Dr. Shigetsugu Komine, Assistant Professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, Japan, spoke about the university exchange program to volunteer on farms in rural Korean villages near the DMZ.
Japanese and Korean university students volunteer side by side on farms in rural Korean villages near the DMZ (demilitarized zone) every year as part of an exchange program organized by Dr. Shigetsugu Komine, Assistant Professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, Japan. The cultural immersion is an enlightening experience, providing the opportunity for students to build friendships and challenge their own biases, prejudices and even worldviews. Dr. Komine believes that building these cross-cultural friendships is an important step to healing the emotional wounds left behind from the decades-long history of enmity between Korea and Japan. Through building bonds of mutual trust, affection and support, these students break down cultural barriers and become seeds of peace for future generations.
Reconciliation between Japanese and Koreans is a delicate task requiring humility, compassion and service. Dr. Komine has dedicated himself to this endeavor for many years, and has seen more than 150 students participate in the program over the course of ten years. He believes that volunteerism leaves a lasting impression on the students; they learn to think critically about social issues and plan and manage projects together. They become aware of the tragic division of the peninsula by visiting the DMZ and begin to think about ways to build peace. Also sharing close living spaces and finding common activities in their free time such as singing and performing dance routines allow the students to form close friendships.
Many types of exchange programs exist, but Dr. Komine believes this program is more than about having a unique cultural experience. It’s about building peace.