ATU’s Language Camp in Japan Honored by NASPA

Ofunato Language Camp Summer 2019
Participants, teachers and counselors posed for a photo at the beginning of the 2019 Arkansas Tech University language camp in Ofunato, Japan.

An annual effort by Arkansas Tech University faculty, staff and students to bring English language skills to children in Japan is garnering national recognition.

The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) announced that the ATU Department of International Student Services will receive the 2020 NASPA Best Practices in International Education Award during the organization’s 2020 national conference March 29 in Austin, Texas.

ATU will receive the honor in recognition of a program founded by Yasu Onodera, associate dean for international and multicultural student services at ATU, and Dr. John Watson, distinguished professor of mathematics at ATU.

For each of the last seven summers, they have led an ATU delegation more than 6,000 miles to the communities of Rikuzentakata and Ofunato in Japan. There, 16,000 lives were lost when the region was devastated by a tsunami in March 2011. The ATU program offers an annual summer language camp that teaches English to children and serves as an assurance to the people of the region that they are not alone in their recovery.

One hundred Japanese children are served by the camp each year. They are divided by age into five classes: one each for pre-school, first grade, second grade, third grade and older students. Increasing demand for the program meant that parents interested in enrolling their child entered a lottery beginning in summer 2018.

“It is always a memorable experience,” said Onodera. “It’s a sad moment when we have to say goodbye, but the last thing we do is shake hands with everyone, including our ATU team. That is very emotional. I’m always trying not to cry, but as soon as someone else does I can’t help it. It’s nice to know that I am surrounded by people with whom I can truly be myself and nobody will say bad things about me crying even though I’m an old guy.

“I did not know that I could do anything like this,” continued Onodera. “If you had talked to the Yasu of 20 years ago, I would have run and hidden. It’s too big for anybody to do. But the years of experience spending time with different cultures and people gave me, little by little, confidence and courage to bring this project forward. Anybody can do this if they don’t limit themselves.”

The NASPA Best Practices in International Education Award is presented by the NASPA International Education Knowledge Community and recognizes institutions for exceptional work related to international education in higher education in the areas of intercultural awareness and programming, international programming, study abroad programming and student affairs professional global partnerships.