Education has evolved. In the 21th century, a new method for educating has been devised to better serve students across the world, all from different walks of life, all fulfilling their journey. Today, “education” means hands-on participation and accessible options for everyone, including those who regularly cross borders to pursue their education. We readily see students and institutions traveling from one place to another to share and experience new ideas. This is the new normal.
This idea hit Mari Hirotsuru when her only daughter, Sumire, entered Harvard College in 2012, coming from a small town on the southern island of Japan. At that time, rare was the concept in Japanese public education to send Japanese students to study overseas, to expose them to universities in the North American or European countries. Recently, however, online programs developed by institutions for higher education such as Harvard and Stanford, however, have radically changed the world of education, and for the better. Now, almost regardless of where you live, with access to the Internet and a command of the English language, you can now gain opportunities of nearly every kind, from observing lectures delivered by individual experts, to vocational certifications delivered completely online, to a full-time course schedule that yields a diploma. Hundreds of windows of opportunity are being created every week, for Japanese students and students of all nationalities and ages, everywhere.
What is more, scholarships have become common practice in the West, Mari realized. While Japanese universities ask every student to pay tuition equally, regardless of their family’s financial circumstances, even the most renowned universities in the United States offer various kinds of scholarships to their students, based on their talents and/or their need. According to the Harvard College website*, 20% of their students study for free including accommodation. * https://college.harvard.edu/financial-aid
Sumire, who graduated later in 2016, recalls having admired three advantages of learning at Harvard that did not exist in Japan: (1) students can, on the same campus, meaningfully continue their artistic practice in conjunction with their academic study; (2) students learn to respect the cultural values of others as well as their own unique perspectives; and (3) students grow to value, rather than look skeptically upon, change.
Together with Sumire, Mari founded Summer in JAPAN (SIJ) in 2012 for the purpose of introducing students aged 7-18 to opportunities to study as global citizens do. Seeking, too, to give back to the Harvard student community, SIJ successfully provides not only travel to and from Japan but also lodging for the undergraduates selected as SIJ student instructors, all free of charge. By doing so, Mari hopes to broaden their horizons all the more. Finally, these efforts create the opportunity to contribute to the Japanese society, too, through highlighting Japan’s unique culture and traditions to visiting university students, in hopes that they will, in-turn, share their experiences with their own communities.
Every summer, SIJ hosts a variety of activities for three weeks in its birthplace of Oita City, Japan, the beauty and uniqueness of which regularly attracts both students and travelers from across the world. It is the sincere hope of everyone here at SIJ that young participants and university students from Oita, the U.S., and beyond, together with local communities and schools, may continue to enjoy this program for many, many years to come!