Krystal in Japan – post #4

The End.

All good things must come to an end, but at least the memories of that good thing will last forever.  Here I’ve compiled a few paragraphs of things that I keep thinking about since returning:


I must admit it was a sad day leaving Japan.  Suddenly, I was going to be separated from the people I’d spent every waking moment with for the past twelve days indefinitely.  It got even more emotional due to my roommate situation.  On the first day, I’d gone into my room and found someone’s bags on the bed next to mine.  I had no idea who it belonged to.  When I finally met my roommate, we exchanged some words and a little laughter, but we were quiet for most of the night.  Throughout the twelve days, we’d moved around a lot and slept in many different buildings, cities and islands.  Everyone was constantly shuffled, but somehow she and I always ended up in the same place or in the same room.  We also got really close to one of the guys that just happened to be teamed with us everywhere we went too.   The night before we left Japan, we’d had dinner together, walked around the city, went dancing and stayed up past three am talking.  It was truly incredible how comfortable we’d become in such a short space of time.  I honestly miss those two so much and I hope that whatever they end up doing in the future they are successful in it.


Having icecream before we head out for the day.


Heading to the grocery store for lunch.


Day one in Osaki Kamijima.

Food/Free day

We didn’t have too much free time as we had a schedule to follow and a lot to do.  However, there were a few free moments given to us.  To be honest, the three free moments we had could have been three of the biggest disasters I could have been apart of, but somehow, they turned out alright.  The first happened when we got to go out for a quick lunch in Hiroshima.  Because we all headed out so fast, I didn’t think about grabbing my bag and or anything really.  I ended up at a restaurant with two other people where all the food was cooked on one hotplate in front of customers.  Needless to say, I didn’t have cellphone connection, my EpiPen, or my note translated into Japanese that specifies my allergies.  I ate the food anyway and it was some of the best Okonomiyaki I ever had- tasted even better after realizing I had no allergic reaction and wasn’t going to die. The second incident was when we took an unscheduled trip during our free time to Miyajima.  Long story short here is that we lost one of the girls; we had all her money, phone and identification documents and we left her on the island by accident and took a fairy to Hiroshima.  That was crazy, but a situation like that really shows you how resourceful you can be and how well you work with others. Especially when it comes to rescuing a friend in danger.  The last situation comes back to food again.  We picked a random restaurant to go out for dinner and ended up at this place that had no English menus, no pictures and the staff didn’t speak English.  We’d already sat down and got drinks so we felt it would be rude to leave.  After some debating on what we should do with the three other girls I was with, we decided to point to a random thing on the menu and hope for the best.  The food wasn’t the greatest, but the conversation that went on at that table during that moment of panic was something special and I will never forget it.


The random food we picked.



When we got to Miyajima


After visiting the shrine.


Bracelet Collection

Like I said in my first blog, I have a bracelet collection going for every country I travel to.  While in Japan I went to this tiny Island called Teshima with five other people for a few days.  There wasn’t much of anything there.  One afternoon after dinner we went exploring and found a shop on a corner we’d never noticed before.  There were a lot of food items there and like 5 bracelets which was so random.  I ended up buying one.  The travel home ended up being really hectic- we had one late flight, missed the second flight, ran through the airport as if we were in a movie, and ended up having a layover in Montreal instead of Calgary.  I think I must have dropped my bracelet at some point during all that.  It’s kind of sad, but I guess this just means I get to travel to Japan again for a second bracelet.


Having fun at the airport before we realized we were about to miss a flight and run the Olympics to catch another one.



There are many other things we did that was amazing.  Some of them are: playing End zone with a group of children we’d met that day, playing volleyball with the college students, playing traditional drums at the high school, going to an onsen for the first time, eating dinner at the house in Osaki Kamijima with everyone, hearing a story from a Hiroshima A bomb survivor, spending the night with my host family, experiencing a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, making salt, seeing a wild boar and a few of the biggest spiders I’d ever seen in my life, meditating at a temple and so much more.


Chilli Fires and Red Riding Hood Team!


All of us with our host families.


The day we learned the drums.


After our lecture.


After our meditation session.


When I got back, I’d gotten so used to using chopsticks for every single meal that it felt weird to eat with anything else.  I have Chinese housemates and I happily used their chopsticks for a few meals within the first two weeks of returning.

Also, it was hard to stay awake- the jetlag kicked my butt.  I took four naps in one day just to get through it and get work done.

My biggest take away:

In the end, I am truly grateful for this experience.  I will carry with me the history lessons, experiences and skills that I gathered on this trip forever.  Before this trip, I was always concerned about the fact that there were people out there who spoke a different language that me and I wouldn’t be able to communicate with them and hear their stories.  However, my time in Osaki Kamijima really opened my eyes to the vast amount of ways there are to communicate without the use of words and that light bulb moment is something that will stick with me forever.




They made these for us.


Walking back to the house one evening.


Katie, Emily and I before heading to the beach one evenimg.

Katie in Japan – post #5


Leaving Japan, felt like leaving behind a childhood memory. It felt close to me, familiar and a place of great imagination. Leaving wasn’t just leaving the place, it was the people in the HELIO program and the people I had met in Japan. Being immersed in an energy of innovation and curiosity, as a total norm was incredible. My mind has grown so much from this trip. I am almost relentless to go pack my bags once more. I’ve been home for a week, and my life has shifted. I noticed immediately upon arriving in Japan that my life had been put on hold. Growing up, I always wanted more from life than the regular routine. It took me several years to even go back to school after high school. So once I settled into the routine of grinding at college, working three jobs and complaining about winter, I had forgotten how vibrant life is. At the start of this year I went on a camping trip in Kauai, Hawaii. It was the start of the change for me, because I realized we have a choice.


Wherever you are at any given point in your life, you have choice and nothing, seriously nothing, can stop you. Here’s the thing I realized, you have to do it. You can’t just sit and wait for life to hand you epic adventures or inquisitee conversations, you have to step out and find them. We can see the world from our front steps, yet we were given feet to move. We’re not trees, we don’t have roots. What is holding us back? Now I understand the pressures of money, job security and all the lot of it. Yet when I die, I don’t believe I will be buried with my pension plan or the nice house I live in. All I can take with me is my mind and my memories, if I’m lucky enough to keep them.


I’m not here to make you depressed, or to make you feel insignificant. I’m just here to tell you if you put yourself out there, opportunity will attack you. At least it did for me and most of the people I admire most. Being in Japan confirmed all I believed to be true about myself, my life and the direction I need to go. It was the affirmation I needed t change my mindset from waiting till Friday to rejoicing in the fact I was able to live through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s shifting my mindset from thinking someone else will take care of it, to understanding passion is ment to be played upon. It needs to be nourished and grown.


So leaving Japan was hard. Leaving the beautiful island, the colorful streets and magical gardens. Leaving the people I barely held verbal conversations with, but grew so fond of, like Soa. Leaving the group of like-minded, bad a**, creatives I grew to love. Leaving the incredible fresh sushi and cold brew coffee. Leaving it all felt wrong and strange. It was hard to explain how just two weeks was enough time for my heart strings to fan out like a spider web and attached to so much. Yet I owe a lot of to Japan, and I will never forget it.


To the place that surprised me, inspired me, and reminded me how small our lives really are. To the place that held memories of green tea, long car rides and accidently hiking mountains. To the place where I left my friends and my favorite food. To this beautifully unique, bold and elegant culture. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Arigatogozaimashita


Katie in Japan – post #4


Being on the island of Osaki Kamijima is like a dream come true, except you didn’t know you were dreaming about it all. Once you’re on the island it just feels right, at least it did for me. We had to take a ferry over to the island, for some reason on this day I was sick. I hardly ever get ill when traveling, however this day was brutal. Half way across I stood outside and stared out at all the small islands we were passing, the water was blue, and the breeze was hitting my tired face. Waking me up with the mix of salt water and sunshine rinsing through my hair.


The island is mainly fishing community, the people are stoic and friendly. I have yet to meet a stranger who is rude, disgruntled or seemingly inconvenienced at all. The food is fresh and incomparable to anything I have ever had or will probably ever have again. A place this beautiful and so bare is rare. It is the perfect spot for the higher educational institute the HELIO group is trying to build on this island.

The very first night we were split into groups and sent home with different host families. I was with another student from Georgian and a girl from New York as well. Our family barely spoke any English and I barely speak any Japanese. Please keep in mind, in my perspective I am close to death. My head is pounding, I can barely keep water down and I can not communicate to anyone. Also, the program faculty members were extremely helpful and offered for me to stay in a different place if I wasn’t feeling well. However, I am also stubborn, I was determined to make every moment count. My host family was very kind and hilarious. Despite my sickness, we managed to communicate I wouldn’t be able to eat or drink that much. This was important to me because in Japan, not eating is considered rude and wasteful. Luckily I had an amazing family, they understood what was going and promptly made me a incredible bowl of soup to sooth my stomach.


We sat around a fire, speaking in broken English or Japanese. Laughing about the struggle and smiling at the answers to questions. Somehow we understood the jokes they were making, the night resounds the noise of laughter with waves hitting the port in the background. We sang, we played with sparklers and we smiled so much my cheeks hurt.

The next day, we did a traditional tea ceremony. We were taught the art of making tea and serving it in the proper way. In Japan some people study the art of making and serving tea for years. As if it were an instrument. It sort of feels like it might be though. An instrument to the soul and the stomach. We’ve also been able to participate in a ancient drum song, play volleyball with Japanese college students and much more.


Our home is perched on a point along the sea, only separated from water by a small pavement road. The house used to be a inn for travelers. Went we first moved in it was overrun with spiders, big and hairy spiders. Spiders that you know can’t hurt you, but you don’t want to mess with them. By the end of the week the spiders moved, most likely to a more peaceful place. I considered moving in for good. The view was amazing and I felt so assured being there.

It’s always funny to me when travelling how the things that stand out to you the most are the things you least expected. While staying on Osaki Kamijima, one of the organizers’ daughter has been cooking all our meals for us. The cooks, Judi, has her daughter with her. From the moment we first interacted her laugh captivated me. The first night we met, we giggled about silly things. I tried my best to communicate and she just laughed at me. The next few days we all grew to really love Soa, she had meals with us and we even brought her on some of our day trips. She is intelligent and hilarious. Her eyes just light up when she’s speaking, especially when we cannot understand what she’s saying.


Being around Soa, made me wake up to a lot of things. I thought about opportunity and how I wanted her to know how incredible she was. How she could be whatever she wanted. I thought about all the other leaders of the world, sitting in third grade or getting on the bus to go to school. All these children are people, people with so much power. Our world is essentially in their control. What they see us acting upon will impact their futures. With Soa near by, I remembered all the visions and dreams I had. Not even as a child, dreams I curated last year or a few months ago. What happened to them?


My new friend, Beto, stopped me mid-sentence when I was explain this thought of lost dreams with no action. He stopped me and said “why haven’t you done the things I want to?”. He would not take “I don’t know” as an answer. We talked through all the barriers I had placed on myself, seemingly removing them as I discussed them. As if not speaking them out loud was what was giving it the power.

Osaki Kamijima, changed my plans. It disrupted my life in a way I was not expecting. I think as a traveller you know that every trip impacts you and strengthens you. However this is different, in a way I still don’t understand. However I am grateful for Soa’s smile , one that makes me think. Ice coffee in morning while everyone is still sleeping. New friends like Jasmina and Beto who question you in a gentle way. And I’m grateful for an ocean in my front yard.


Katie in Japan – post #3

Blog #3

On the train from Sendai Station, we transferred in Tokyo to another train to Hiroshima. On the train while looking out the window, it’s possible to take in the spaces beyond your reach. Sometimes it feels like you’re in the car or on the bus. Then you enter a tunnel and you realize just how quickly you were going all along. That’s how this trip has felt. One minute I think I’m taking it all in and time feels normal. Then I check the date and realize we’re halfway through and I feel there is so much more to see.

After leaving Fukushima I already felt this strange comfort, a sort of familiarity. Yet at the same time I began to feel this intense sense of urgency. I talked to a few people about it, we mulled over the philosophy that perhaps are minds become overwhelmed and must attached to a memory. A moment that feels like something else in our lives. Maybe this brings us peace or maybe it helps us connect the dots of our peculiar lives.


I already know these intense and creative conversations will be something I miss greatly in my daily life. When you travel with people, I think a part of them also gets pressed into your passport. They become such a serious component of the entire journey. This group especially has taught me so much, the diversity that makes up our clan is a colorful gift. For example we were broken into groups to debrief specific parts of trips, mainly for us to relay our learnings to the group who traveled to Teshima. My group was given the simply complex topic of “themes of hope” specifically in Fukushima. The team I was a part of had representatives from Vietnam, Mexico, China, India and myself (originally from America). Our diverse ideas and cultural perspectives resulted in us laughing, learning and growing as a team. We adventured together and met people as a group. Leaving some of our guides in Namie Town, was also super hard. Its crazy how quickly our human minds can become attached.

Anyway, back to the narrative of the trip, the chronological order of events thus far includes;

Arriving in Narita

Heading to Fukushima (Toyoko – Sendai Station – Namie Town)

Left Fukushima (back to Sendai Station- Toyoko- Hiroshima)

Arrive in Hiroshima


Arriving in Hiroshima, the sun was shining, it was around dinner time. The sun was sitting a little low behind the trees a bit. Our bus stopped right in front of the Peace Park, a historic site in Japan. This is the place where the a-dome stands, shattered and held slightly together in a way that makes you conscience of your breathing. The park is beautiful, full of people and a deafening silence. I walked around on my own for a bit before dinner, the odd time running into a member of my group. Saying simple things like, “wow this is sad.”or “can you imagine what it was like?”. I wondered if a place like this should exist? With rays of sun bouncing off the river, hitting the eyes of school children walking home from school. A memorial of what once was, what should never have been. I wrote a short poem in a moment, while standing in front of the dome. *disclaimer: I am not a poet; these are just thoughts from a moving moment*

I stood in the shade for a very long time

Thinking what a wicked awful crime

I thought about the blood shed and the tears cried

I thought about it for a very long time

I thought about what it used to be

And how it had been

When the trees bent and swayed in the wind

I looked upon the bricks and clay

And I wondered what it would be like to stay

To listen to the story, they will never say

And to be able to return to work another day

I sat and thought about it for a very long time

The spiral staircase reminded me of a back or a mothers spine

Had the pilots cried

Did they feel their lungs collapse like the building and its cracks

In the shade I sat

I thought about it and I thought it will forever be black


The feeling I got from the peace park was so hard to understand. Especially after seeing the Children’s memorial, where a collection of origami cranes from all over the world are held. The thought of children dying, not just here but in other war-stricken areas made my eyes feel cold. Full of tears and my heart hurt. Children losing their moms, dads, sisters, brothers, pets and their own lives. We are not each other enemy, war is. This is something a very special lady would teach me.

One of favorite speakers, was a woman named Koko Kondo, a survivor of the Atomic bomb. Koko, small in statue, yet the largest life in the room. She fills the space with this joy and confidence. She told the story of how as a baby her parents saved her from the attack of the atomic bomb. Yet what was more moving was this idea that as a baby, she grew up in a destroyed town. A land of broken people and broken buildings. In her mind, this was really there was. She told us about the moments she encountered the co-pilot that dropped the bomb. Being just a small child, she recalls being filled with rage. Then discovery that our anger can not be placed on another person, but on the war itself. This idea that all the change or all the bad is the result of one leader or one political group, is so absurd. We all live here, and we all have a choice. Koko changed my mind on courage, gratitude and forgiveness.


Were currently on the island of O Osaki Kamijima and my mind is overwhelmed with thoughts. There is so much beauty on this island, the people, the history, the landscape. I wish it was possible to captivate it all in a snow globe to show the rest of the world. For now, I suppose a blog post will have to do.



Katie in Japan – post #2

After arriving in Japan, we had basically got the ball rolling right away. Upon arrival we successfully got dinner and used the public transit with a few other students. We were all glad to see that despite not speaking the language we were able to work through things and find what we needed. Being in a new place for me personally brings so much life and joy to my heart. I find there is not enough time to take in each moment. Before we get into it, let me explain a bit about this unique program called HELIO.


The HELIO program includes 22 students from all over the world, studying different disciplines. We also have 3 faculty advisors with us, Jay, Ken and Jodi. As well as two brilliant TA’s, Aoi and Mako. So far, the people have been amazing, and I enjoy the individual conversations almost more than anything else we’ve done. The program is a little hard to explain, its been running for four years and from what I understand, each year is very different from the next. Essentially there is a group of individuals who are looking to start a higher education institute on the island of Osaki Kamijima. Us as students, are here to propel that vision by demonstrating the value of non-traditional learning.

You don’t know what we’ve done yet though. So here is a brief recap, I landed in Tokyo with two other students from Georgian. We headed directly to a hotel where all the other students were told to stay. After meeting a few people for a quick orientation, everyone headed to bed as our bus left early in the morning the following day. Breakfast here is very different from North America, so the first one was a little surprising. For example, most mornings I have rice, a salad, sometimes eggs, tofu and miso soup.


So, after trying everything at the breakfast buffet, we all loaded onto the bus. Our large group was split into two groups prior to the trip. One group was headed to Teshima, and the other to Fukushima. I was in the Fukushima group, with 17 other students. Our day was jam packed to the brim. We headed to the airport to get a train to Tokyo. Then from there we got onto a bullet train to Sendai Station, this trip was an hour and a bit. It gave us lots of time to get to know one another and take in the countryside of Japan. Once at Sendai I got some delicious Matcha ice-cream (Matcha is green tea & also my favorite thing ever). Then we met our contacts for the Fukushima community, we loaded into a few cars and drove a few more hours to our next place.


While in Fukushima, each day was loaded with lots of driving, hearing people’s stories and learning more about the 3. 11 accident. The 3.11 accident also known as the TEPCO nuclear disaster occurred March 11th, 2011. To summarize the events, a large earth quark caused a tsunami to hit the coast of Fukushima. Directly contacting the nuclear power plant, causing a power outage and then impacting the generators. As a result, high levels of radiation were released into the environment. The government then forced those in the community to evacuate the area until further notice. Leaving many places abandon to this day.

Some crazy things about Fukushima are the large fields filled with black bags. These bags are filled with soil contaminated with radiation. We drove through what is called the “red zone” several times. The presence of disaster is earie, frightening and aggravating. As a foreigner we often feel so removed from these events that are out of our control. Earthquakes happen all the time right? Life moves on. At least that is what I thought. Until I saw cars overtaken with weeds and grocery stores with broken glass and shelves full of food. Until I realized someone’s world stopped, someone lost a pet and maybe even their mom.


However, the last five days we have heard so many stories of different individuals who shifted the norms. Showcasing this place is alive and thriving in many ways. Some took opportunity in the hardship and others just stuck to who they were. When we listen to people talk an interpreter usually translates for us. I find it amazing however, that even through a foreign language I can see the motivation and the pain they have in each word. These people have worked hard to get where they are today. Some have lost everything, and others left everything to join this community.


One man who stands out to me the most is someone we often refer to as “the flower guy”. This man had a face gracefully kissed by the sun and a soft glow around the edge of his cheeks. He used to be farmer, rice and vegetables. After the nuclear disaster his land was no longer deemed safe to harvest, due to the radiation. So, while he patiently awaited the day, he could farm food again, he planted some flowers. The flowers grew so abundantly and beautifully that people on the highway would stop to take photos of his blossoming fields. He then decided to plant a well-known flower called the “Texas Blue Bell”, which is used at ceremonies and festivals. His mission was to create an image of wonder and growth in Fukushima. Motivated to change the stigma that it is unlivable and full of hardship. His gardens began to grow so quickly that he needed help. His workforce now is made of mainly senior citizens with minimal family and individuals with disabilities. He believes that just because your right hand stops working, you don’t have to. You can train your left hand to do the same thing.

I could talk forever about this man and all I learned from him. How his eyes shown sunshine and his face crinkled when he laughed. He said one thing, written below, that stuck with me, and has inspired me greatly.

“Many people see life as it happens as a direction. The best people see life as it happens as motivation”

This whole idea that just because things happen, sometimes unbearable things, it doesn’t dictate our lives. This concept that life moves upward towards the end in a specific pattern is so unrealistic. Life is not a pattern, and flowers can grow in a radiation zone. Often, I find we’re just too scared to see things from other perspectives.

I also had the privilege of listening to a cattle farmer who decided to keep his cows alive after the government told him to abandon them. Staying tune to his roots and stoic in his beliefs. Just like him we met a woman who left her lush lifestyle in the city to move to Fukushima to start a tourism business for people visiting Japan. She wants them to see the real culture versus what has been blasted on the media. We talked to people who started shared workspaces, charities and social initiatives.


We have also been able to experience the more historical parts of Japanese culture. Traditional dinners, with incredible sushi and fresh seafood. Each night is filled with laughter, comfy robes and tea. The views are incredible and I have fully adapted to the little things I may have found strange at first. I love the natural hot spring, the way strangers smile and the lush floral gardens everywhere. After five days I can already tell leaving this place will be difficult. Yet I am so excited to see what the future holds.


Ishaan in Japan – post #3

Osaki Kamijima is an island in the Seto sea island. It is a beautiful island with a population of approx. 8000. Majority of people living on the island are in their old age. Through our three day stay on the island, we lived in traditional Japanese houses and the local homestays. That was a lifetime experience for me. The homestay families gave warm welcome that truly won my heart. Although they were not able to speak in English, still they could manage to communicate with us so well. Being on an island, their main source of meals was sea food, but they served us food of our taste. They took us to see sunset followed by a visit to an unknown island in the middle of sea by their own boat. At night, after a fulfilling dinner, they laid comfortable beds for us and we had a sound sleep. Next morning, we enjoyed tasty breakfast and went to a nearby high school, played with grade 7 and 8 students and enjoyed a lot.


We were warmly welcomed by the mayor of Osaki Kamajima and had luncheon with him. On the last day we went to a Buddhist temple and paid our prayers in Buddhist style. We also did meditation over there to have peace of mind and get relaxed. The most enjoyable moment was the traditional Japanese drumming with the High School students. They had specially prepared performance and drumming teaching session for us.


The beauty of the island of Osaki Kamijima was magnificent to get lost in it, but our main objective of the visit was to prototype that experiential learning is the need of hour for the country like Japan. For all the incidents happened in japan, the Japanese Education system was convicted as failure. So, the organizer of this program is trying to start a new college on the island partnering with the College of Atlantic in Bar Harbour, Maine to follow their western educational style to setup a new era of education. For me, all the sessions with the local entrepreneurs and survivals in Fukushima and Hiroshima were complementary with the field work we did at those places. This was the time when I understood the logic behind attending those field works and sessions. I acknowledge the fact that even after spending thousands of dollars on a trip like this we couldn’t have gained deep knowledge about such things.




Ishaan in Japan – post #2

I feel immense pleasure to be with such a wonderful team and faculty of HELIO 2019. While flying to Japan I had been feeling so nervous, but it is my good luck that Georgian college chose me for this expedition and supported me well with their services to go abroad.

During the first four days, we were on the field trip to Fukushima Prefecture and got a chance to understand the culture of the place. Following everyday traditions such as community bath, big family dinners and other social etiquettes, all were a new cultural experience for me.

I learnt that there was a deadly earthquake in March 2011, which gave rise to a massive tsunami and blast in the nuclear power plant. This blast affected all the nearby areas and contaminated them with harmful radiations.

We met local people, social entrepreneurs, business owners, peace activists etc. and experienced a whole new world. Visiting towns of Odaka, Namie, Futaba, Minamisoma in the Fukushima Prefecture and living with the local people over there helped me to understand how they felt after the incident and what measures they have been taking in their lives.

The first sight of the town of Namie made me emotional. Our tour guide Koki told us that most of the houses are empty because of the 3/11 accident. 20% area of Namie town was still under the evacuation order and his house is one of them. People of Namie town were not allowed to go in their houses and were abandoned from them. According to him, before the accident around 20000 people used to live in the town and only 400 people came back in 8 years that includes the majority of the old age people.

Whilst our conversation with the professor at the Fukushima University, he told that the radiation dose of the Fukushima prefecture is very normal and in accordance with the other parts of the world. There are few places that are still under the red zone where the radiation dose is high, but the rest 80%  area is safe to live. We also tested the radiation with the help of measuring gauge and found that most of the area was safe to live. Alas, it is the media whose false showcase of the incident forced people of Japan and other parts of the globe to build the wrong stigma for the same.

Before this unfortunate incident, Fukushima rice was very popular all over Japan. Now, people of outside affected areas have a stigma that the land is still contaminated so they avoid consumption of Fukushima rice. People have stopped buying Fukushima fresh produce including rice and other vegetables. Even there is less support from the government as they had collected all the contaminated topsoil in 16 million black plastic bags. Now, the government is worried about the disposal of those bags as they are slowly decaying and there is no way out to move them away.


Ishaan in Japan – post #1

I am super excited to become a part of the HELIO community and feel highly obliged to get this opportunity from the college to represent it at a global level in Japan. A couple of months back, this opportunity came to me as a dream prospect, the golden chance to increase my leadership abilities, to meet, interact and learn from other leaders from all over the world.

Being an international student, one always has a crunch of funds to participate in extra-curricular activities. I was also in the same situation and was thinking of how to break my financial barriers and grab the opportunity to visit a country like JAPAN. I took it as the lifetime chance not to be missed at all. I truly believe that luck was by my side when I decided to approach my college and request the authorities to give me a favor by providing financial assistance for this event.  

I feel so confident because my college sees the hard work of its students and recognize their efforts towards society. It became possible only because of scholarship and recommendation for this project from College Authorities. Project HELIO is going to be my second off-campus project/ leaning after the Enactus National Exposition 2019 in Vancouver.

I will definitely gain exposure to real-time issues prevailing in the society by attending various workshops, sessions and field projects while in JAPAN. I’m fortunate that these learning experiences would make me more confident and independent person and I will be able to think much more creatively and broadly towards society.

I am also thrilled to taste street food in Tokyo. It’s somewhat similar to Indian delicacies. Being on this 12-day project, I will be nearly in the same time zone (just 3 hours’ time difference) with my parents in my home country (India). I am sure HELIO is a big break for me to get global exposure. 

Krystal in Japan – post #3


Before this trip, I had never heard about this Island before.  Now I know so much that I’m having a hard time trying to figure out where to start.  When we got to the Island, we met Ishi-san and Kishimoto-sensei; they would be our guides for the entirety of our stay on Teshima.  From them we learned all about Teshima’s rich history and strong sense of community.  I will try my best to summarise the 44+ years of history we learned in 3 days.

Here’s a snippet of what I learned i.e the parts that peaked my interest the most.


Teshima is one of over 3000 islands located in the Seto Inland Sea.  Once, thousands of years ago, the islands in the Seto Inland Sea and Japan were connected to China.  However, after the ice age, melting ice and increasing seal level, the land was covered with water creating the formations we see today.  Teshima has a size of 400 square miles and is home to just over 500 people.  Over half of this population is over 65.  The community is aging which is one of the many problems they have to deal with.  Because it is such a small tight knit community, everyone seems to know and support each other. From the peak of Teshima, you can see five other prefectures. Also, this is random, but it took my third trip around the island to realize there are no street light here.  It’s so small that my group did and Island tour on foot.

The Illegal Industrial Waste Dumping Site:

This island has been through a 44-year battle to protect itself from the effects of the illegal industrial waste dumping.  From my understanding, a businessman by the name of Mr. Matsura began the business of selling soil and sand from Teshima.  He ran this business until there was nothing left to sell at the site that he chose.  From there, he seemed desperate to find other ways to make money off the land.  His bright idea was to bring waste here and store it in concrete in the area that he’s dug out the soil and sand from.  This was illegal for several reasons. For one, Mr. Matsura didn’t have permission to dump waste on Teshima Island.  Secondly, this was a national park area and so it is illegal to dump waste in it.  Thirdly, the permit he was granted was solely for the business of selling soil and sand and so he had no business doing otherwise.  So, on December 18th 1975, the people of Teshima began a long tiring fight to protect their island.  The story is a long and complicated one with many twists and turns.  We learned of all the protests the people held and the way they united together to protect themselves when the Kagawa Prefecture Neglected.  We learned how the burning of the industrial waste made the air so toxic that birds would fall out of the sky.  People were 10 times more likely to die from an asthma attack and there were 10 times more students in schools suffering from asthma.  It is believed that people outside of Teshima never understood the full scope of the issue because they weren’t living in it.

After years of dealing with this issue, the people were able to bring about change in Teshima.  The dumping site is now owned by the community and they make the final decisions about everything that goes on there. All the waste – over 80 meters- has been cleared and some of the materials were cleaned and recycled.  Currently there is a clean up project taking place at the dumping site to remove the toxins from the earth and water.

The dumping of industrial waste in Teshima is Japan’s biggest industrial waste controversy today.

I learned so much more about the history of this island from the introduction of the art festival to the creation of the old folks’ home, mental institutes and rebuilding of schools by the community.  However, it is impossible to cover so many years of history in one blog post.

The highlight of my trip so far was getting to work on the salt farm and make my very own bag of salt.  I was there for the whole process.  I saw the water get pumped from the ocean into a contraption that uses wind to dry the water and increase the salt concentration.  The sea water has a 3% concentration of salt, but once it passes through this contraption a few times it increases to 10%.  Then it is put into a heated shed (60 degrees) where the salt is crystalized over either a month (summer salt) or two months (winter salt).  I was able to dry, clean and package the salt with bags I made myself.  During this whole process we were able to jump into the ocean a few times when we got too overheated.

So far this has been an amazing experience.  It is a healthy balance of work and relaxation.  I find it fascinating that I spent so much time learning about human centered design thinking with my Enactus club and this way of thinking just seems to come naturally to people of Teshima.  They are able to empathise with each and work collaboratively to maintain their lively hood.  This is something I will always remember and try to intertwine it with my everyday life.

The food has been an experience and deserves a whole blog itself!

Dumping site
July 21st – this is what the illegal dumping site looks like now. The giant wall in the picture extends over 80 meters into the earth. This is to help stop the contamination of the water.
rice fields
June 21st – We visited the rice fields an did a mini island tour. They have a vertical irrigation system for their rice fields. It was quite interesting to learn about.

June 22nd– Julia and I working in the field and cleaning the salt after collecting and drying it.

salt bag
June 22nd- this is my personal bag of salt that I made
salt delivery
Delivering the salt we spent the day making to a restaurant. Our group had split into three for field work. Two of us made salt, two went rock carving and one went to work at a restaurant. In this picture the salt group (myself and Julia) are delivering to the restaurant group (Frederick and Mako the TA).

Katie in Japan – post #1

Hi there, welcome to my space. My hope with this space is to tell a story, to spark some thoughts and to show a little bit of how the world looks from my perspective.

For those of you who do not know me here is a brief introduction. My name is Katie, and I currently live in Barrie Ontario. I am a student at Georgian College, where I am studying Human Resource Management. My life mainly consists of drinking tea, spending time with the people I love, music and trying to live as intentionally as possible. A conversation with me may include, but is not limited to; social entrepreneurship, what makes you feel alive, travelling and your favorite food. I enjoy learning about others and what drives them. That is why I have a strong desire to move around and seek out these motivators across the world.

Katie at the airport heading to Japan

I am currently on a plane, headed to Tokyo/Narito Japan. Four months ago, I would never have imagined that I would be here in this moment. Several months ago, I received an email from a professor, whom I greatly admire. The email loosely eluded to a program run in Japan, through the Ashoka organization. I had recently become aware of this organization because of my involvement with a team called Enactus. Both groups, Ashoka and Enactus, support and empower students to use social innovation to create sustainable change (If you have time investigate both organizations).

The email caught my attention almost immediately, however I felt delayed to respond. I have an incredibly wander lustful soul, so the idea of going to a new place was an easy decision. However, at the time many things were going on my life. I think we all have that moment, or maybe lots of moments, that feel like the floodgates have been opened. Even if the elements are positive, the overwhelming aspect still stands. After reflecting on the opportunity and thinking about my personal values, I decided to go for it.

The trip I am embarking on is called the HELIO program. The program is through Georgian Colleges connection with the Ashoka organization. During the time in Japan, I will be travelling with 24 other students from around the world. We will be doing research and learning for the next twelve days.

So here I am, four hours left till we reach Tokyo, eating a fried rice dish I got on our layover. I feel anxious, tired and content. It has been awhile since I encountered another culture so head on, fully immersed. I am beyond excited to learn, to dive in and to soak in all the newness. Yet at the same time I feel an odd sense of peace, as if this is exactly where I need to be at this point. Last night with clothes scattered around the floor, my mom came into my room and asked how I was feeling. I thought it about it for a moment and then responded, “I’m nervous that I’m not more nervous”. At this point I am more so anxious that I will offend someone, which I know is bound to happen. I am slightly scared I forgot to pack something significant. Mainly I am eager to learn, excited to meet new people and eat some delicious food.

So here’s to a new adventure abroad, cheers! Xo, Kate

Krystal in Japan – post #2

Arrival and Trip to Teshima

The past four days have been packed with information- almost too much to fully digest in the short amount of time that is available to us.  Originally, I was going to write four blogs, but I honestly think I need to do more in order for me to fully process everything that is going on around me.  I’ve started typing up paragraphs based on certain points in the day so the topics might change drastically throughout the blog.

Day One:

We arrived at the Narita airport right on time and honestly everything was smooth sailing from there.  I thought that after over 16 hours of traveling and being in a country with a foreign language, things would be more difficult.  We made our way through the air port easily and found the bus stop without any hiccups.  While waiting for the shuttle we met 2 girls and a guy that were also apart of the HELIO program and we quickly became friends.  Honestly, it was so easy to tell the people who were there for the program from the people who had been to Japan before apart.  We were all so awkward and it seemed like we were doing things in slow motion.

lunch with friends
June 19th- Eating our first lunch with our friends from the airport.

The hotel rooms were small, the 2 beds were really close together and mattresses were super tough.  The showers were different to say the least.  It took 15 minutes of tinkering before I gave up and asked my roommate for help. Then it was another 10 minutes before we got any water from the shower head.  It was such a struggle and the solution seemed so obvious once we figured it out.  The sink and the shower use the same tap.  I have yet to figure out how to use the toilets though; I kind of just hope for the best every time I go in.

June 20th Walking to Uno Port on the way to the Ferry

After settling in, we took a bus back to the airport where on the 4th and 5th floors they have restaurants and shops.  It was so cool.  I almost thought I was at the mall until I walked out onto a balcony and saw planes taking off.  I had to search for a long time because I was nervous about eating the food, but eventually I found some really good chicken and even went back for seconds.  Katie and Steven ate sushi together and Ishaan, Anita, Wenchao and I at a Thai place.  We all sat together and got to know each other very well.  I also found a little station dedicated to One Piece which made me happy.  It was a really great way to start the trip.

There was an orientation meeting on the first night where we were given info about the program.  We may be the last group of HELIO students.  We are apart of a prototype program to see how students will receive this new form of interactive learning and how japan will receive the students.

The impossible controls I can’t seem to decipher!

Day 2:

The saddest part of the trip (for me) so far was having to come to terms with the fact that I would be separated from not only my school mates, but the new friends I’d just made. We were split into the Fukishima group and the Teshima group.  I was apart of the Teshima group which is made up of 5 people a teacher and a TA- everyone else went to Fukishima.

June 20th- On the ferry on our way to Teshima

It literally took an entire day to travel from Narita to Teshima.  We took three trains and a ferry to get there.  I was fascinated with everything around me on the first train so I had no clue how long it took to get to Tokyo.  It felt like a short time, but it must have been at least an hour.  Then we took another train that I also have no clue how long that it took.  It felt like we were going forever.  We even took bathroom breaks- there are toilets between the train cars!  That took us to another station where I realized I lost my train ticket for the last train to the port.  That wasn’t much of a crisis, but I did feel bad for causing trouble since I didn’t know anyone I was with.  From there we took the train to Uno Port- stopped for an amazing lunch- and then took the ferry past several islands until we go to Teshima.

Man is Japan different from anything I’ve experienced.  Everything is so organized and everyone is so respectful, proper and punctual.  The public spaces are quiet.  The most you hear are the sounds of nature or trains and cars going by.  On the escalators, its just understood that you stand on the left and you walk on the right.  Also, these are some of the cleanest streets I’ve ever seen in my life.  To the point where, on the rare occasion, when I see garbage I feel compelled to pick it up and take it with me to maintain the cleanliness.

June 20th- The Lunch we had at a small restaurant in Uno Port

I saw the craziest thing while on the train.  In certain locations the houses were slanted along the hills.  Instead of cutting a proper foundation into the land the houses were build to move with the land- that’s the best way I can describe it.  I’m desperate to know what the inside of these houses looked like and if an egg can sit comfortable on any table top in there.

That’s pretty much what I wanted to talk about for the first two days.  I’m excited to see what’s coming next.  We spend three and a half days on Teshima before meeting everyone else again.  The teachers and TA’s haven’t given us a schedule.  They just ask that we remain open minded and flexible.

Krystal in Japan – post #1


The days leading up to this trip has been filled with assignments and chapter long to do lists.  To be honest it’s a bit overwhelming trying to ensure I’ve covered every little detail of everything before I leave.  It’s s nerve racking flying to the other side of the world with people you don’t know to spend 12 days working together. I’m not exactly sure what activities we’ll be doing or what exactly is expected of me.  I only know where I’m going and for how long.  Also, for the first time I’m going to have to be actively aware of my shell-food allergy 24/7 – that’s a bit scary.  So, in summary, I’m anxious. However, Japan has been #1 on my list of places I absolutely need to travel to so no matter what happens I’m excited to experience it.  I’m honestly already thinking about what I want to do if I ever get to go back (I haven’t even been there yet! haha!).  I feel truly blessed that my first time there is not as a tourist but as a student because I get to have the full educational experience and see parts of Japan for what it is and not what the tourism industry has put forth for me to see.

I think my fascination with Japan stems from the fact that many things about the culture is so opposite to my own. Even the most mundane common everyday things that I hear about are intriguing.  I’m enthralled by their media and entertainment. It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever come across in my life, but it’s also the first bit of media that I’ve encountered that accurately depicts how my mind works. I love storytelling and writing and I must admit that a lot of my writing is heavily influence by Japanese drama, anime and manga.

I’m excited to experience the culture firsthand, meet new people, try new food and cross another country off my list.  I’ve been collecting bracelets for places I’ve travelled to- I’ll attach a picture below.  I can’t wait to add a new one to my collection.

necklaceThis bracelet is the first one I ever got- it’s from Cancun 2015.  A guy had set up a booth inside the resort I was staying in and was carving personal designs in coins and attaching them to handmade bracelets.  I decided to share this picture because of the symbol I requested to be carved.  It’s the logo of One Piece.  One Piece is a Shonen manga created by the mangaka, Eiichiro Oda.  The manga follows a group of pirates travelling the world, conquering their fears, and following their dreams.  It is my biggest inspiration and I hope to get a copy of the manga in the original language when I travel to Japan.