In August of 2014 the YLC team traveled halfway across the world to teach a group of 13 Japanese middle and high school students at the Yebisu Garden Place in Tokyo. Most of the students were international high school students.
When thinking back on this amazing the trip, I always remember, first and foremost, the students leap in understanding of the concepts and practice of public speaking skills. By the end of the conference, students were actively, unprovoked, using many key words from our presentations, such as giving care, community, root cause, responsibility, and mission statements. Nothing makes me as happy as an unintentional teach back. Public speaking skills advanced tremendously throughout the week. On the first day, the group as a whole spoke softly and avoided eye contact. But through a combination of discussion of technique and plenty of practice, students presented their social change projects confidently and convincingly to a crowd of family and friends.
On our fourth day of the conference, a former Japanese ambassador visited to talk about his experiences abroad and the responsibility that Japan had to take care of other members of our global community. Students commented later that day that much of the things he talked about echoed ideas from the conference. Hearing these same ideas presented by an outside source in a real world context helped students better understand and believe in our concepts.
The teaching staff, as we always do, learned more than we do during an average week at Harvard. We set a new norm that we hope to carry on to future conferences: at the end of every day, we asked students what ideas from the day did not make sense to them. Each night, the teachers would return to our hotel with one or two unclear topics. At the start of the next day, one of us attempted to briefly clarify the confusing ideas in a new way. The feedback was great, increasing understanding and driving in key points from the week.
Outside of teaching, Kelsey and I spent much time exploring the diverse and exciting neighborhoods of Japan. We ate our way through Ginza, Gotanda, Asakusa, and much more, documenting every adventure via our iPhones and cameras. Hiromi, our partner in Japan, was an amazing hostess, making sure we saw every part of the city and that we got a total experience. I even found myself 451.2 meters high at the top of the Tokyo SkyTree, the second tallest building in the world. I ate more raw fish in that week than I have the rest of my life, and I still found myself craving more.
Of course, all good things must come to an end. Tokyo is an incredible city. And our Tokyo 2014 students were an exceptional bunch. As we told them at the end of the conference, we believe in them. And we know they will go on to make positive changes on their communities.
-Dean Itani, YLC Tokyo Teacher