In a world where knowledge and exposure to other cultures are increasingly seen as employable skills, cultural exchange programs are important pathways to building global competencies. For many college students, traditional study abroad and student exchange programs are not an option due to the cost or required travel. That’s why bringing international activities to the United States is so important to college campuses. This is particularly true at community colleges, where students are less likely to participate in study abroad programs. Northampton Community College’s 2019 Japan-US cultural exchange program is a perfect example of how colleges are connecting students and community members to other cultures and providing globally engaged learning environments right at home. These types of programs often reach beyond the student population and enrich local communities, enabling the benefits of cultural exchange to reach a diverse and multigenerational audience.
Northampton Community College’s (NCC) commitment to internationalizing its Pennsylvania campuses goes back at least 25 years when it became a board member of Community Colleges for International Development (CCID). In 2019, NCC’s connections in Asia enabled it to bring world-renowned Japanese artists Hana Takehiro, Tomoka Asada, and Shuho Kondo to its campuses to showcase traditional dance and art forms. The cultural exchange programs were designed to engage a diverse audience and raise awareness of the 2020 Summer Olympics schedule to be held in Tokyo.
Over four days in April 2019, Hana Takehiro and Tomoka Asada led Japanese art and cultural activities, organized interactive dance and origami workshops, and performed in a traditional Japanese dance recital for students, faculty, and staff of NCC as well as members of the Lehigh Valley community. The performers also participated as visiting artists in the classroom of the Hannig Children’s Center on the Monroe campus of NCC in rural Tannersville, PA, taught children at the Moravian Academy in Bethlehem, PA the Olympic Ondo dance, and lead a community interactive dance workshop with NCC students, faculty and staff. Additionally, Takehiro and Asada joined two NCC 3-D design classes to lead origami workshops with students, lead an interactive chair dance for seniors with limited mobility at Luther Crest Senior Center, and performed traditional Japanese dance for a community evening event that included student participation.
NCC followed the spring cultural exchange with fall programming where they hosted Shuho Kondo for its annual International Education Week events in November 2019. Kondo is a renowned calligrapher, known for both her calligraphy and her live calligraphy performances with musicians around the world. While at NCC she conducted workshops with NCC’s fine arts students and hosted a public calligraphy presentation and workshop for all NCC students, faculty, and staff.
When we talk about the value of our connections to Asia, it is often framed in terms of financial benefit. We often forget about the immeasurable and intangible impacts of these connections, like community college students working with world-renown artists and seniors with limited mobility getting to see and participate in traditional Japanese dancing. All without leaving the United States.
Dr. Nathan Carpenter is Director of the Center for Global Education and International Services at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA. Northampton Community College is a board member institution of Community Colleges for International Development (CCID) and a leader in international education.
Dr. Stephanie Kelly is Executive Director of Community Colleges for International Development (CCID) in Houston, Texas. CCID is a global consortium of community, technical, and vocational institutions dedicated to creating globally engaged learning environments.