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Trip to Japan offers City Studies students a chance to explore key city-building issues

UTSC Students who participated in the KAKEHASHI Project. (Left to right: Da Chen, Yasna Kharadi, (middle front: Khliden Lamparero, middle back: Thomas Dybowski), Tumaini Shoo, Anastasia Abrazhevich) (Photo courtesy of Khliden Lamparero)

Six U of T Scarborough City and Geography Studies students spent 10 days in Japan for an all-expenses-paid exchange program. What they came back with was priceless – a deeper knowledge of Japanese culture, policy and community-building initiatives.

“Working with the Japanese students was a really great experience,” says Da Chen, a fifth-year student in City Studies. “The exchange of ideas really helps us gain a better understanding of our representative cities.”

Students from Ryerson University and the University of Waterloo joined U of T Scarborough students in the program that brought Canadian undergraduates to Tokyo in January, followed by Planning Students from the University of Tokyo and Waseda University travelling to Toronto for a week in March.

“This event is a part of an initiative by the Government of Japan to thank Canada for our contributions to post-disaster recovery efforts after the 2011 tsunami in Tōhoku,” says Professor Andre Sorensen, main organizer for the exchange and Chair, Department of Human Geography at U of T Scarborough.

“The goal is to build a network of young people who will go on to build ties between our two countries,” he says.

In Japan, students spent time at the University of Tokyo, made connections with their host families and experienced Tokyo and Tokoku in northeastern Japan.

Chen admires the public-private collaboration in the planning, construction and management of the transit system in Tokyo and is interested to see how the initiative could be applied in Toronto.

“In Toronto, our transit planning network has been delayed for many years,” he says. Chen sees lack of funding and mismanagement by the government as factors and hopes to see public and private sectors come together on transit issues in the future.

Grappling with transit debates and other city policies was part of what made the experience informative for students.

“We have many similar policy issues,” says Sorensen. “The exchange program provides opportunities for people to be able to discuss their differences and similarities.”

For Khliden Lamparero, a fourth-year City Studies and Mental Health Studies student, visiting the rural towns in Tohoku that were affected by the 2011 tsunami, provided the most powerful lessons.  

“Learning the stories of the people that survived the event or who lost a loved ones, and the Japanese people's resiliency and eagerness in helping build their community again was truly a humbling experience,” says Lamparero.

“Our tour guide told us at the end of the visit that if there was one thing she wants us to remember as we go back to Canada is not only the events and lives lost in the disaster, but most importantly to go back home to our loved ones and tell them that we love and care for them,” she says. “By doing this we are honouring the lives that were lost, because the survivors of the disaster will never get the chance to do this to their lost loved ones.”

Back in Toronto, Canadian undergraduates returned the favour in showing University of Tokyo students around the city and used their City Studies knowledge to answer questions about planning and development

A formal goodbye to the participants took place on March 24 at the Consul General’s Residence where Sorensen and a few of his colleagues delivered lectures about Toronto, its history and the development patterns of immigrant suburbs.

“These lectures were really insightful in providing context and backgrounds of modern Toronto planning and how the past and ideas are interconnected,” adds Chen. 


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