July 24, 2014
By Mike Killeen
If visiting Japan was a pre-requisite for becoming a delegate to the 66th annual Japan-America Student Conference (JASC), then Eliora Yokanan would seem to be a natural fit.
After all, the College of Saint Benedict junior has visited Japan three times — once as a study abroad participant at CSB, and twice as a student at Harding High School in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Even though she was picked to be one of 72 delegates — 36 each from the U.S. and Japan — for the JASC, she won't be making a fourth trip to Japan. The conference, which begins Aug. 2, will be held in four American cities, starting in Des Moines, Iowa, and then visiting San Francisco, New York City and Washington, D.C. In Iowa, delegates will talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, and specifically how it affects Iowa.
"I would love to go to Japan again and again, but I have also never been to San Francisco or New York," said Yokanan, who is majoring in an individualized version of Asian studies major, with a focus on Japanese language and culture. "I think no matter where the conference location would be, it will still be a great experience because of the discussions we will have."
Actually, it was on her last trip to Japan in the fall 2013 that she was encouraged to apply for the conference by Dave Bennetts, professor emeritus of history at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. While Bennetts gave her a nudge to apply, SJU graduate Kunihiro Shimoji '13 provided the initial impetus, she said.
"I was influenced by Kunihiro Shimoji during my first year (2012-13) at CSB and SJU. He participated in JASC when it was located in Japan, and told me all about it," Yokanan said. "Then, I was also reminded of this opportunity by Professor Bennetts, so I thought I would try and apply."
Yokanan said she has been interested in Japan "for a while." Originally from Jakarta, Indonesia, she and her mother moved to St. Paul in August 2007.
During her time at Harding, she studied Japanese. That came in handy when she visited Japan twice in two years — first as a junior as part of the Rotary International Exchange program from August 2010 to March 2011 (a trip that was shortened by the Tohoku Earthquake), and then a post-graduation trip with the Kizuna Program, when 22 students and chaperones learned about radiation from the Fukushima Power Plants following that earthquake.
"In JASC, each student is assigned the other country's delegate as a buddy, and my Japanese delegate buddy is from Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, where the epicenter of the earthquake was, so we'll have lots to talk about," Yokanan said.
Each delegate is assigned a roundtable discussion at JASC. Yokanan is part of the "Morality and Justice" roundtable. She could conduct research whatever she wanted within the topic, so she chose women's status in Japan and America because of "how different it is in Japan than here."
"I'm really excited about two things at the conference," Yokanan said. "The first one is the part where I will be able to discuss important issues with my peers where everyone is passionate about it. From personal experiences, Japanese students don't really have discussions in class, so I am really looking forward to hearing their thoughts.
"The second thing will be visiting San Francisco and New York — two places I have never been before."
Yokanan hopes that the conference helps her crystalize her professional career.
"I definitely do want to do something related to Japan and the USA, so I think this is a great opportunity for me either way," Yokanan said.