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Exchanging culture and forming friendships in Japan

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A group of Japanese students in white shirts arm in arm with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in blue shirts. In the background are more students and classrooms.
Two cultures coming together for fun, education and friendship.
2 Jan 2018

It is said that travel broadens the mind and the sharing of culture creates friendship.

10 students and 5 staff from Mount Saint Bernard College (MSB) in Herberton, Far North Queensland visited Japan for 10 days to do just that.

MSB had hosted students from the University of Agriculture-Tokyo in August 2016 and July 2017, and now it was their chance to experience Japanese culture first hand.

At the University of Agriculture, students took part in a Kendo (Japanese martial art using bamboo swords) demonstration and traditional tea ceremony. They attended two English lessons, playing language games and enjoying a question and answer activity.

Sixteen year-old Sherrika Gilbert from the community of Kowanyama said the university trip was a highlight.

‘The games were fun and we were treated like rock stars,’ Sherrika said.

‘We got to try Kendo and watch judo. It was really good to try new things and to see the pride the students took at school. They made us feel very welcome.’

Four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students dressed in different coloured clothing sit at a table eating food out of white bowls using chopsticks.
Left to right: Toby Williams ( Wujal Wujal), Dale Kepi (PNG), Keane Ryan (Sante Teresa NT), Sherrika Gilbert ( Kowanyama)

The MSB students visited many important sites in Japan including the Imperial Palace in Kyoto and the Hiroshima Peace Park.

These and many other activities were designed to open the students’ minds to the many possibilities the world has to offer. It was also to demonstrate that even though people go through dramatic upheaval, the base culture can still be maintained.

Toby Williams (17 years) from Wujal Wujal said the guide at the Hiroshima memorial greatly impressed him.

‘It made me think about what could happen if we can’t stop wars,’ Toby said. 

‘The lady held no anger about what happened and was passionate about peace.’

Through programs funded by the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS), the college has established trusting relationships with the students and their communities. This helped to overcome some of the anxiety students and their families felt about the trip.

‘I was excited and nervous and scared. My family were worried about me going but they were good in the end,’ Sherrika said.

Facebook messenger became a useful tool and was appreciated by families back in the communities, as they were also able to enjoy the sites being visited by their children.

They were very proud that their children were on this trip.

Other highlights of the trip included riding the Bullet Train from Osaka to Tokyo and visiting the Tokyo Sky Tower.

Did the trip affect Toby and Sherrika in any way?

‘Not sure,’ Toby said.

‘I do think more often about world events like the Korean rockets and typhoons.’

‘It made me feel more confident that I can do things I haven’t done before, including travelling to different places,’ Sherrika said.

MSB will host students from the University of Agriculture-Tokyo again in 2018, on a date yet to be determined.

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The Australian Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy funds Mount Saint Bernard College to deliver transition support services and their families in residence program. It also funded the trip to Japan.