Twelve students from Southern University will spend ten days in Tokyo to learn Japanese culture first hand and be prepared to share the experience before their peers on campus when they return. A total of 15 delegates from Southern, including three administrative persons, will leave May 18 headed to Japan.

Dr. Chanika Jones, Associate Chair/Professor for the Southern University Criminal Justice Department, met with all the students to prepare them for the amazing journey. “It’s hard to get kids to think outside the box if they have never been outside the box,” she said. “We are dealing with a generation of kids who seldom go beyond their neighborhoods but we expect them to be prepared to perform well in a diverse society,” she added.

Dr. Jones is also the Southern Representative for the Education First Initiative. It’s a National Program which allows college students to travel to different countries each year to learn more about their culture and customs. Ryan Tucker, Assistant Dean of Students, will also be traveling with the students. “Education First is a great way for students to see the world. Many come from families that have never been beyond the city in which they live. These experiences will not only provide memories that’ll last them a lifetime but it will open their minds to new possibilities,” said Tucker.

Tucker and Dr. Jones will also be joined by Sharae Celestine as faculty representatives. “We are not there to parent them. Our job is to make sure they are safe at all times but we do want them to go out, have fun, observe, try new things, and learn more about Japanese culture without feeling like they are on a leash,” said Dr. Jones.

Jones has a military background. The Marines afforded her many opportunities to travel. Jones says the lack of international experience limits people of color. “We waste too much money on rims and hair and things of temporary comfort. We should teach our kids the value of exploring other places so they are efficiently prepared to work with and also respect people from all over the world who may look and do things differently than we are accustomed to.”

Jones has been teaching the students important wisdom about Japanese culture. “Bowing is an act of respect. If they bow at you, you bow back,” she told the students. “Japanese people don’t like to be tipped. They value hard work and have much pride in what they do. If you tip them it sends the message that you think their service to you is a charity. They will reject it. They don’t want charity. They believe there is honor in working for a living.”

She showed the students real Japanese money and told them to learn the difference between the American dollar value and the value of the yen dollar. The students will leave Baton Rouge, LA and connect to an international airline in Dallas, TX. At the airport they are preparing to convert their American cash to Japanese Yen dollars.

Some of the observances she shared were unbelievable to the students. For example, Jones said slurping your soup may be inappropriate in America but in Japan it tells the chef the soup is delicious. “Some restaruants don’t even have forks. Learn to eat with chopsticks before you even leave the states,” she told them. They also learned it is considered rude to pour your own beverage. It’s act of service for someone else to pour it for you.

As the students took notes and prepared for a new experience they all had smiles on their faces as they sat in a conference room in the Southern University Student Union listening to Dr. Jones speak. It was obvious they are very excited and eager to travel afar.

“I am interested in learning how their Criminal Justice System works,” said Linda Wright, a Criminal Justice Grad Student from Alexandria, LA. “I want to see how their practices and policies are different from ours.”

Ebony Freeman, another Criminal Justice Grad Student from San Fransisco, CA, travels a lot. “I have traveled internationally before but this trip will give me a chance to broaden my resume. I want to observe their way of life and witness the methods of their justice department,” she said.

“There are hardly any African-American students on these trips,” said Megan Pendergrass. She graduated in 2014 but has traveled with the school each year since she graduated. “I remember one year Southern was the only all black group attending. You will find spectacles of us sprinkled throughout the attending college groups but when I have gone, Southern has been the only full black group in attendance,” she recalls.

“It actually makes me proud that my school cares enough about our future to allow us the opportunity to represent our school’s legacy in another country,” said Pendergrass.

The trip cost close to $4000 per student. Although, Southern makes a financial contribution to assist the students, the university believes it is more important that the investment includes them. So, the students have fundraisers throughout the year on and off campus to raise money to attend. It is open to any current or past student each year.

In the past, the students have visited Barcelonia, London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Next year they have already decided the students will travel to Greece.

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About Author

Ro Wright is the Co-Owner of Unboxed Possibilities. He and his wife, Sandria Wright, live in New Orleans and they are the founders of the Black Boot Network.

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