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Student inspired to study US-Japan relationship

Inspired by her study abroad experience last year at Obirin University in Japan, Johanna Gunawan sought an opportunity to return to the East Asian nation this past summer.

Gunawan, SSH’17, found the opportunity in the Japan-America Student Conference, a student-led academic and cultural exchange program that brings together students to gain a better understanding of each other’s nations.

“A Japanese politics course led to my application to JASC,” Gunawan said. “It taught me a lot about the Japanese system of governance, including gender politics, the size of the government, the economics of bureaucracy, and more. The content of that course piqued my curiosity and made me want to continue learning more.”

The conference was founded in 1934 by college students in Tokyo and is held annually in either Japan or the U.S. In addition to attending lectures and cultural events, the 72 student delegates also participate in roundtable discussions that examine a range of cultural and societal issues and the roles they play in the relationship between the U.S. and Japan.

“The topics were really in line with my political science and international affairs major, and the content was extremely relevant,” said Gunawan, who participated in the roundtable on security and non-traditional threats.

Four students from each country comprised the roundtable, which primarily focused on the remilitarization of Japan and what a U.S.-Japan security alliance would mean for both nations. At the end of the conference, Gunawan’s group presented ways that Japan could try to justify domestically or to its international neighbors its plans to remilitarize.

I truly believe in Northeastern’s global vision
—Gunawan said.

The students also traveled to different universities around Japan for panel discussions and lectures, and heard Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speak at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony, 70 years after the atomic bomb was dropped there.

Gunawan plans to incorporate the work she completed at the conference into an Honors research project on Japan-America relations.

Today, Gunawan serves as the vice-chair of the American Executive Committee for next year’s Japan-America Student Conference, which will be held in four U.S. cities including Boston.

Northeastern will house some of the visiting student delegates, and Gunawan is exploring opportunities for Northeastern colleges and centers to participate in academic events during the conference.

Gunawan wants to use the conference to leverage the university’s growing global presence and create more opportunities for Northeastern students in Japan. “I truly believe in Northeastern’s global vision and I think it would be great to align the two,” she said. “We’ll have 35 of Japan’s brightest students here and we want to have them return home and talk about Northeastern, which creates whole new opportunities for our students.”

The conference is open to all students. Anyone interested in participating should email Gunawan at

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