The Eiri-Casti cultural exchange



From California to Japan, Castilleja students meet with girls from Eiri High School through the Eiri-Casti cultural exchange.

On February 19, 2021, during the COVID February break, 7 Castilleja high school juniors participated in a virtual cross-cultural exchange with 14 Japanese high schoolers. The online event was hosted by the Stanford Program on International and Cross-cultural Education (SPICE) in partnership with Castilleja’s ACE Center. The students were from Yokohama Eiri Girls High School (“Eiri”), an all-girls institution founded in 1908 by a visionary female educator, Kimi Takagi, coincidentally just one year after Mary Lockey founded Castilleja. This Eiri-Castilleja cultural exchange was organized as the last module of a 6-month online SPICE program to explore the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

At this online event, the Junior students had fun spotting across the Zoom screen familiar faces they remembered through introductory video messages they exchanged prior to the event. The day started off with the Eiri students’ virtual tour of Japan. They took the Castilleja students to some of Japan’s most scenic and historic landscapes, including the majestic Mount Fuji, the traditional district of Asakusa, the trendy udon restaurant in Shibuya, and the port city of Yokohama where the Eiri school is located. Finally, they gave an exclusive tour of their modern campus. The video footage in the tour from the outside entrance through the hallways to the library and all the way to the classrooms gave an authentic feel of attending Japanese high schools.

Through this extensive virtual tour, the Castilleja students were able to fully immerse themselves in the academic environment of Eiri. This event was initially planned for the Eiri students to visit Silicon Valley, but the virtual format due to the COVID pandemic allowed the event to be mutually beneficial—a true cultural exchange—in which both Eiri and Castillejastudents learned about each other.

The Castilleja students started their tour by ‘visiting’ Silicon Valley’s tech firms followed by the unique landscapes of Northern California (from redwood forests to alpaca farms!), allowing the Eiri students to imagine what they would have enjoyed if it were not for COVID. The Castilleja students shared highlights of their school traditions such as Rivalry and spirit week, ending at Town & Country’s Tin Pot, one of their all-time favorite snacking places. The students enjoyed comparing the delicious food, beautiful scenery, pop culture, and landscape of Yokohama and Silicon Valley, only possible by this unique virtual exchange.

After the welcoming introduction, the 21 girls from both sides of the Pacific broke into three breakout rooms to discuss the topics that the representatives from both schools had chosen in advance: environment, education, and LGBTQ+ rights. Not all Eiri girls spoke English fluently and few Castilleja girls spoke Japanese, but they all found ways to communicate creatively. Hand gestures, online drawings, and body language heightened the energy, and the laughter was constant. Even though the experience was completely virtual, the students all enjoyed the extremely immersive experience!

When all three groups reconvened, the atmosphere was clearly more open and comfortable with smiles everywhere seen across the screen. Each group shared highlights, including one junior who said that she loved her group’s “girl talk,” with a mischievous smile.

During the closing, Ms. Anjelika Grossman shared her own memory of a cross-cultural experience at an all-girls school in Japan as an exchange student from Castilleja. How time has changed the definition of an “exchange experience”!

The event culminated with everyone bidding farewells in each other’s language. The Eiri juniors called out, “See you!” and the Castilleja juniors responded, “Mata ne!”

While the pandemic inevitably sheltered us in place, the Eiri-Castilleja virtual exchange provided an unusually immersive cross-cultural experience during the COVID February break. The exchange was so impactful that even months after the event, the Juniors keep in touch with their newfound friends across the Pacific, remembering the fun and excitement of the virtual event.

This Eiri-Casti cross-cultural exchange will take place at Stanford University if Eiri students are able to come to Silicon Valley next spring. Castilleja high school students are encouraged to participate so they can make friends and foster lasting friendships with peers from Japan. This time, the exchange will likely be in person. Until then! See you, and mata ne!