Shaping Post-Millennial Leaders in a Changing World

In fall 2010, an MIT graduate student sent me a YouTube video of students casually listening to a Japanese college freshman named Ryosuke Kobayashi at Harvard University as he spoke about his study abroad experience in the U.S. He shared how exciting and meaningful those few months had been, how much he enjoyed the peer-mentoring his “house” dormitory had provided and how he couldn’t wait to get home to recreate his experience for Japanese high schoolers — he wished he had known more about study abroad experiences like this when he was in high school so he could have better prepared to face its challenges. Ryosuke’s experience had enabled him to push his education beyond the classroom, expand his career options and had given him a glimpse into what it meant to be a leader in a changing world.

This video resonated with me personally: I had spent 15 years at major universities in the U.S. as a postdoctoral fellow and university faculty member and knew the value of an American Liberal Arts education in promoting globalization. Globalization remains a key challenge for Japanese institutes of higher education and I was continually pressing for change in this area. When Ryosuke returned to Japan, we met to discuss the possibility of replicating his U.S. educational experience with Japanese students. I promised Ryosuke my support to create a program that provided an environment for Japanese students to learn from international students, explore new possibilities for higher education and be empowered to grow as socially independent citizens. HLAB was born.

HLAB — House Liberal Arts Beyond Borders — is a new initiative in line with Japan’s current government policies to support entrepreneurship and youth empowerment in the next generation. We launched in 2011 in Tokyo, and despite our misgivings and challenges, including the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11 and subsequent Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, we received 80 applicants from college students around the globe, and 250 applicants for 80 seats from Japanese high school students our first year. Since then, HLAB has grown to host more than 20 summer school programs in Tokyo and several unique places, conducted approximately 100 high school workshops and has seen 2,000 alumni graduate from our program. In addition to these successes, HLAB was chosen this year for Japan’s Good Design Award 2016 in recognition of its “outstanding social design” in education.

HLAB has three main objectives: moving education beyond the classroom, expanding students’ career options and empowering students to lead in globalization. In Japan, students mainly learn from teachers’ transmission of knowledge through classes. Ryosuke and his team wanted to provide courses that facilitate interactions within a diverse community so that students could share and learn from one another’s passions, inspirations and real-life experiences. We also wanted to give Japanese students an opportunity to explore the diversity of career choices open to them through a liberal arts education as they interacted with those from different countries.

HLAB hosts a week-long summer program in Tokyo and other places where high school and college students — from the U.S. and Japan — live and study together in a residential setting. The program gives Japanese student access to mentors outside of their own communities. Through this, HLAB has created an ecosystem where a person’s experiences pass from one generation to the next. In my view and belief, this form of education is the spirit of On-Gae-shi — that is, sharing valued experiences beyond different age-groups over time, thus enriching options for the next generation. HLAB also enriches students’ learning experiences by exposing them to new ideas and cultures, helping them embrace a global perspective.

We currently have about 200 mentors each year representing 60 international institutions come to mentor Japanese students. Many of those high school students applied for college abroad and were accepted to educational institutions around the world, creating instant cultural connections. In addition to the impact that the program is having to open the minds of Japanese youth, through our program, we are creating globally-minded students who are driving Japanese public diplomacy from an inbound focus to an outbound focus. Rather than waiting on other countries to come to Japan, HLAB is sending out its young people as ambassadors of Japan’s culture, who will, in turn, learn and grow from other countries.

HLAB has created a new, sustainable platform of social innovation that engages various sectors and actors — from local governments to foreign students and beyond. High school students who participate in HLAB often come back as college student organizers and peer mentors. Their presence, passionate approaches to education and stories are infectious, encouraging the others to take a global approach, thus creating a virtuous cycle of peer mentoring.

Real experiences, like the one Ryosuke envisioned, is the essence of what every student needs as they face the challenges of globalization. Every student needs an HLAB — a program that pushes them to learn beyond what’s in a textbook, broadens their horizons and allows them to engage in the world around them. Our students are the key to tomorrow — our agents of innovation who will meet the world’s challenges head-on. Will you join me in helping shape their future?

HLAB’s mission is to provide liberal arts education beyond generation and nationality and to be an experimental place for a new framework of educational system in Japan.