Written By Lucy Class of (2020, Canada)
I started CAF TALKs in the winter. This is right around the time when the excitement of the first semester began to wear off, homework piles up, and even a bit of the winter blues set in. As co-leader of the student union and an active member of many clubs and committees organizing events, I often heard that students want more opportunities to engage with people who are different than them and have more meaningful conversations.
Without being aware of it, it can be easy to slip into a routine on campus, always sitting with one group of friends in the cafeteria or during our free time. CAF TALKS provides the space for students who may have never said more than two words to each other to share their thoughts and experiences from life openly. We designed the topics for participants to connect based on our shared humanity.
Preparing to launch
I spent many months working with my mentor from the Global Citizens Initiative program. At ISAK, I spoke with Cary (Mr. Reid) and Ms. Paddock about my ideas, received professional advice with the marketing strategy from Mr. Osorio (who has previous experience in the advertising industry), and had one-on-one brainstorming sessions over lunch with Ms. Jaya. Mr. Lacoste helped fund the project by providing a budget for snacks and refreshments to help set the atmosphere. I’m so grateful to all the teachers and staff who donated spare time to help guide the creation of this project.
Many students also contributed their thoughts and ideas about how a successful session could look. This even inspiring the idea of a talking stick. Graphic recording (creating a visual representation of a conversation), was inspired by my Engagement Activity this summer for the Global Politics class. I learned that in controversial political meetings, illustrators are often used to ease the tension and bring everyone back to focus. It was such a cool idea! Elena, Hamid, Ricardo, Gianluca, and Kano have all been volunteer Graphic Recorders for CAF TALKs, each with a slightly different style and interpretation.
Better than we could have imagined
CAF TALKS finally launched on March 12th, right around the time that coronavirus started to affect UWC ISAK Japan directly. As our school transitioned into an accelerated schedule and members of our community began to leave campus and return home, CAF TALKS planted its roots.
Every week, without fail, CAF TALKS was open for anyone to join after dinner in the student lounge to listen and exchange stories. The conversation rose into peals of uncontrollable laughter during some moments, and during others, it quieted into a hushed silence as someone spoke about deeply personal thoughts. What was amazing to me is that, after each session, people stayed around and talked to each other – people I’d never seen talking to each other before.
Transitioning to new leaders
Then April came, and it was my time to leave ISAK. After a month of hosting CAF TALKS, I passed over the responsibilities to my buddy Artur. When I say Artur’s my buddy, I mean it quite literally. During the summer, the welcome committee assigned Artur to me as a buddy. And we stayed in touch throughout the whole year.
I remember clearly the night he arrived on campus. It was pouring rain, and I gave him my umbrella to keep. (I’m Canadian, so I don’t need one.) He was so happy he gave me some Estonian chocolate. After that, we were great friends, and I’m proud that he’s continued CAF TALKs since I left. Artur is one of the most motivated students I’ve met, and he brings so much energy and passion to everything he does.
By the time I left ISAK, over 36 different students and staff on campus had attended CAF TALKS. I don’t know how many more people have joined in since then. But I’m so happy to see that it’s still going and students are enjoying it.
A Feeling of Family
In the wake of the current situation, our community has scattered across the globe. But it is these challenges and hardships that reveal our true nature. When Typhoon Hagibis tested our community, we came together. With ISAK students around the world sending messages, videos, and care packages, it’s good to see that this situation is no different. The students who are still on campus have been able to grow closer; facing a tough situation together has formed tighter bonds.
To keep spirits up, we have held assemblies, gardening events, hiking trips, and flower-viewing parties. Taking place right after dinner, CAF Talks has the atmosphere of a family gathering. The warm, tender ambiance of the room exemplifies how our community faces trials beyond our control. Every Friday, our community holds a place to share experiences, stories, tears, and laughter; but the positive effects of CAF Talks are almost impossible to measure. Like waves in an ocean, the warmth ripples out of the small cafe into day to day life.