Naomi Funahashi is the instructor of the Reischauer Scholars Program (RSP), an online course on Japan and U.S.–Japan relations that is taught to high school students across the United States each spring.
Beneath the shade of the trees outside of Stanford’s Arbuckle Cafe on a recent Friday afternoon, I sat back and marveled at the vibrant sounds of laughter and conversation as I looked around the table. A large group of Stanford University undergraduate students—all alumni of the Reischauer Scholars Program (RSP) spanning the 2016 to 2021 cohorts—were gathered for Japanese bentos and sushi, eager to meet one another in person for the first time. Given the virtual format of the RSP, the opportunity for me to connect with RSP students and alumni face-to-face is a rare and special gift.
After the COVID-19 pandemic had relegated virtually all student interaction to Zoom for 18+ months, it felt incredible to be sharing a meal together on campus. As students shared their course selections for the quarter, listed their favorite classes and professors, and chatted about their academic and extracurricular activities and interests, I was struck by the true sense of community that was building among the RSP alumni.
When the selection committee brings students together to form each RSP cohort, we do so in hopes that these young, bright, and diverse individuals from across the United States will find commonalities and bonds that will shape their development into young leaders. Students come to the RSP with different backgrounds, perspectives, and personalities, but with tremendous respect for one another and their shared interest in learning about Japan and the U.S.–Japan relationship with and from each person in their cohort. To see the growth of this RSP alumni community happening in real time around the table that Friday afternoon brought tears to my eyes.
Certainly, the RSP prepares students academically for the challenges of undergraduate life when it comes to researching, writing, and engaging in academic discourse. As Camryn Pak (RSP 2018, Stanford 2023) noted, “RSP was an amazing experience that provided me with the same writing and research skills that I use for essays today. The program also gave me a taste of what a global education entails, and its scope extended far beyond what I had been learning in my high school history courses at the time.” As the RSP instructor, I find it meaningful to know that the hard work that the students put in during their time in the course continues to have a positive impact on their academic careers.
Others commented on different ways in which the RSP experience has continued to influence the opportunities they seek at the college level. For incoming freshman Amy Zhao (RSP 2020), “it was so great to find a community of RSP people here at Stanford. I’m still interested in promoting international and global education as well as further studying my RSP paper topic, which was minority rights in Japan. I thought it tied really well into my major interests, Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CSRE) and Public Policy, and I would love to explore the topic more while studying abroad in Kyoto!”
In previous years when we have gathered RSP alumni together at Stanford for an annual “shinnenkai” (“new year”) luncheon in January, it has always been wonderful to catch up with one another. As campus life at Stanford begins to return to some sense of normalcy, however, I feel an even greater appreciation for these opportunities to connect with my former Reischauer Scholars in person. I look forward to organizing future events for RSP alumni at Stanford and hope that they will build upon the connections that we made around the lunch table as new bonds and friendships continue to grow.