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Going global starts at home

In a twist on Northeastern’s popular Dialogue of Civilizations program—which sends students abroad for five weeks of intensive study in any of 25 locations around the globe—sixteen Japanese students from Meiji University recently came to Northeastern to immerse themselves in U.S. history and culture. Over the course of two weeks, Meiji students attended a series of lectures about the United States and explored the City of Boston.

The academic partnership between Northeastern and Meiji is unofficially referred to as a “reverse Dialogue of Civilizations.”

“From day one, the students said they wanted to study at Northeastern for the rest of their college lives,” said Kosaku Dairokuno, a political science and economics professor at Meiji who accompanied the Japanese students to Northeastern. “They loved the physical and academic environment of the university.”

Over the past two years, Northeastern’s Dialogue trip to Japan has become the university’s most popular; students declare the trip to be a life-changing experience. Northeastern political science associate professor Bruce Wallin, who has a longstanding relationship with Meiji, decided the time was right to create a similar opportunity for Japanese students.

When Wallin pitched the idea of the reverse Dialogue trip so that Japanese students could experience the American way of life the response was more than enthusiastic. Now, there are tentative plans for additional faculty and student exchanges between the two universities.

At the heart of the success of both trips is the degree to which students’ perspectives of each others’ nations are expanded. “Before the Dialogue, many Northeastern students had little understanding of what Japan was all about,” says Wallin. “When they finally experienced Japan they learned that the people face the same political problems and the same policy problems as we do. After that, they never thought about Japan in the same way.”

The same held true for the Meiji students visiting Northeastern. They gained a greater understanding of the U.S, shattering preconceived notions and heightening their awareness of the country’s history along the way, says Dairokuno. Students participated in 10 lectures on topics ranging from U.S. foreign policy and America’s relationship with Japan, to the history of Boston and U.S. cultural diversity. The diversity among U.S. citizens sparked particular interest among the Japanese students.

“The U.S. has become a really multicultural society, whereas Japan is more homogeneous,” Dairokuno said. “By staying at Northeastern, our students started to understand the meaning of that diversity.”

Not all the trip was academic. Meiji students also had a chance to enjoy some downtime, eating meals with their Northeastern peers (“Seeing Northeastern students become great friends with Meiji students was one of the highlights for me,” says Wallin.) and taking in the music of one of rock’s all- time greats—Beatles legend Paul McCartney—outside Fenway Park.

“We wanted to expose Japanese students to American culture and get them to know what American people are really like,” Wallin says. “The hope is that this visit will lay the foundation so the exchange will grow.”

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