Japan ICU Foundation Recruits Students, Connects NYC Community

Founded more than 60 years ago, International Christian University is a small liberal arts institution nestled in a forest in the suburbs of Western Tokyo. A 30-minute train ride will take you from the crowds and craziness of Shinjuku to a 153-acre campus steeped in nature and history.

A Christian university that is not limited to Christian students, ICU’s specific mission is to nurture students with a foundation of global focus and conflict resolution. But this school based on peace and reconciliation was once the site of a design center for World War II combat aircraft.

The university’s main building was the site of the Nakajima Aircraft Company Aeronautical Research Center, where employees worked on developing long-range bombers that could fly to the US mainland without refueling.

“Quite literally it went from a place of war making to a place of peacemaking,” says Mark Flanigan, Program Director of Japan ICU Foundation in New York City. “ICU was founded in the wake of World War II by Christians both in Japan and in the US as a way to promote reconciliation. Their idea was to come up with a new educational focus that was post-war, post-imperial, geared toward democratization.”

Throughout its 60-year history, ICU has become an institution that American government officials visit. General Douglas MacArthur and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt were among ICU’s earliest supporters.

“Eleanor Roosevelt visited the campus in 1953,” says Flanigan. “All ICU students declare their commitment to the universal declaration of human rights upon matriculation. She was instrumental in forging that ethos and belief.”

Flanigan himself is an alumnus of ICU, where he earned a master’s degree under the Rotary Peace Fellowship, which shares ICU’s goals of peace, national and international cooperation, and conflict resolution. After serving in the US military, Flanigan became certified to teach English as a foreign language, which he did in Mexico for a year. That experience eventually led to his first exposure to Japanese culture, where he taught in Hirado City in northwestern Nagasaki Prefecture as a member of the JET Programme from 2000 until 2002.

Flanigan joined Japan ICU Foundation (JICUF) almost two years ago. The office is located in the Interchurch Center, where Flanigan works with a small staff: David Vikner, President; Paul Hastings, Vice President; Virginia Coleman, Chief Financial Officer; EvaLyn Montgomery, Administrative Assistant; and fellow Program Director, Tara DeWorsop.

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(l to r) David Vikner, Paul Hastings, Tara DeWorsop, and Mark Flanigan of Japan ICU Foundation

One of the main functions of the foundation is student recruitment. Flanigan attends college fairs and speaks at area high schools that offer Japanese classes, such as Stuyvesant, LaGuardia, and the UN International School. But New York is not the only source of potential young scholars; Flanigan also travels to cities where ICU has alumni chapters. JICUF works closely with the administration of ICU president Junko Hibiya to recruit throughout the US and Canada at schools and other events that might attract interest. Most recently the foundation had a booth at Sakura Matsuri in Washington, D.C.

At these college fairs Flanigan explains the opportunities students have if they are interested in studying in Japan.

“ICU is for students that want to have a Japanese university experience, but one that is global and based on the ideas of peace, reconciliation, and international exchange,” says Flanigan.

A big selling point for Flanigan is ICU’s diverse and globally focused student body. In what many consider a homogenous Japan, ICU boasts multi-national and multi-cultural students and faculty in a setting that is attractive and conducive to learning. With an enrollment of about 3,000 students, ICU is able to maintain a 1:18 faculty-to-student ratio, keeping class size small for optimal interaction.

Bilingualism is stressed at ICU, where some classes are taught in English, some in Japanese, and some in both languages. All native Japanese students must take courses in English, and non-Japanese undergrads take the Japanese Language Program.

“The idea is not to have full fluency, but to be basically conversant in the other language by the time of graduation,” says Flanigan.

Because of their ability to speak both English and Japanese, many ICU graduates secure jobs with the Japanese government, the United Nations, and international NGOs. In fact, Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa, the Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, is a 1974 ICU graduate.

By boosting students’ linguistic capabilities, ICU encourages students to study abroad. ICU has partnerships with universities and educational institutions in 21 countries, and almost one in five students has the opportunity to participate in foreign exchange programs.

In support of ICU’s study abroad endeavors, JICUF established a study abroad scholarship, one of the foundation’s major fundraising initiatives. This year JICUF also created Global Link, an exchange program that will bring about ten ICU students to New York this summer for a seven-week internship with Japanese- and educational-related companies.

“Some students can’t take a year off, or they can’t even take a semester off because of obligations back home, but they could do a summer internship,” says Flanigan. “We came up with this idea because we’re in New York, and we have a lot of connections here. That’s where we can add value to ICU students.”

In addition to matching applicants with local organizations, JICUF is offering the students, who will stay at nearby International House, cultural programming, team-building activities, and networking opportunities with local alumni.

“We’re not a branch office of ICU, we’re not a campus, but we are a very active partner,” Flanigan says of JICUF. “So we want to do whatever we can to support ICU students while they’re here in North America, whether they are here for study abroad or in grad school.”

Although Japan ICU Foundation was established in 1948, it sometimes operates under the radar of other organizations within New York’s Japanese community, something that Flanigan, a board member of the JET Alumni Association of NY, hopes to change through increased networking.

“People have heard of ICU when we go to events around town, and when we meet people from the Consulate or Japan Society or different universities, they are impressed with ICU and they know of it, but a lot of them are surprised that there is a foundation here in New York,” says Flanigan. “So, that’s kind of like our biggest challenge, letting people know who we are and the fact that we’re actually based here. We’re actively interested in working with and networking with other Japan-related and educational-related organizations.”