By Les Dunseith
For the seventh consecutive year, a large group of students from UCLA Luskin traveled to Japan together for a whirlwind study trip to multiple cities.
The participants, hosted by their peers from Japan, spent their entire spring break in the country, meeting with numerous Japanese officials to gain a deeper understanding of the country’s history, its culture, and the nation’s public policy successes and continuing challenges.
“I loved it. It was my favorite part of being a student at UCLA,” said Tessa McFarland, a second-year student in Social Welfare. “Getting to see international policy, getting exposure to the way that the people think and work and care for people — and the respect that’s there — and getting to connect with the students outside of my own department was so much fun.”
Most of the organizers are professionals who worked at Japanese government ministries before taking a leave to pursue graduate study overseas. Of the 18 organizers, 13 were first-year Japanese students in the Master of Public Policy program.
Prior to the trip, the students held orientation and study sessions. During the trip, they learned together and built bonds of friendship. Afterward, they held a BBQ to share the experience with family and friends.
The UCLA Luskin students wrapped it all up in mid-May with a presentation to their funding partners and publication of an 80-page report that is an engaging mix of educational information, policy analysis, cultural observations and favorite travel memories.
The trip began with participants gathering over the weekend of March 24-25 in Kyoto, where they met with city officials and visited cultural sites. The students then split into two teams with differing missions that traveled separate routes for a few days on their way to reassembling in Tokyo on March 29 for three days of further study focused on a handful of public policy topics. Or course, they also did some sightseeing.
The Japan Trip originated in 2012 when Japanese students in UCLA Luskin Public Policy invited fellow students to visit in an effort to better understand the impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
Since then, it has been an annual Luskin School event. It’s popular too — in 2017, 42 UCLA students participated; this year, it was 50. Like McFarland, most participants view the Japan Trip as a highlight of their educational experience because it provides a fun and enlightening opportunity to study policy and experience the country’s culture, all under the expert guidance of Japanese classmates.
“We discovered a unique and complex environment,” according to the 2018 Japan Trip report. “Experiencing day-to-day Japanese society contributed to our understanding of the values of Japan in ways that books and reports could not.”
Since its inception, the trip has been funded in part by the Terasaki Family Foundation, which carries on the legacy of founder Paul I. Terasaki, a former UCLA researcher prior to his death in 2016. Additional support from the UCLA Luskin Dean’s Office and the departments of Public Policy and Social Welfare allows students to participate in the trip at low cost. This year, the average cost per participant was $1,130.