University Program brings education majors from Japan

by Mikayla Davis | Staff Writer

Students from the Sei Wa campus of Kwansel Gakuin University, Japan played a loud and rousing game of dodgeball against Whitworth residents on Wednesday night, March 6. The group kicked off the night with a win and came together as team with shouting and chanting after every round of success. The evening then ended as it began, with each team posing for pictures both separately and together.

The team of 14 international students that came to the URec on Wednesday are here at Whitworth as part of a Japanese student tour. The tour, through a partnership of Whitworth and Kwansel Gakuin, is a two-week long program that focuses on giving its participants a cultural experience within the American education system.

The program is led by Taizo Fujiki, who teaches physical education on the Sei War campus in Japan. According to Todd Sandeberg, director of the URec and logistics coordinator for the program, Fujiki’s first trip began in 1993 and they have continued every year since.

“All of [Fujiki’s] students are either early childhood education or elementary education students,” Sandberg said.

While here, the program participants go to different Spokane schools every day, and are offered  a variety of experiences within private, public, chartered, religious, elementary and secondary settings.

“In Japan they don’t have home-schooling [or] these chartered schools, so it is a great education opportunity,” Sandberg said.

At the same time that the visiting students are learning about the American education system, they are also sharing pieces of their own culture. Ayaka Hagari, a student in the program and participant in the dodgeball game on Wednesday night, visited Spokane’s Evergreen Elementary School earlier that day. There, she had the opportunity to teach a class an example of a traditional Japanese card game.“They bring a little bit about Japan and Japanese culture to the class,” Sandberg said.The students also like to leave gifts for the children they interact with.

“They’ve made hundreds of origami cranes,” Sandberg explained, “because they give them to every student. They write their name on it too.”

The students stay off campus while visiting Whitworth, and Fujiki and the students have consistently stayed at the Apple Tree Inn every year since coming to Spokane, says Sandberg. So far, the students are enjoying their time in America. Hagari summed up what she liked best about her experiences since arriving in America, in one word: “everything!”Freshman Riku Fukumitsu joined in the dodgeball game on Wednesday and also shared Hagari’s sentiments.

“I love it here,” Fukumitsu said.

Although not in the program, Fukumitsu is an international student hailing from the same school in Japan as Hagari.

Whitworth students also have the chance to visit Japan and participate in a similar tour of the Japanese education system, as Whitworth offers a May Term trip to Japan every two to three years. Whitworth began sending students in 1994 through the athletic training program and this year marks Whitworth’s tenth trip, with 12 students set to head to Japan this May.

Students interested in learning more about Whitworth’s May Term to Japan can contact Sandberg at, or visit him in his office in URec 205.