(Written by Kathryne Rubright, reporter for The Courier, originally published Dec. 20, 2016).
The University of Findlay on Monday celebrated 10 years of partnership with Japan’s University of Fukui with a reception at the Mazza Museum.
Every year since 2006, a Fukui student has come to Findlay to study, and during that time the relationship has broadened to include business and government connections.
The roots of the program go back to 1947, when UF president emeritus DeBow Freed visited Fukui Prefecture as an officer in the Army. There, he found a rural area populated by “Happy children” and people who were “genuine, and so kind, and I thought so deserving,” Freed said in a video played at the reception.
“As our communities all over the world have increased, there’s a greater need for people to be willing to be aware of what others think and to be sensitive to those needs,” Freed said. “So it’s important at an early age to begin to develop the habit of thinking carefully about others and not always thinking that they must do things exactly like I prefer.”
Several of the Japanese students have gone on to become teachers. Others are in medical and business fields.
Hiroaki Kawamura, associate professor of Japanese and chair of the Language and Culture Department at the University of Findlay, and university President Katherine Fell read letters from some of the students.
“During my time in Findlay, I learned far more than English language, and I believe that I grew up as an individual,” wrote Emiko Sodekawa, the first student to come from Fukui in 2006.
Sodekawa and Yuki Yamamoto, both teachers, wrote about wanting to share what they learned with their students.
In addition to Japanese students coming to Findlay, the partnership is expanding to include sending UF nursing students to Japan for three weeks in the summer of 2017. The exchange may grow to sending two Fukui students to Findlay each year.
It’s not just students traveling back and forth now. Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik and Hancock County Economic Development Director Tim Mayle are among those who have joined Kawamura and Fell in visiting Japan.
Japanese people might be more familiar with U.S. cities like New York City and Washington, D.C., said Mitsuhiro Wada, Consul General of Japan in Detroit, after the reception. But partnerships like the one between Fukui and Findlay help them get to know Midwestern states like Ohio and Michigan, the area his office covers.
For example, a soybean farmer in Ohio and a Japanese tofu manufacturer have been discussing working together.
“Good relationships take time and effort and attention, and just as the people of Fukui Prefecture deeply appreciate that Dr. Freed remembers them from the few months he spent there back in 1947, not only will we remember our past, but we’re committed to creating new memories with our friends in Fukui,” Fell said. “And I’m very, very pleased to say that our relationship is not simply restricted to educational exchanges – though those are very, very important – but also to economic and government exchanges.”