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Learning Strategies for Peace at Ground Zero

Morristown, N.J. (October 1, 2015) – Seventy years after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, four CSE students spent 10 days at the Hiroshima Jogakuin University with the University's students and a group from the Philippines for a peace seminar. The trip took place during the summer of 2015.

The four CSE students, Theresa Nolan '16 of Brielle N.J.; Karina Kozlowski '18, of Manville, N.J.; Ju Lee '16, of Morristown, N.J.; and Katherine "Kat" Buri '16, of Ridgefield Park, N.J., are studying different majors and have very different backgrounds. They became good friends and learning partners as they traveled to a country they knew little about.

Kat Buri said of the preparation for the trip, "We watched videos about the culture and the people, which helped, but it was all still different from what we experienced."

Theresa Nolan added, "The language was a challenge, but the people were very welcoming and generous."

Ju Lee, who is Korean by birth, was the "go-to" person whenever the group felt a little out of place. "The Japanese and Korean cultures are similar in many respects," she said. "Everybody looked to me when they weren't sure what to do."

But it didn't take long for the students to acclimate to their new surroundings. While the three student groups started out keeping to themselves, it was not long before they began to interact in classes and on trips.

The academics focused on the bombing of Hiroshima and the long-term physical, emotional, and cultural effects on the residents. The guest speakers are survivors, or hibakusha, who offer their testimonies in order to educate future generations – similar to Holocaust survivors and keeping the story alive. The hibakusha were originally shunned from society because people did not understand the long-term effects of radiation poisoning. The Hiroshima residents began to realize that the hibakusha had an important story to tell and the educational culture incorporated lessons about peacekeeping rather than victimization. The hibakusha are not just telling their stories of the horror of nuclear weaponry, but are promoting peace by actively seeking to convince nations to become free of all nuclear weapons.

The group of students visited the Peace Memorial Museum at ground zero where they saw the many monuments to the disaster created by Japanese artists, such as the large clock with the hands stopped at the moment of the bombing. They also visited the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in which both the United States and Japan are working together to study the long-term effects of radiation.

Japanese students and American students shared this history with their Filipino peers and it was enlightening. They all learned that as institutions of higher learning, colleges must always teach students to look at both sides of events because different vantage points have different stories. To appreciate the beauty of the Japanese culture, the students enjoyed traditional crafts, ceremonies and dance.

As immersion is the best way to experience a new culture, the students spent a weekend with a host family that had a connection with the university. The experience took them out of their comfort zone by placing them with families from different points of the socioeconomic spectrum.

"This experience allowed them to think differently about lifestyles and what is important," says Lenee Woodson, director of international and multicultural affairs. "Each student had a unique experience that they could share with their colleagues."

Theresa recalls, "My host family was very generous; I quickly learned not to say I liked something because they would then go and buy it for me, much to my embarrassment."

For all four students, the trip was transformational. Karina noted, "I became more open-minded and learned to see a perspective other than my own." Kat says of her experience, "I became more truthful with myself and more confident to talk to new people and not shy away from them." Theresa recalls, "I became more at peace within myself. I now understand more about bringing peace to others." Ju learned "to approach situations with a different perspective." "My actions don't just affect me, my actions have consequences that may affect others," she says.

All four students have many stories to tell about their adventures and learning at Hiroshima Jogakuin University. Some were touching and emotional, some were quite humorous as they tried to blend in to the culture, and all were highly educational. "Everyone should do something like this," they all agreed. "It is an amazing experience to learn how others live."

The trip occurs about every two years.

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