Junior Hide Temma listens to classmate Shun Harashima give a presentation yesterday about LGBT issues in Japan. Temma said the class has introduced him to many human rights issues around the world.
Lecturer Sharon McCarty evaluates a presentation by students in the International Human Rights and Service Learning class yesterday. A total of 32 exchange students from Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan are participating in the course.
Sophomore Erina Yoshino looks at part of the presentation of classmate junior Yi Li after giving her part of the presentation yesterday. Yoshino and her classmates are exchange students from Waseda University.
Japanese exchange student program connects human rights to real life
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
So states Article One of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document entrenched in the syllabus of lecturer Sharon McCarty’s international human rights course, part of a customized year-long program for Japanese exchange students. Dec. 10 marks the 60th anniversary of the declaration.
This quarter, 32 students from Waseda University in Tokyo have been taking McCarty’s course on human rights, where they watch films like The Kite Runner, read short fiction stories and are required to volunteer at service learning sites such as Teen Feed and the Boys & Girls Club.
“We want this human rights course to be transformative,” McCarty said. “The beauty of this class is that it not only analyzes the problems on a global scale, it also guides the student to a positive personal response.”
By the end of this quarter, students will choose either the traditional route, where they will be “let loose,” McCarty said, taking UW courses that they choose, or they will go the practicum route, where they will take an introductory class on workplace communication and find an internship in Seattle on their own. By spring quarter, those in the practicum tract will take classes along with their internship.
For many of the students, topics like human rights have never been at the forefront of their studies. The class and volunteer work have been a challenge, and are sometimes an added difficulty to the stress of adjusting to a new home.
Sophomore Erina Yoshino works as a food bank intern with the Jewish Family Service of Seattle. She was surprised at how different her preconception of homeless people in the United States was from reality, and how different homelessness in Seattle was from homelessness in Japan.
“I heard homeless people look very dirty,” she said. “I had a bad image — it’s not like that. [Some people] are very clean. I was surprised. The homeless person in Japan ... is always in bad condition.”
Yoshino lives with a homestay family; a six-year-old, a three-year-old, and husband and wife from Spain and Vietnam, respectively.
“The culture is totally different,” she said of her life with her homestay family. “Every family member is so independent. When I was in my country, I always depend on my parents. Washing my dishes and cleaning my room was done by my mom. I was so lazy.”
Now, Yoshino does her own dishes and laundry. She enjoys spending time with her family.
“I don’t feel alone,” she said. “Because everybody comes from different parts of the world.”
New life, new interests
Junior Hide Temma volunteers at Earth Corps with sophomore Mai Kono. They plant trees and pull ivy in various Seattle neighborhoods every Saturday.
“I wanted to do something different from the other groups,” said Temma, a computer science major. He decided to study abroad at the UW after seeing the variety of courses the university offers. At Waseda University, he said, you can’t really learn about things outside of your major.
“After I came here, I realized that I’m interested in other things, like the environment, energy, more global [topics] ... I don’t think I’m going to do computer science [as a career].”
Temma’s goal by the end of this year is to come up with some ideas for his future job. He plans on pursuing the practicum route, but doesn’t know where he will end up interning.
“I still don’t know what I’m interested in, so I hope this experience would help me decide what to do.”
A transformative experience
Working with human rights runs in McCarty’s family.
Her husband will travel to Ecuador in the spring with other doctors to provide health care service to remote villages, and her daughters are all involved in their own service learning projects, including volunteering in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward for Hurricane Katrina relief. McCarty realized she wanted to teach a course on human rights after visiting the United Nations in New York last June.
“When I saw it was the 60th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, everything just clicked,” she said.
McCarty, an English as a second language lecturer, was given the freedom to choose this year’s theme for the class. One of the hardest parts for her was narrowing down the topic of human rights and incorporating all of the subject material.
“I felt it was important to include different [materials], like film and short fiction, which many of the students are not used to,” she said. “The service learning along with films, short fiction and case studies makes the personal connection.”
An inspiration for McCarty was Professor David Domke’s Focus the Nation lecture earlier this year.
“He was talking about bringing the mind into the heart or gut level in order to really make significant social change,” she said.
Sophomore Hirotaka Kobayashi feels this class has taught him a lot. He volunteers at Earth Corps and hopes to do the practicum route so he’ll have the experience of job hunting when he returns to Japan.
“Before I took this class, I didn’t think about human rights and now I do,” he said. “When I look at newspapers and magazines, I take a closer look.”
McCarty hopes students will come away with a comprehensive understanding of human rights issues in their heads and their hearts.
“It’s human rights,” she said. “But it’s also so immediate.”
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