Skip to main content

Overview of my latest trip to Japan: Changing the world with JCI!

“The JCI Academy is the best JCI experience that you will ever have” is a statement that I frequently heard from past national presidents. “It will probably be in the top experiences of your life.”

And indeed, it was, without a doubt, as memorable as they described it. I could not have thought that one can create as many memories, learn as many lessons or make as many friends in the span of 10 days.

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the 2017 JCI Academy in Kumamoto, Japan. The JCI Academy is an annual event that is hosted in a different Japanese city every year where upcoming JCI national presidents and leaders are invited to an empowerment academy to prepare them to be future leaders. This year, we were celebrating the 30th edition of the academy, three decades of evolution and experience had culminated in a wonderful experience for everyone involved. Under the slogan “Who Changes The World? It’s Us!”, JCI Japan had prepared an intensive program with JCI Past President & Academy Course Leader Lars Hajslund. This academy was also special because it included JCI Past President Pascale Dike and JCI Past Executive Vice President Boydee Dizon as trainers, giving us a greater grasp of knowledge and experience. So many lessons learned, so little time to talk about them all! I was truly an overwhelming week and a half, of which I will describe the highlights.

As part of the program, we were invited by a Japanese family to spend a weekend with them at their home in Kumamoto. Each international delegate was assigned a different family and he/she was whisked off after an introduction ceremony. I was lucky to be hosted by the Yonemuras, a delightful family with young parents and adorable daughter & son that lives in Kumamoto’s suburbs. Like many other families, they barely spoke any English, which made the experience even more interesting. Communicating by Google Translate (so grateful for the invention) and sign language, we were not only able to talk about necessities, but also deep meaningful conversations. Even though this was not my first trip to Japan, I feel that with them, I was introduced to traditional Japanese customs and traditions… and the home-cooked meals were superb! They truly treated me as their own child and went above and beyond to make me feel at home. They were also very glad to learn about my country Lebanon and try samples of its food, which to them must have felt like an exotic faraway land! I truly feel that they are now my second family and I hope to visit once again very soon.

Another highlight of the program is the Japanese elementary school experience, and this year, we were truly lucky to not only spend one day (as usual) but two days at different schools to absorb this unique cultural experience. We were invited to attend a school day at one of the Kumamoto elementary schools where the teachers and students welcomed us with a meticulously-choreographed ceremony. After that, we joined the students in their gym class where we were introduced to traditional Japanese games along with a few games of dodgeball (which proved once again that I suck at sports, even against 9-year-olds). We were also invited into the classroom where each of us made short presentations about our respective countries as we saw the children’s light up with fascination about the different cultures. Yet, the most fascinating encounter we had was lunch & cleaning time. Japanese school children are taught responsibility by taking care of most of the school’s chores, from serving food, cleaning the classrooms to scrubbing the toilets. Being served a typical Japanese school lunch, we had the chance to chat with children about their hopes and dreams and about our cultural differences and traditions. Then we joined them as they cleaned their classrooms like clockwork, a very mesmerizing sight.

Our second encounter with elementary school children was harmonious in nature. The JCI Academy committee had organized for us to attempt to break the Guinness World Record of the most nationalities attending a dance class. More than 77 nationalities performed the Kumamoto song along with a whole Japanese elementary school; the only way I can describe it is magical (and sweaty)! We were even featured in Japanese media such as TV reports and news articles.

 All this and I haven’t even begun talking about the official training academy yet! The best way to describe it is the most I’ve been out of my comfort zone, ever! Starting off by being grouped with Japanese roommates, who may or may not speak English, and being assigned to a team that you are supposed to work and present with (some of my team members only spoke Spanish, Korean, or Japanese) and that was the beginning of a week full of hilarious and emotional moments of cultural diversity. Living alongside my team (Team H) for a week, being together non-stop: eating, partying, sleeping and breathing, made us a family, one big multicultural multilingual family. A week of intensive training and group work did not pass without frustration, embarrassing instances, tearful emotions and a great deal of separation anxiety. During our last night, the amount of hugs received and tears shed surpasses those of best friends parting.

I will not go into details about the official program to leave some mystery for the future delegates of the JCI Academy, but I will share the top lessons that I learned below.

  1. You will not learn anything new if you stay in your comfort zone. It will be difficult but it is definitely worth it.
  2. Fear is an illusion. As soon as you overcome it, you will become more powerful and can achieve what you thought was impossible. How about jumping on a pile of broken glass?

  3. “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the ability to act in the presence of fear.
  4. Language barriers can be easily overcome especially in our day and age. Don’t let it be an obstacle to meeting and getting to know people that don’t speak your language.
  5. A task can be done in several different ways and all of them can be right.
  6. Whenever you are angry or frustrated, be patient and think to yourself: “right now I am learning. I might know what exactly, but I am definitely learning.”
  7. Love transcends language, culture, age, nationality, gender, and orientation. You can’t imagine how amazing it feels to give love (or “diamonds”) to strangers or acquaintances and receive it back.
  8. The pen is mightier than the sword and if you let it flow on its own, you’ll be surprised by the creative ideas that you will come up with.
  9. Many times, you should be a leader and guide people on the right path. Yet, the hallmark of a great leader is knowing when to follow other leaders.
  10. Do not regard people who are working on similar ideas/projects/goals as competitors. By supporting each other, your achievements will be better and more impressive.
  11. It is rewarding to take the untraveled path, but sometimes, following instructions of those who are more experienced and practicing their ways can be more rewarding.

I was expecting the JCI Academy to give me information about leading my national JCI organization. Make no mistake, it did. But it also gave me much more than that. It taught me vital life lessons that have permanently altered my life, my beliefs, my behavior and way of thinking. It gave me friends all over the globe, many of which are now very dear to my heart, and from countries that I didn’t even know existed! It got me out of my comfort zone so much that going back to it right now feels weird. It showed me a different global perspective and made me consider ideas that I haven’t even thought of before.

My advice for all JCI members is to work hard through empowering their community in their local and national chapters and work hard to be selected to attend the JCI Academy in Japan because it is well worth the commitment.

*JCI is a nonprofit organization of young active citizens age 18 to 40 who are engaged and committed to creating impact in their communities. Active citizens are individuals invested in the future of our world. JCI gathers active citizens from all sectors of society. Worldwide, JCI has more than 200,000 members in 5000+ local chapters across 124 countries and has implemented tens of thousands of impactful projects. For more information about JCI, visit If you are in Lebanon and interested in joining, fill in this form:

**This post was originally written for the JCI official website. You can find the published version here.

***You can view the full album of photos from this trip here.