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FIT President Teruo Shimomura (left) meets with CSUEB Interim President Leroy Morishita during the first week of the FIT cultural exchange program. (Photo: Jesse Cantley)

Japanese university establishes exchange program with CSUEB Peer Mentors

  • September 2, 2011

Ten Cal State East Bay students, juniors who served last year in the Peer Mentor Program, will travel to Japan this fall as part of the inaugural exchange in an Advanced Cultural and Education (ACE) Program, funded by the Fukuoka Institute of Technology (FIT).

FIT is a private university in Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, with programs in engineering, information sciences and social and environmental studies. The university has had a relationship with CSUEB for more than nine years, beginning under former CSUEB President Norma Rees.

FIT Chairman Yoji Unoki and President Teruo Shimomura worked with former President Mohammed Qayoumi as well as Interim President Leroy Morishita to establish the ACE program fund, which will sponsor annual exchanges with FIT student leaders and CSUEB Peer Mentors.

“Global engagement is an important part of higher education, especially here in the Bay Area,” said Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs James Houpis. “Our partnership with FIT will provide wonderful opportunities for Cal State East Bay to increase understanding across cultures and give our students invaluable experiences, academically and personally.”

“Our universities have a relationship, and now the students will sustain and reinforce that on a personal level,” said Professor Sally Murphy, the director of CSUEB’s General Education Program, who is coordinating the exchange with Valerie Machacek, director of the Peer Mentor program.

The first exchange is underway, with students from FIT on the Hayward campus from August 27 through Sept. 2 to meet their American counterparts, then heading to Japan together for a second week. The groups have been attending lectures and seminars on a wide range of topics, such as cross-cultural communication, business and sustainability, and touring the Bay Area.

Leah Guest, one of the CSUEB juniors participating in the exchange, said she’s excited to see a new culture firsthand and hopes it will give her a greater understanding of diversity and the value of communication. “I’ll know how to take the time to learn ways to communicate that work,” she said.

Others, like Isabel Uribe and Tasha Coleman, said they’re looking forward to the Japanese students sharing their school and experiences the way the CSUEB students have shared theirs.

The other students traveling to Japan are Celene Alva, Justin Areola, Raymond Gerardo, Heather Knudson, Monse Rueda-Hernandez, Bridgette Watkins, and Craig Westover. Another group will be chosen from this year’s sophomore Peer Mentors to participate in the exchange program in 2012.

The FIT students are primarily in engineering-related majors and were recommended for the program by faculty in each of their colleges. The CSUEB students are in a variety of majors, but all have served in the Peer Mentor Program, which was established three years ago to provide peer-to-peer support for incoming students in the Freshman Learning Communities. The students receive special training, then work as mentors in general education freshman seminar classes during their sophomore years.

Machacek said she appreciates that CSUEB’s style to student leadership is different than the Japanese approach. “I think what we offer is challenging, culturally, but they’re open to it,” she said.

Tatsuro Yoneda, director of FIT’s California Office, said that the FIT students are eager to learn more about American universities. “The ACE global leadership program allows our students to appreciate the similarities among cultures and also the distinct qualities of different societies,” he said.

On Sept. 3, the students leave California for the second week of the program at FIT. CSUEB students will arrive in Tokyo and tour the city before heading to Fukuoka, where they will stay on the FIT campus, attend seminars with faculty and socialize with the Japanese students. Travel expenses are covered through FIT’s support of the ACE program.

Most of the FIT students speak little to no English, and the CSUEB students speak no Japanese, so they’ll also receive a course in “Survival Japanese,” said Murphy, who is also traveling to Japan with Machacek and the students. They’ve already started practicing phrases they’ve learned from the FIT students — mostly greetings, rituals around dining and other cultural customs.

The goal for the students is to form long-term intercultural connections, Murphy explained, and expose them to unfamiliar surroundings in a safe environment with their peers from both countries.

Yoneda agreed, adding that “Global education is important because our day-to-day lives are influenced by international connections.”

“Hopefully they’ll take future opportunities to study abroad or work internationally, and be more comfortable taking those kinds of risks,” she said. “Working with more and more different other people is all part of building global competence and citizenship.”

FIT and CSUEB students with President Shimomura, Interim President Morishita and faculty advisors

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