Japanese borders restrictions in the Covid-era
Japan adopted one of the strictest borders restrictions in the world during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, our students from abroad entered the country only in the fall of their first academic year at UWC ISAK Japan. In 2021, we continued deepening our intentional diversity and prepared to welcome students from all over the world.
Last year, however, was different. Borders were opening again in the fall, and our new international students were packing their bags when the omicron variant hit. The Japanese government responded by swiftly closing the borders, which prevented our students from coming to Japan.
Students in limbo
That was a hard blow for us as a community. Our students found themselves back in limbo together with around 150,000 others worldwide, hoping to come study in Japan. And we found ourselves unable to have a clear idea of when they would be able to go to Japan, if at all. Our Grade 10 and Grade 11 students suffered the most from this uncertainty. Going to a boarding school far from home is a brave choice. Deciding to join the UWC movement is such an incredible experience. And of course, these outstanding students were not ready to spend it at home.
Taking action in the face of discomfort
“Without a doubt, the global pandemic continues to present us with our greatest challenges. However, as we emphasize to our students, leadership allows us to take action in the face of uncertainty and discomfort. Japan’s strict border policy meant we had no guarantees about when, if, or ever our new international students would be able to enter Japan. Specifically, we decided to transfer some of our amazing G11 family members, who we came to know and love, to other schools for a UWC education.
It was a heartwrenching decision, but it also reinforced the power of the UWC ISAK Japan community and the resilience of our entire school,” says Rod Jemison, UWC ISAK Japan Head of School.
We made this decision after petitioning and speaking with the government officials and the Japanese media about the situation (led in large part by our founder and Board Chair Ms. Lin Kobayashi). The uncertainty about the border and when, if ever, these students would arrive in Japan presented too much of a risk to their International Baccalaureate diploma program. And risking their education was not a risk we were willing to take.
UWC support across the globe
Thanks to a truly global effort across the UWC movement, we successfully transferred all of our students to UWC schools. As a result, a large majority of them continued their UWC experiences together at UWC Thailand, with the remaining students heading to UWC Robert Bosch College, UWC USA, UWC Mahindra College, and UWCSEA. We can’t express how much we admire these students, who went through so much, made huge decisions, and had their lives change so drastically. We wish them the best for their precious years and hope to see them one day in person. Our message to them is the same message we share with all UWC ISAK Japan students—this place will always be your home, we will always be family.
And finally, Japan
Our Grade 10 students all decided to stay at UWC ISAK Japan and wait to see if they could enter the country. Then, they proposed a series of solutions to improve their schedules and mental health. Faculty and staff agreed and tried to help as much as they could. And finally, in late February, we heard the fantastic news: all our students could start packing their bags as Japan reopened its borders. When it seemed like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, our students created one.
Resilience: who teaches who?
This crisis taught us a lot. First, we never know what can happen at our school, and we’ll always have to adapt the best we can in a true UWC ISAK Japan spirit. Second, a lot of our strength lies in our students. They have shown so much resilience throughout this period that it feels, like often here, as if we’d have learned from them and not the contrary. So many more lessons can be drawn from this period. Lastly, we might add that we are stronger together. Students, faculty, staff, donors, supporters, friends from the UWC movement and beyond: thank you.
“As we can see each day, these are complicated and challenging times. Since the beginning of this school year, our students have proven their resilience, creativity, and resourcefulness in making the most out of each opportunity. Along with our entire community, we thank them for showing us that with them, our shared future is in good hands.” – Lin Kobayashi, UWC ISAK Japan founder