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Hachioji International Association
Building a community with foreign residents and exchange students

This month's Close UP features Hachioji International Association, which is also known as Chikyu Shimin Plaza Hachioji (Global Citizen Plaza Hachioji). Established in July 2008 (Heisei 20), the Hachioji International Association has been conducing a wide variety of activities with collaboration between local citizens and the city to realize a community in which people from different cultures live and share in harmony. For this interview, Takeshi Saito, the chairman of the association, Toyoko Hanawa, the office staff member, and Toyomitsu Furukawa, the office staff member, told us about the association's efforts to support exchange students and to provide educational assistance to foreign children in the community.

(From left) Takeshi Saito,
Toyoko Hanawa,
Toyomitsu Furukawa

How would you characterize the association and its activities?

Living Handbook for International Students in Hachioji

A. ■Mr. Saito:Hachioji City is a unique academic community in which 23 universities and other educational institutions are located with over 3,000 exchange students from overseas studying at those schools. While our association mainly aims to provide daily life and communication support to foreign residents, to promote international friendship exchange, and to encourage international understanding, we especially put our efforts on supporting the foreign students in the community by organizing socialization programs between exchange students and local Japanese citizens and offering employment guidance seminars. We also helped the editing of "Living Handbook for International Students in Hachioji" issued by the Consortium of Universities in Hachioji. The handbook is currently available only in Japanese with readings in kana provided but is scheduled to be published in other languages in near future.

Tell us about a socialization program that the association organizes.

A. ■Ms. Hanawa: Our "Foreign Students Hachioji Furusato Program" matches exchange students to local Japanese families and encourages them to build friendships via home visits throughout the year. We started the program based on the requests from the foreign students who wanted to experience Japanese home and family life. The program has also been supported by people in Hachioji who want to make connections with exchange students in the community.

How do the Japanese host families communicate with exchange students of their match?

A. ■Ms. Hanawa: It is totally up to each of the families, but we advise them to make two to three occasions a year to invite the student to their home at a convenient time for both the family and the student. The families don't have to do anything special but maybe add one or two dishes to their daily dinner table. If the family is too busy to find a good time to arrange the home visit, they may still be able to support the students by simply calling to see how he/she is doing. We also host group events for all the participating families and students at least twice a year, including a barbeque party in fall at Takaonomori and another party in winter. The program goes by a year, but many families and students continue communications after the program finishes. Some Japanese families have visited the students after they have returned to their home country. A variety of families participate in the program, from those with young children to those whose children have grown up and left the house.

Exchange Students Hachioji Furusato Program

At a barbeque party

At a winter party

Tell us about the employment guidance seminar for exchange students.

A. ■Mr. Furukawa: We have been offering a seminar every November since two years ago in response to the increase of exchange students who want to find employment in Japan. Our staff members visit to all 23 colleges in the Hachioji area and advertise the seminar to encourage the students' participation. Last year, we had over 50 exchange students participating the seminar, including those who came from the schools outside Hachioji City.

What do you provide at the seminar?

An employment guidance seminar for foreign students

A. ■Mr. Furukawa: The seminar includes lectures by staff members from the Tokyo Employment Service Center for Foreigners, which is a Hello Work for foreign residents in Japan, and also by officials from Hachioji City. The seminar also provides information of leading businesses in Hachioji and holds individual counseling services as well. We also organize tours for students to visit supporting businesses on different dates. Those who participate in the seminar may register with the Employment Service Center to continuously receive job information from the center. Some exchange students have found job through the seminar. More and more foreign students desire to improve their skills in Japan or work for an overseas factory of Japanese companies. Meanwhile, an increasing number of companies desire to hire foreign students for their readiness with language skills and global sense. We will continue to offer the seminar in coming years because supporting the job searches of the exchange students is connected to an employment problem among foreigners in Japan, which is another issue we have been tackling.

Do you have any new projects coming up for supporting foreign students?

A. ■Mr. Saito: We are planning to launch a social networking service (SNS) for exchange students by the end of this March. Through the network, we want to provide useful information for the exchange students living in the Hachioji City, such as the information about scholarships available in Hachioji, the details about the financial aid for security fees needed to rent an apartment, or the schedules of local events. Students can access the information easily via computer. We also expect the network to help us deliver information faster to each student by first contacting key persons of each student group of various countries and ask them spread the information to the member students of their group. The SNS can also serve as a place for communication and information exchange between the exchange students. We also believe that the network is also useful to connect the students and Japanese locals, including the families participating in our Furusato Program.

Hachioji International Festival

Attaka Hall Festival (Kitanomachi)

Many exchange students volunteer to help local events

How do you provide educational support to foreign children in the community?

A classroom of Kitano Learning Support Class

A. ■Ms. Hanawa: In Hachioji, there are several small communities of foreign residents in which many children help their fathers and mothers as an interpreter. This is because adults living in such foreign communities continue to use their native languages while children pick up and learn Japanese much faster at school. However, these children often face problems in that they do fine in daily communications in Japanese but may still find it difficult to understand the classes at school. Languages used in the classroom are different from those used in everyday conversations. For example, they may be able to "read" a textbook of Japanese but may not be able to fully grasp the meaning of the texts. Some kids may know how to solve math problems but still cannot solve them properly because they don't understand what the problem sentences are saying. Aiming to support such foreign children, we run Kitano Learning Support Class in Kitanomachi, where a population of foreigners living as permanent residents is high.

What kind of support is provided at the Learning Support Class?

A. ■Ms. Hanawa: We have a two-hour class every Wednesday, in which our volunteer teachers tutor elementary and junior high school students. In addition to being a place to study, the classroom has become a place for children to find themselves, especially for those who feel isolated at their regular school. A number of Japanese immigrant families live in Kitanomachi, whose names and physical appearance are the same as Japanese natives and therefore often prevent such issues from being recognized. At the classroom of the Kitano Learning Support Class, on the other hand, children are given an opportunity to speak freely to volunteers who are willing to listen to them regardless of their Japanese language levels. Knowing that there is a place to go and be themselves makes children secured and helps them stay more positive and active. When their mothers see such changes in their children, they also start coming to the class and become more open to share their issues with us. We hope that the class will continue to serve as a place where the foreign children find their own space and their mothers find reliable help.

Tell us about the guidance service that the association just started to support older children to enter high school in Japan.

A. ■Ms. Hanawa: For foreign children with limited Japanese language skills, getting into high school presents quite a challenge. However, if those young people want to live in Japan permanently and independently, it is very important that they graduate from high school. Last October, we held our first education guidance for parents and children whose native language is not Japanese. Among visitors who came to the guidance, we had a junior high school student who had been absent from school for a while. The student started coming to the Kitano Learning Support Class in the next month, but the result of his semester final in December showed that he was far from being ready for the high school entrance exam. However, as we significantly increased tutoring hours and the student himself worked really hard, he eventually was able to pass the exam. I believe that his success was partly because of his hard work of study but also because of the fact that he was able to come out of his shell at the Learning Support Class and was able to attend his interview with smiles.

What are the next goals of the association?

A. ■Mr. Saito: Put simply, it is about changing from "supporting" to "living together." In the community of Kitanomachi, for example, people from the neighborhood association published the Kitano-machi Living Guide Book for Foreign Residents, and we helped in translating the book into English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and Portuguese. Such a project is a great example of the local effort to include foreign residents as part of their community in creating a multicultural society. Our first goal is to get more foreign residents and exchange students involved in building Hachioji as an international community.

Kitano-machi Living Guide Book for Foreign Residents

At an entrance to the association's office