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  • Writer's pictureGPI US

Experiencing Japan as a Group Leader

The deadline for applicants to be group leaders in our Summer Empowerment Program in Japan is approaching in a few months! So, I’m sure all the current university students interested in this amazing opportunity would like to know what kind of experience they can expect to have in Japan from a program participant.

Meet Ariana Akbari, a student at Harvard University majoring in government with a minor in comparative religion, who would like to share her personal experience from this past summer.


Ariana Akbari  Japan Empowerment Participant ‘16 

If you’re like me, and you’ve just been accepted as a group leader for the GPI: US Summer Empowerment Program, you’re probably thinking, “but what’s the catch.”

At first glance, the package seems a little too good to be true – the ability to go to an exciting place like Japan, to experience all of its wonders and sights, while teaching Japanese students something that seems so second nature to you – confidence – and sharing with them your knowledge of life and education in the United States.

But listen to me when I say that there is no catch. (And I was not paid to write this either – this is all of my own volition.) The GPI: US Empowerment Program is a truly unrivaled experience and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for both its group leaders and participating students.

You will wander around ancient Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in awe of their beauty,


Eihei-ji Zen Temple in Fukui Prefecture

encounter some of the wackiness that makes Japan so special,

From left to right: Me, Owl, and two of my fellow group leaders, Andrew and Negin in the Owl Cafe in Harajuku.

and eat so much delicious food (like ramen, everything matcha, and maybe even gold)


Gold Leaf Ice Cream

that you will contemplate intentionally missing your return flight to America.… until you remember that plane tickets are expensive and that Japanese immigration would probably not be happy with that idea. ^.^

So, if accepted, take the leap over the Pacific and participate in the GPI:US Empowerment Program. If not accepted, apply again next year. I promise that you will not regret it. The work is genuinely rewarding, and you will be surprised at how quickly you will form bonds with the other group leaders and the amazing students.


My Fellow Group Leaders (L to R): Samantha, Nora, Marcia, Vanessa, Katherine taken with a popular Japanese version of Snapchat, “Snow.”

My strongest/proudest memory is working with girls who were some of the brightest students in the program, but at the beginning of the week they repeatedly told me, “I’m not smart! We’re not smart!” After encouragement, at the end of the week they all had amazing public speeches and so much more self-confidence!


Josh and Eduardo, and I enjoying melonpan ice, also known as ice cream in bread.

At the end of the month, you will be so thankful to all of the coordinators and to all of the teachers who helped you during your time in Japan and will take home the knowledge that you truly made a positive impact on the students.

Arigatou to everyone at GPI: US for the wonderful experience!


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