A special effort in international diplomacy earned three UWC ISAK Japan students a Changemaker Award for their work to promote constructive dialogue between the youth of Japan and Korea. The award was given to Junpei (Class of 2022 / Japan), Ichiro (Class of 2022 / Japan), and Yuina (Class of 2021 / Japan) by ESIBLA, a Japan-based organization dedicated to making inquiry-based learning with an emphasis on using English.
Confronted by history
One day, Junpei and a student from Korea discussed Japan and Korea’s interactions around World War II and their relationship since the end of the war. Junpei felt at the time that Japan had shown enough contrition. At the same time, his Korean classmate said that Japan had never taken responsibility for many of its actions. The conversation ended without finding common ground.
Different countries teach different things
The stalemate in dialogue made Junpei consider why there were such different perspectives on the issue. By this stage, Junpei had begun to include others in the discussion, including Iichiro and Yuina, who also participates in similar initiatives focused on Sino-Japanese relations.
The group learned that in terms of the Japanese annexation of the Korean peninsula in 1905, Japanese textbooks featured a mere half-page on the topic, while Korean textbooks dedicated 70 textbook pages. This information shocked our group of learners and led them to conclude that disagreements about history were inevitable.
The solution to knowledge gaps
The group surmised that the key to bridging these gaps was to create forums and opportunities for discussion. They felt such opportunities were sorely lacking in most modern educational approaches that tend to emphasize rote memorization over application heavily.
Founding the Korea Japan Youth Conference
To bridge the gap between Korean and Japanese students, the group has founded a summit-style conference they’ve dubbed KJYC—the Korea Japan Youth Conference. They claim it is the first-ever conference to bring together junior- and senior-high-school students from both countries to freely exchange ideas aimed at fostering understanding and improved relationships between the neighboring countries.
Taking action, step-by-step
Junpei and Co. identified several steps to get their initiative moving forward: 1) talk to experts, 2) build a diverse team, and 3) hold an event. After speaking with a Korean Studies researcher at the University of Tokyo, the group learned how history is often subjective and curated to match local sensitivities. They then formed a coalition of members from 7 different nations to ensure a diverse set of perspectives on the issues at hand. And in October 2020, they launched their first mini-summit online, with 35 high school students joining the discussion.
Reviewing the results and looking forward
In an impact assessment survey, 100% of participants felt the session was a fantastic opportunity to discuss their thoughts and ideas on controversial topics without fear of censure or ridicule. Many enthusiastically offered to continue to support the initiative moving forward.
This first success injected even more motivation to press on with their efforts. They now plan to hold an in-person event during the summer in Karuizawa. But they are also thinking even more broadly. They hope to eventually expand their efforts to include Chinese students as a trilateral effort at constructive dialogue.
Overview of award-winning presentation
Influenced in part by their education and experiences at UWC ISAK Japan, the trio skillfully delivered their thoughtful presentation to a panel of judges assembled by ESIBLA. The panel included leaders in education from across Japan and representatives from the media, among others.