Shiina Sekimoto ’23

Ryugaku Fellowship, Japan

For 10 weeks this summer, I interned with a Japanese non-profit organization, Ryugaku Fellowship (aka Ryu-Fellow). “Ryugaku” means study-abroad. Since studying abroad, especially for four years in college, is still rare, perilous, and costly for many people in Japan, Ryu-Fellow runs summer camps, caravan tours, local events, and other non-profit projects with a goal that studying abroad can become a more inclusive option for everyone.

The mission of Ryu-Fellow is to provide Japanese high school students with the education, opportunity, and information necessary for them to become leaders of their own lives: someone who can actively take initiative, make decisions for themselves, and is passionate about working towards fulfilling their aspirations.

I worked as one of the eight directors of the summer camps which were held online for the first time as a consequence of this pandemic. Our goal was to provide mentoring and workshops on self-analysis, essay writing, and future vision for high school students as well as to prepare the comfortable yet professional community for all the members including both participants and college mentors. I was personally in charge of the college mentor selection process, high school participants selection process, and logistics of the camps.

Since this year’s summer camp looked very different from the past—conducted fully online—one of the biggest challenges was to create an inclusive place where every member of the community could have a sense of belonging. Unlike an in-person experience where everyone bonds spontaneously through the five-day camping outing, we needed to be intentional about community building. First, as we selected student mentors, we carefully balanced between experienced mentors who could support other mentors as well as participants and the applicants without any experience with the organization, and first-year students who will bring new perspectives to the table. Also, it was critical to deal with logistical issues. In order to offer fair opportunities for all high school students who are encountering unpredictable school schedules under the pandemic, we decided to offer the camp on three different dates and scheduled all the programs at night so that participation was after school. Throughout the project, we made sure to communicate closely with each participant and college mentor to provide a flexible program.

In the process of organizing an on-line program from scratch and trying new things to make the best of the 
unexpected circumstances, one of the most essential skill sets that I gained was to practice intentional and careful communication. Working remotely, where miscommunications and misunderstandings are pretty common, it was especially important to be thoughtful about the statements we made. Although I have not yet narrowed down my future career, I am confident that the skills in communication, time management, leadership, administrative work, and community building will help me wherever I go.

I am deeply grateful for having this fulfilling learning opportunity at Ryu-Fellow. I would like to sincerely thank the ’68 Center for Career Exploration and the Class of 1951 for making this all possible.