NEW YORK – Students from Hyogo Prefectural Itami High School, the alma mater of Katsuhiko Oku, a diplomat killed in Iraq in 2003, and Baruch College Campus High School in New York met Thursday at the Japanese Consulate General in the Big Apple to begin an exchange program.
“We’re proud of him,” Hisako Akita, principal of the Itami school, said to students from both institutions. “This exchange program will be one of the biggest opportunities for my students to (realize) Mr. Oku’s wish for world peace.”
The 45-year-old diplomat, killed in an ambush in northern Iraq while working for the Coalition Provisional Authority, graduated from the high school in 1976 and continues to inspire students there.
Fifteen students, along with the school’s principal and English teacher, are visiting New York for five days, with the American students and teachers hosting them.
“I am nervous, but I want to make friends,” said Yuka Yoshii, a second-year student.
Baruch Principal Alicia Perez-Katz and foreign-language teacher Melody Kwan said the 15 students from their school participating in the program have been meeting weekly to plan the visit and discuss what they might experience during a home-stay.
The New York school has had a four-year partnership with a school in Denmark and Perez-Katz had suggested starting a similar program with a school in Japan after the consulate approached her last year about introducing Japanese culture in American schools.
“Our school was interested in developing more international exchanges,” Perez-Katz said. “We’re trying to give our students more exposure to different cultures and see that it’s a global society.”
Next July, the schools will switch roles when the American students visit Itami. The New Yorkers, including 16-year-old Damon Lundy, hope to learn more about the lives of “normal teens” in Japan.
“This is the beginning of a friendship between your two schools,” Consul General Shigeyuki Hiroki told the group, “I really hope you can get to know each other well.”
Hiroki was a colleague of Oku at the Japanese Embassy in London before Oku was sent to Iraq.