Office of Multicultural Affairs director reflects on trip to Japan

GVL / Courtesy - Connie Dang

GVL / Courtesy – Connie Dang

Alex Sixt

Connie Dang, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at GVSU, traveled to Japan this October to connect with Asian American leaders around the world. 

As part of the Kakehashi Asian American Leadership Program, Dang traveled to the cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo in an effort to build connections with Japanese leaders in government, business and other communities. The program is in its fourth year and has helped leaders from all around the world interact and learn new ideas from one another. Throughout the week-long program, there were panel discussions held by leaders about the importance Asian American leaders have in their respective roles. 

“The program aims to strengthen U.S.-Japan relations through deepening participants’ global understanding of Japan’s society, history, culture, government system, politics, foreign policy and helping Japanese leaders better understand the American experience,” Dang said via email. “It also builds a mutual trust between the U.S. and Japan to build a base for friendship in the future.”

Throughout the event, Dang learned about a variety of topics such as the U.S.-Japan security treaty, Asian geopolitics and women’s empowerment. 

By serving as a commissioner on the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission, Dang was chosen to participate in the 2018 program sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Other participants came from various states around the country, including Ohio, Oregon and Colorado. They all came together at the program with the same goal in mind: to further their global understandings of Japan and its many aspects while also aiding Japanese leaders in gaining a better insight of the American experience. 

A couple of her memorable experiences were a meeting with the minister of foreign affairs and a visit to the U.S. embassy. Her other travels during the event included visits to the Myoshinji Temple, a Sake brewery, a formal tea ceremony and a Zazen meditation. Dang cites her visit to the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial as the most impactful. Amidst the current global state concerning nuclear weapons, it was a visit that caused Dang to reflect on both the past and present. 

“As I reflected on the story and studied the history preserved in the museum, I felt a deep sense of remorse for what happened to the people and the city but at the same time recognizing that humanity at its very core is capable of withstanding these things … and be able to move forward and learn from the mistakes of the past,” Dang said. After the memorial, she was also able to meet one of the survivors of the bombing.

Aside from the many panels and historical site visits, her favorite personal excursions included waking up before 5 a.m. to watch the daily fish auction of tuna and packaging of seafood to be distributed to other markets all around the globe. Dang was also able to take her first ride on the Shinkansen Nozomi, the world’s fastest bullet train. 

Following the recent trip, Dang has future plans to bring Japanese culture to GVSU. 

“This year, in honoring the annual Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Celebration, I hope to bring to campus an ArtPrize artist and storyteller to tell her story and experience with the Japan internment camp as well as facilitate a crane-folding workshop,” she said.