Long Island City, NY—September 25 , 2013–Madam Akie Abe, the wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, made a special visit to LaGuardia Community College on September 25 to meet with students who are studying the country’s language and culture and who recently participated in a study abroad program proposed by her husband.
During her whirlwind hour-long visit, Madam Abe and Mr. Sumio Kusaka, the ambassador and consul general of Japan in New York, observed students in a Japanese language class and met with students who were invited last May by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and Japan Foundation to take part in an all-expense-paid 10-day study tour of Japan.
Upon arriving on campus, the First Lady was warmly greeted by Dr. Gail O. Mellow, president of LaGuardia, and the students. While some students wore kimonos, others held up Japanese characters that spelled out, “Welcome to LaGuardia, Madam Akie Abe.” All waved small Japanese flags.
Dr. Mellow showed Madam Abe two cherry trees planted in the College’s courtyard that were gifts from the Consul General of Japan in the New York. The trees, which were presented to the College during the 100th anniversary of the planting of Japan’s cherry blossom trees in the United States, are also symbols of the strong relationship between LaGuardia and the nation of Japan.
The First Lady and the ambassador were then escorted to a classroom where they observed 20 students in a beginning Japanese language class. In one of the exercises several groups demonstrated how they would introduce themselves to their classmates in Japanese.
“It was nice to see the students study with such eagerness,” said Madam Abe.
The guests then met the 46 students from LaGuardia and eight sister schools who participated last summer in the travel abroad project, the “Kakehashi-Bridge for Tomorrow.” The purpose of the project is to encourage deeper mutual understanding between the youth of Japan and the United States.
“The Kakehashi project was a life-changing experience for our students,” said Dr. Mellow. “They experienced the beauty of Japan and the beauty of the Japanese culture.”
Dr. Ann Feibel, the associate dean for academic affairs who led the students, expressed her gratitude to Madam Abe and her husband for developing the project, seeing it come to fruition and allowing CUNY students to participate.
Speaking on behalf of the students, Anthony Burgos, a LaGuardia liberal arts major who studied Japanese for one semester and is interested in the country’s traditions and history, delivered a speech in English that explained what the experience meant to the young travelers.
While an interpreter translated, Anthony said, “The program helped develop a deep, meaningful connection for both us and the Japanese people. You might say ‘our hearts and theirs were touched by the other.’ What lasted only 10 days will be remembered for a lifetime.”
Anjelica Camacho, a John Jay history major who took three semesters of Japanese, offered her reflections in Japanese. She spoke about the Japanese students from Chuo University in Tokyo and Doshisha University in Kyoko whom the group befriended. “My Japanese friends became my family,” said Anjelica. “I can’t wait to go back.”
In her remarks to the students, Madam Abe said that she was glad to hear that the students in the Kakehashi project had such a valuable experience. “It is very important for young people to learn the Japanese language, to visit Japan and to interact with the local people,” she said.
Responding to a question posed by a student regarding future student project, Madam Abe said she hopes similar projects will be offered in the future and, in a comment that brought laughter and applause, she told those students who plan on returning to Japan, “If you will contact me, I might be able to invite you to the prime minister’s residence.”
On a more serious note, she explained that Kakehashi was made possible because of the strong ties between Japan and the United States. “The U.S. is one of our most important allies,” she said.
Expanding upon Madam Abe’s statement, Dr. Paul Arcario, the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said, “LaGuardia’s role, in collaboration with our Japanese partners, is to guide the younger generation in continuing to maintain the bridge between our countries. We must continue to rebuild it together so that our bond of friendship continues to thrive for future generations. And I am confident that with students like Anthony and Anjelica the dream is in good hands.”
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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.