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Living & Learning: Japanese students overseas / Pennsylvania school a laboratory for community building

Courtesy of Moeka Noda
Moeka Noda, third from left, with her college friends

By Moeka Noda (Haverford College) / Special to The Japan News This column features reports by Japanese students currently studying overseas on their lives on and off campus.

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“Be vulnerable,” said the dean at the opening of Customs Week, Haverford’s traditional orientation week, a year ago. My heart started beating fast. “That’s why I came here,” I thought.

On the third night of Customs Week, we were in the dark. Nineteen students sat in a circle around a small candle. Finally, we began our session on “pluralism.” “Guys, we are going to live together. You can share anything you believe is important to understanding you — your background, experiences and the beliefs that shape who you are today,” an upperclassman explained, and the long night began.

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A long silence. Then one girl opened her mouth to tell her story. “When I was 7,” she started.

Again, silence. “I am so afraid of …” Next person began.

More silence. Sobbing. After five hours in the dark, the session ended. I cannot write what we talked about in details, but each of us shared our stories of family, identity and hardship. There were tears and moments when no one spoke. In the end, we joined in a group hug, feeling bonded.

As a small but diverse community with 1,200 students, Haverford College is the best place to learn ways to live together. Dialogue is an important part of our campus culture. Although we have different backgrounds, beliefs and interests, we respect and try to understand each other through dialogue. After the pluralism session, I decided, this is the place where I will challenge myself, struggle and learn.

I chose Haverford because I was interested in creating a community in which every member can feel comfortable and contribute to its evolution. Haverford is the best place to experience community building. It is sustained by dialogue based on mutual trust and individuals being held accountable for their words. Now I’m planning to study Cities and Psychology. Through my research at Haverford during the past year, I learned that physical design elements such as lights, sounds, parks and streets can control the atmosphere of a space and psychologically stimulate open dialogue and peaceful coexistence.

Haverfordians are architects of a community. In classes, clubs and dorms, we design and build the open relationships within the Haverford community. Among those Haverfordians, someday, I hope to become a space designer who indirectly but naturally encourages communities to accept and enable their members to live in comfort.

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Haverford College

Founded in 1833, Haverford College is located outside Philadelphia. It has a student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1. Ninety-eight percent of the students of the liberal arts undergraduate college live on campus.

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