Model for outreach celebrates tradition

A Japanese national holiday is marked by students miles from home

by Bruce Mason staff writer

Trays of sushi filled the tables and video cameras focused on beaming faces when UBC joined every city and town in Japan in staging Coming of Age Day Ceremonies recently.

For more than 50 students, thousands of miles from home, the special celebration in the Asian Centre was an opportunity to celebrate an important milestone-- reaching majority. The event is also an example of why the unique UBC -Ritsumeikan Academic Exchange Program has become an award-winning model for international outreach.

"We thought it would be a nice touch to hold a Sei-jin-shiki ceremony, which is a national holiday in Japan," says Joe Greenholtz, executive director of the program. "We didn't want to exclude students who didn't turn 20 between April 3, 1999 and April 2, 2000, so we combined it with a Shin-nen-kai (New Year's) party."

Every year since 1991 when the program began, 100 second- and third-year students from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto have been brought to UBC to live and study with an equal number of Canadians in an integrated academic and residential environment.

"Globalization and the information age are making international and intercultural experience more important than ever," said Japan's Consul General Yuichi Kusumoto at the ceremony. "Be ambitious-- work hard at learning English, which is an essential international language. Also become good citizens who take individual responsibility and don't rely on government and corporations."

In a recent poll of Japanese university presidents, Ritsumeikan was rated first in university exchanges, joint research with industry, and openness to mature students. It ranked second among all universities in Japan in education, research, curriculum and facilities.

UBC and Ritsumeikan students share apartments in the jointly financed Ritsumeikan-UBC House near Totem Park. Japanese students are further immersed in Canadian and campus culture through one-on-one exchanges with Canadian language partners and "buddies" as well as a variety of volunteer activities.

UBC earned a Scotiabank/Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada Award of Excellence for Internationalization for the program last year. Agreements have been signed for graduate students and faculty research exchanges and athletic partnerships.

UBC will also benefit from being involved with the Ritsumeikan Asia-Pacific International University opening this year in Beppu, Japan.

Highlights of the UBC Coming of Age celebration will be shown in Japanese on the community access station, channel 20 at 10:30 a.m., Jan. 29.