome addition to the university’s educational goals, according to Ritsumeikan’s Web site.

The exchange students are a positive contribution to the campus and are also important in diversifying the UW student body after the decline of international students due to Sept. 11, said Yang.

Different from other traditional exchange programs, this program is more self-sustaining, said Aaron Bidelstach, director of the International Outreach Programs at the UW.

“The coursework is demanding and [the students] are adjusting to the cultural and academic changes,” he said. “They have taken the challenge.”

One of the challenges comes from the different classroom environment compared to classes in Japan.

“It is unusual taking workshops when in Japan we would be studying at desks,” said Uehara. “Usually I don’t have opportunities to ask teachers [questions] in class. It’s more challenging this way.”

Many students found that the diversity of the student body and opportunities on campus were surprising and added a new dimension to their experiences.

To become better connected with the UW community, students are taking intense English language courses and are involved with the Foundation for International Understanding Through Students (FIUTS), a nonprofit organization on campus that promotes international understanding and cultural exchanges.

For many of the students, it was their first time coming to the United States. By getting acquainted with the community and taking various classes and lectures, the students had an opportunity to gain a new perspective.

“Before coming to the U.S., I thought that most Americans support the Iraq War, but they do not, especially in Washington State,” said Yamakawa. “Studying peace in America; at first I thought it was ridiculous, but now it I think it was very good. The U.S. has a big role in the peace process and to study it was very interesting.”

With the new experiences and understanding gained through the peace and conflict studies, students will move on to pursue their future goals.

“The goal is to have them apply [the] learning to different situations in the world,” said Bidelstach. “The students are incredible and they are so motivated.”

The students will leave for Japan on Dec. 10, taking with them the program’s goals of broadening perspectives and a better understanding of working in the world of diplomacy and mediation.

(CRYSTAL NAM is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.)

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