I have just returned from an amazing trip to Sapporo, Japan for the 25th Japanese Academy. This was a fantastic opportunity to experience a different culture, meet new friends and to take part in a truly inspirational leadership academy. I arrived in Japan on Wednesday 4th July after travelling a good majority of the journey to Japan with a group of delegates from Europe. On the first day we had some free time before a welcome reception hosted by the JCI Sapporo local president. It was great to catch up with some old friends and I was also already meeting new people and starting to expand my global network.
Thursday saw the first part of the program which was a visit to a local school. The children at the school had gone to so much effort and we were treated to performances from the orchestra, choir, judo team, kendo team, and plate spinning club. The international delegates were then broken down into small groups to work with classes of school children to discuss the Millennium Development Goals which they had been studying. I worked with a group of around 12 students and really appreciated hearing their thoughts and ideas. At the end of the session we had to agree on an action that we could all take in the future to help towards the MDG’s. Our group pledged to not waste food or water (pictured below).
After the visit to the school we were matched with our home stay families where we were due to stay for the next three nights – a truly unique and special experience! I had received an email from my family before leaving the UK and was very much looking forward to meeting them in person and I wasn’t disappointed. The Ito family welcomed me into their home, they took me sightseeing, we ate meals together, visited the beach and visited friends.
I have included some pictures of my time with my new Japanese family. I really enjoyed playing with the children and I was so impressed with their ability to speak in English and their efforts to make me feel at home. When it came to say goodbye to them on Sunday 8th August as they dropped me back at the hotel I was moved to tears.
Now it was time for the real work to begin! We travelled to a temple where all of the international delegates prayed for the success of the academy. Then that afternoon we were joined by the Japanese delegates and put into the groups of 7-8 people that we’d be working with for the next 5 days. We were also paired with a buddy. Throughout the academy your buddy is your roommate and support. I was lucky enough to have two buddies, Miki from Tokyo and Naveen from Pakistan. The program of the academy is a journey of self-discovery and I am sure that the experience will differ from person to person.
For me I learned a lot about the kind of leader that I would like to be. It was an exercise in self-control and discipline and a once in a lifetime opportunity to work alongside some amazing people that I am proud to now call my friends. My personal highlight was also my biggest challenge – working all through the night on a group project and presentation with a group containing five different nationalities and no translator! I had a one hour sleep before getting back up and presenting with my group the next day. If that doesn’t teach you to work as part of a team then nothing will! I also got the chance to make my own sushi for which I discovered a natural talent and take part in some singing and dancing!
I learned so much about myself during my adventures in Japan but I also learned how amazing the Japanese people are. I have never felt so welcome and so looked after before. The attention to detail in the organisation of the academy and the passion for making a difference in the community was so inspirational. I hope to return to Japan in the future and I thank JCI Sapporo and JCI Japan for a wonderful academy.
Categorised in: Charity
This post was written by Soraya Bowen