Japan Exchange Conference returns after hiatus

Feb. 12, 2017, 9:16 p.m.

After the cancellation of last year’s program, the Stanford Japan Exchange Conference (SJEC) has returned to Stanford with a new name and management. The program, which hosts Japanese university students from Kyoto and Tokyo, will run Feb. 12-20.

Japan Exchange Conference returns after hiatus
(Courtesy of the Stanford Japan Exchange Conference)

SJEC (formerly the Stanford Japan Exchange Club) used to operate as a voluntary student organization under the purview of Student Activities & Leadership (SAL). Now, SJEC is classified as a student-led initiative (SLI) overseen by the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI). Other SLIs include the Forum for American/Chinese Exchange at Stanford (FACES) and the American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford (AMENDS).

SJEC co-presidents Meagan Shinbashi ’17 and Josh De Leon ’17 were delighted to have the program — which began in 1954 — return after last year’s absence. De Leon expressed his gratitude that FSI “understood the value the organization has to the Stanford community.”

“SJEC is family,” added Shinbashi, who also served as co-president of the group last year. “I’m happy that future Stanford students and Japanese students will be able to join the family.”

SAL cancelled SJEC’s 2016 program in October 2015, citing liability issues posed by international exchange student programs. In the months that followed, SJEC began looking for other options that would have allowed for it to return, like becoming a week-long summit program akin to the Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society (ASES) or a Stanford Summer Session.

SJEC faculty advisors Richard Dasher and Indra Levy reached out to their contacts in FSI, and in early 2016, SJEC began exchanging emails with FSI in order to break the ice. By March 2016, these conversations had become more serious as FSI considered the possibility of sponsoring them, said De Leon.

When Elena Cryst ’10, former student programs manager at FSI, met with the director of the Stanford Japan Center in Kyoto on a trip to Japan last May, she was so impressed by what she saw that she threw her support behind it. In an email correspondence with The Daily, Cryst detailed how Japanese students at Doshisha University helped students navigate the city and learn the language, experiences often distinct from those of the Bing Overseas Studies Programs (BOSPs).

“I truly believe that SJEC enhances the academic experience for students studying abroad through the BOSP campus in Kyoto,” Cryst wrote. “Having Japanese students visit Stanford gives the Stanford students a great opportunity to prepare for their abroad experience or reconnect with their peers as they show them what makes Stanford so great.”

Cryst also attested to the importance of SLIs such as SJEC, writing that they “are not only building incredibly useful skills, but they are also tackling problems that are increasingly important in our ever-globalizing world.”

Even Brendan Walsh, director of the Office of International Affairs, voiced his support for SJEC in meetings with FSI.

“Credit goes to SJEC and the Freeman Spogli Institute for coming up with a great solution,” Walsh wrote in an email to The Daily. “I am very pleased that this long-standing program has found a new home so that it can continue to provide value to Stanford students when they travel to Japan.”

The program will largely operate as it did in previous years. Visiting students will live in the rooms of host students, and will have the course of the program to pursue a research project comparing an aspect of culture in American and Japanese cultures, like going to college or finding a job. The only major changes to SJEC are the name change (from “Club” to “Conference”) and the duration of the program, which was cut from one month down to one week.

“We’re pretty excited and confident that we’ve managed to shorten our one-month program to a one-week program that still embodies the original mission statement from 63 years ago, which is to promote greater understanding between Japanese students and American students,” Shinbashi said.

According to Shinbashi, SJEC will schedule more events allowing for interaction with Stanford. Shinbashi mentioned an “Interview Day” in which the Japanese students may ask Stanford students questions pertaining to their research project, and a “Popular Media Day” in which they compare how Japanese and American popular media portray issues of interest, such as LGBT acceptance and race relations.

SJEC is unsure of how long it will operate on FSI funding. De Leon suggested that SJEC may return to SAL’s jurisdiction sometime in the future.

According to SAL’s Assistant Dean and Associate Director, Snehal Naik, SAL “would welcome the opportunity to work with [SJEC’s] leaders once they have completed the process required to become an organization whose activities are aligned with University policies.”

For now, De Leon and Shinbashi are committed to ensuring SJEC’s sustainability.

“Whatever we’re given, as long as we’re approved, we will function and we’ll do something good,” De Leon said. “We do something meaningful — not just for the participants or the officers, but something that has positive effects that people even tangentially encounter.”

De Leon also stressed the importance of SJEC in the current political climate.

“It is absolutely essential that a vibrant, internationally accepting and understanding community is fostered at the premier institution in the United States,” De Leon said.


Contact Jacob Nierenberg at jhn2017 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Jacob Nierenberg '17 is a coterm pursuing an M.A. in Communication on the Journalism track. The program is very busy and often precludes him from writing for The Daily, but he enjoys contributing stories and music reviews when he is able to. Prior to beginning the program, he completed a B.A. in American Studies. His hobbies include spending time with friends and listening to music, and he is always delighted to meet people as enthusiastic about music as he is.

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