The YLC Nagoya program in Japan was held in partnership with the Alive English School, a network of independent schools that provides English language and enrichment programming for native Japanese students. The President of the school reached out to YLC in hopes of introducing a program that would teach problem-solving and critical thinking skills, in contrast to the current system of memorization and deference. These skills are also increasingly important to admittance into Western universities and multi-national employment.
In August 2013, I led a group of six Harvard students and alumni to teach 40 students in Nagoya, a major Japanese business center. One of the initial challenges was the variation in age range from 10 to 16, requiring us to modify the curriculum for the different levels. However, given that YLC is largely taught in breakout groups to enhance engagement, the age difference was not a problem--and in fact some of the youngest groups were the most impressive. Throughout the week, all the students rose to the challenges presented to them, overcoming cultural and educational norms of conformism and hesitation. The first day, not one student would raise their hand to answer. By the end of the week, arms shot into the air when questions were asked and voices spoke with confidence as they were pressed to think differently.
The highlight of the week was the final day. Parents, siblings and special guests gathered in the room to listen to the group share their ideas. The students displayed dazzling posters and polished public speaking skills as they shared their innovative social change projects and reflections on the week. After the camp, feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with the one "negative" response being that "The camp was so fun it was hard to sleep at night!"
YLC teachers also had an unforgettable time experiencing the Japanese culture, staying in homestays with local families. The hosts generously shared their traditions (and delicious food!) with us and continue to stay in contact. The kindness and generosity is deeply appreciated, and we look forward to further programs in Japan!
-Kara Kubarych, YLC Nagoya Director