Tomodachi participants visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Close to 400 students from the disaster-affected Tohoku region of Japan are currently in the U.S. participating in cultural and educational exchange programs under the Tomodachi Initiative.

The Tomodachi SoftBank Leadership Program received 2,000 applications to fill 300 coveted spots, contradicting recent reports that Japanese youth are inward looking and reluctant to study or work abroad.

“The students we’ve met from the Tohoku region have demonstrated tremendous resilience since the events of March 11, 2011 and seem to feel a responsibility to venture out and see the world and bring home lessons that will impact the future of their country,” said U.S.-Japan Council President Irene Hirano Inouye, who recently spoke to 60 Japanese high school students participating in the Tomodachi Coca-Cola Educational Homestay Program. “The popularity of the programs has proven that if the right opportunities are in place, students are willing to take risks, leave home and even learn English.”

The programs for 2012 include:

• Tomodachi Summer 2012 SoftBank Leadership Program: A leadership development program for 301 Japanese high school students headquartered at UC Berkeley. The three-week program administered by Ayusa International has a special focus on community service.

• Tomodachi Coca-Cola Educational Homestay Program: A three-week homestay program administered by EIL Japan for 60 students who participated in a Washington, D.C. orientation before departing for their homestay locations in Kentucky, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

• Tomodachi MUFG (Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc.) International Exchange Program: A program bringing 20 Japanese junior high school and high school students to Southern California to participate in English language classes and experience American culture. The program is also administered by EIL in cooperation with the Center for Cultural Interchange and JTB.

Tomodachi is a public-private partnership administered by the U.S.-Japan Council and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. The initiative strives to increase the number of U.S. and Japanese students studying in each other’s countries; promotes cultural awareness and exposure between the U.S. and Japan; supports programs in academics, language, sports and culture; and expands opportunities and support for entrepreneurs and future leaders. USJC leadership, including Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, have asked the students to embrace the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with the American students they interact with because of the belief that strong people-to-people connections between Japanese and Americans will sustain deep and meaningful ties between the U.S. and Japan over the long term.

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