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SIETAR Japan sees a time for intercultural understanding

by Louise George Kittaka

Contributing Writer

While technology has indeed made the world smaller, in many ways the world is more divided than ever at present. Perhaps it could do with a little help from SIETAR (The Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research), an international organization with branches all over the globe, including Japan.

SIETAR Japan seeks to promote and facilitate intercultural communication through monthly lectures and workshops, special-interest group meetings, an annual conference, retreats and social gatherings. There are branches in the Tokyo, Kansai and Chubu areas, and activities are conducted in both English and Japanese.

The current president is Makiko Deguchi, an associate professor in the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Sophia University. She talked to Lifelines about SIETAR’s activities in Japan, as well as plans for the upcoming World Congress, to be held at Chuo University’s Tama campus in Tokyo from Aug. 7 to 11.

Although born in Japan, Deguchi spent most of her formative years in the United States and Canada because of her father’s career, which led to firsthand experience of intercultural issues.

“I always struggled between the contrasting values and the ways of thinking and behaving between Japanese and North American cultural contexts. Also, growing up as an Asian person in a predominantly white area, I also felt I understood what it was like to grow up as a racial minority,” she says.

SIETAR was first established in the U.S. in 1974, but the Japanese branch dates back to 1984, becoming SIETAR Japan in 1987. Deguchi notes that intercultural communication was a nascent field in 1980s Japan as the economy boomed and Japanese were being sent to work abroad while foreign workers were coming to Japan.

Things shifted from a corporate to a more academic focus with the bursting of the bubble economy in the 1990s. Deguchi points out that the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, Sports and Technology (MEXT) is now recognizing the importance of this trend.

“With MEXT backing universities and high schools that incorporate programs that enhance the global competency of students, there has been a renewed interest in academia for how to measure growth and outcomes of study abroad experiences and intercultural encounters.”

SIETAR aims to bring together people from diverse fields in order to interact and learn from one another, providing chances to become better facilitators and educators in the intercultural communications field in the process.

“We offer many opportunities for exchange, and our strength is the diversity of our members and the areas of research and teaching in which they engage. We are also committed to promoting social justice in an increasingly intolerant world, and have been offering many programs that promote ways in which we can engage students,” says Deguchi.

SIETAR Japan has an annual conference, but this year’s event will be particularly significant, coinciding as it does with the 2018 SIETAR World Congress in Tokyo.

“We have an exciting lineup of keynote speakers, while our Master Workshops provide a special opportunity for participants to learn from various experts,” Deguchi says. “During the congress, we will have parallel sessions consisting of over 100 research presentations, symposiums, workshops, poster sessions and film screenings, and much more.” (Full details of the four-day program can be found at the link below.)

The Japanese government pays lip service to the idea of making Japan a global society, with the current overseas tourist boom and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics frequently cited as examples of how this is happening. Yet the idea of increasing the number of long-term foreign residents is still met with head shaking in many quarters.

Amid the current social and political climate, Deguchi sees a significant role for SIETAR Japan and its members.

“We believe that promoting true global understanding has to go hand in hand with promoting social justice. Many of our members wear multiple hats as educators in intercultural communication, English language teachers, researchers and activists,” she says.

SIETAR Japan is offering three lucky Japan Times readers an invitation to attend the World Congress free of charge. Invitations will be given to the first three people to contact the organization at: jtprize@sietar-japan.org. Please include your full name, age, nationality and occupation. Note that only one invitation can be awarded to each applicant.

SIETAR Japan: www.sietar-japan.org/en. For details on the World Congress and how to register, see www.sjwc2018.wordpress.com. Although online “early bird” registration closes on June 20, you can register in person at the conference (cash only). Send questions and comments to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.