Keio/W&M Collaboration explores history, identity, culture

Now in its twenty-first year, the Keio University/College of William & Mary Cross-Cultural Collaboration began in early August with 39 Japanese university students arriving on campus for a 12-day stay. 

The program pairs Japanese students with W&M graduate and undergraduate students who act as program assistants and dialogue instructors, and offers all participants the chance to explore questions of cultural difference and national identity. Students attend lectures on topics including race, religion and pop culture, as well as participate in fieldwork activities at Colonial Williamsburg, Hampton University Art Museum and in Washington, D.C.  

Social events such as taking in a Norfolk Tides baseball game and learning to square dance with the Tidal Waves club allow all participants the chance to interact in relaxed settings, and offer Keio students further opportunities to learn about regional and American culture.

Sylvia Mitterndorfer, director of global education at the Reves Center for International Studies, calls the program "a wonderful opportunity for Keio and William & Mary students to learn more about each other’s cultures and forge connections that deepen understandings of cross-cultural dialogue.”

This year’s visit was pushed back due to a delay in Keio University’s spring semester, the result of the natural disasters in Japan. For Wendy Korwin, academic director of the collaboration, the Keio students couldn’t arrive soon enough.

“I love the way our campus changes with the rush of new students from Japan discovering William & Mary," she said. "They share their enthusiasm for our school, the squirrels, and Colonial Williamsburg while learning more about American history and pop culture.”

Dr. Susan Kerns, a visiting assistant professor of history who gave the first lecture of this year’s collaboration, “Early Virginia: Native Americans, European Settlers and Slaves,” found that participating in the program allowed her a chance to revisit her areas of expertise.

“It’s always fun to reframe what I’m used to teaching for a new audience," she said. "You learn something about what you know when you have to do that. It’s a challenge.”

The Keio/W&M Cross Cultural Collaboration is just one facet of the long-standing relationship between the College and Keio University, which also includes study abroad exchange programs. The Collaboration ended in Williamsburg on Aug. 15, at which point Keio University students traveled to the William & Mary D.C. Office for three days of panel discussions and sightseeing.