When you’re 15 years old, you probably don’t have a clear plan in mind for what you want to do after high school. Although your parents may have some preconceived notions about your going to college, their ideas might not necessarily be in line with what you envision yourself doing in a few years time. As the mother of a ninth grader, I sometimes get ahead of myself in thinking about my daughter’s education. I want to make sure she has every possible opportunity to receive the kind of thought-provoking education I had in college in the U.S. When I heard about the America EXPO college fair in Akihabara, I decided to take my daughter there to give her a head start on thinking about colleges in the U.S. Honestly, I was a little worried that there would only be young people there and I might feel out of place.
When I got to the fair, I saw that the place was packed not only with students and their parents, but also schoolteachers mingling with college representatives and event staff. There were representatives from sixty different American colleges, including Ivy League schools, state-funded universities, and community colleges. The event staff wore colorful T-shirts and worked as “study-abroad concierges” to help students and parents find the information they needed. There were even seminars on college applications, financial aid, community colleges, high school programs, and more.
Many of the seminars were broadcast live on Ustream so that people who couldn’t make it to the event could watch them as well.
First we watched the opening address by U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires ad interim Kurt Tong. In his speech, he talked about his experiences at Princeton University and studying abroad in Tokyo, Taipei, and Beijing. “Those experiences opened my eyes and made me see the world in a whole new way,” he said. “If I hadn’t had those experiences when I was young, I don’t think I would be standing here today.” He also talked about the recent trend in Japan to place emphasis on young people becoming “global citizens.”
After the speech, a surprise guest bounded up to the stage. It was Pakkun! (Patrick Harlan of the comedy duo Pakkun Makkun) Although my daughter wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the idea of going to a college fair at first, she perked right up when this popular television personality showed up. His charismatic style put the entire audience right at ease. Pakkun got people moving by engaging them in a “rock, paper, scissors” activity to convey the message that no matter what type of person you are, studying in the U.S. will benefit you in some way.
But Pakkun’s speech wasn’t just fun and games. He also talked about his experiences studying at Harvard University and working as a lecturer at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. I found myself nodding in agreement when he pointed out that Japanese students, who tend to be diligent and conscientious, can get the best of both worlds by learning from Americans about innovation and creativity. “Japanese people complete their work carefully and perfectly, and then if there’s any problem, they take care of it right away,” he said. “Americans are a little different. They might not do every little thing perfectly. But they can do things in a very creative way and come up with truly original ideas that nobody else has ever thought of before. Since you grew up in Japan, you can go to an American University and gain a little something extra from the U.S. – something that Americans are good at – and combine that with your own strengths. I have no doubt that you’ll be able to become global citizens.” This is something Pakkun himself has been able to achieve by combining his academic experience at Harvard with a deep understanding of Japanese society to become a successful comedian in Japan. My wish for both of my daughters is that they will venture out into the world and experience other cultures, incorporating what they learn overseas into their Japanese background.
“The actual act of studying abroad is what’s most important,” he said. “Stepping outside your own country and looking back at it helps you learn so many things and understand what’s good and bad about Japan, as well as what’s good and bad about the world. What you learn outside the classroom is also really important.”
Even so, it takes a lot of courage to fly off to another country and attend university there even though you might not even speak the language yet. Many of the booths at America EXPO were staffed by Japanese alumni of the universities, and I could see that the students and their parents felt incredibly reassured when they were able to converse in Japanese with a recent graduate of the college. My daughter speaks English and is interested in the idea of going to college in the U.S., but she’s still unsure about what she wants to study and where. She was a little overwhelmed by all the information available, so I led her around to the different booths, talking to the representatives, and picking up brochures to take home. What impressed me was the huge variety of colleges represented in terms of academic level, area of study, and cost. Many people think you have to be a top level student, come from a wealthy family, be super outgoing, or speak English fluently to study abroad, but America EXPO clearly demonstrated that there’s something for everyone.
On the way home from America EXPO, I asked my daughter which colleges she was interested in and if she had any idea what she wanted to major in. She gave me a blank look and changed the subject. Maybe it’s too early for her to start worrying about college. But later on that evening I saw her flipping through some of the college brochures and even showing them to her younger sister. I know she still has a lot of hard work and soul-searching to do before she decides what she wants to do after high school, but I think this experience has given us both something to think about and perhaps even given her a little push in the direction of studying in the U.S.
America EXPO 2013 was a U.S. college fair held on September 21, 2013 at Akihabara UDX Gallery. The event was organized by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo alongside the Japan Network for International Education (JAFSA), with support from EducationUSA, Fulbright Japan, the U.S. College Alumni Network of Japan (USCANJ) and Eiken Inc. If you missed America EXPO this time, be sure to check out the ConnectUSAwebsite or Facebook page to find out about the next event!