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Global Visionaries: Orie Kimura

Orie Kimura standing outside by a tree

The Office of Global Affairs is excited to celebrate Orie Kimura for our February 2023 edition of the Global Visionaries series. The Global Visionaries series highlights the University of Washington’s global impact by featuring innovative, globally-engaged faculty, staff, and students.

Orie Kimura, Class of 2022, graduated from UW Tacoma with a Bachelor of Social Work. Orie is currently studying for her Master of Social Work at the University of Washington with a focus on children and families. Orie was recognized as a 2022 Husky 100 and was previously President of the Student Social Work Organization and Vice President of the Husky-kai (Japanese Union) at UW Tacoma. Orie shares her thoughts on cultural humility, social justice, and the power of cross-cultural exchange.

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What inspired you to become an advocate for cultural humility?

I was born and raised in a suburb where there are many people from different countries in Japan. Growing up in the environment, I had opportunities to learn about various cultures and grew my love for learning about them. As I interacted with people with varied cultural backgrounds in the environment, I also learned to see people’s behaviors through cultural perspectives.

After moving to the United States from Japan, I had more opportunities to interact with people from various cultures as I have become a part of the migrant community. As a person assimilating into the mainstream cultures and facing cultural differences in the U.S., I further understood how much influence culture has on our lives. Through these experiences, I learned that it is crucial for people to commit themselves to the lifelong learning of others and their own cultures and to welcome various cultures in order to effectively communicate with each other, to deeply understand peoples behaviors, and to come together to collaboratively create a comfortable environment for all.

Tell us about your international experience in Malaysia.

When I was a high school student, I had the privilege to be chosen as a representative of my home prefecture in Japan and stayed in Malaysia for a week. Malaysia was a beautiful country with amazingly kind and friendly people, delicious food, and diverse cultures. I stayed with a local Malay family who is Muslim and learned about their ethnic and religious cultural traditions. During the stay, I also had the opportunity to visit a Hindu temple, a mosque, a local high school, and many other places. When I visited Malaysia, it was during a week-long Hari Raya Puasa, in which Muslim people in Malaysia celebrate the end of Ramadan by gathering with their families and friends and enjoying feasts together.

While visiting several families with my host family, I was surprised by how curious they were about learning about my culture. As a visitor, I thought I was the one who needed to learn about their culture and assimilate. However, they were also willing to learn about my culture to accommodate each other to minimize our cultural differences instead of isolating me or forcing me to assimilate into their culture. Back then, I remember wondering if this curiosity about different cultures is how Malaysia has maintained cultural diversity without major conflicts between ethnic/religious groups. People in Malaysia made my stay comfortable and special while further teaching me the importance of cultural humility.

How did you promote social justice issues as President of the Student Social Work Organization?

As a President of the Student Social Work Organization at UW Tacoma, I spread awareness of social justice issues by bringing group discussions and events related to social justice issues on campus. We held monthly discussion meetings covering numerous social issues, such as microaggression, missing and murdered native women, and sexual assaults. We facilitated conversations around challenging topics while opening a space for people to share their lived experiences and learn from each others’ stories.

It was nerve-racking to facilitate conversations around microaggression, as the conversation brings up the topic of racism. However, we decided to cover microaggression in our meeting using a discussion format because it is through hearing peoples’ lived experiences that we can better understand why the issue is problematic, become empathetic toward people experiencing the issue, and decide to become an advocate for the issue. We also held one event related to social justice issues every quarter. We held a donation drive for people experiencing homelessness, filmed video clips for Afghan refugees for the Afghan American Cultural Association, and collaborated with the Formerly Incarcerated Student Association to hold an on-campus lobby day advocating for state bills that impact incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals.

What did you learn from your experience as a Global Ambassadors Program Coordinator?

The Global Ambassadors Program fosters friendship and cultural understanding between international and domestic students at UW Tacoma. While working as a Global Ambassadors Program Coordinator, I facilitated weekly group meetings, organized local trips related to social justice issues, and took students to fun off-campus events to flourish their friendship. In the program, international and domestic students engaged in discussions about social justice issues, such as ableism, the treatment of indigenous people, racism, poverty, health disparities, religious oppression, the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, and immigrant, migrant, and refugee rights (through global and local perspectives). The program provided a place for students to share how these issues are similar in their home countries or countries they have visited.

By coordinating the program, I learned that many of the issues we believe are local are often experienced in other countries. For example, our conversation around the inequality in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine around the world revealed that there are some social justice issues that the world as a whole needs to work together. The experience made me realize that there is always something I can learn from each country in the world to better the situation in my home country. This role taught me how to develop a program and facilitate a group of people with various viewpoints and it made me realize how much I enjoy interacting with people from diverse backgrounds and learning about different cultures.

Why did you decide to volunteer as an online tutor for economically disadvantaged students in Japan?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, more people got pushed into poverty, and there was an increase in education inequality in Japan. In Japan, people need to pass entrance exams to enter universities. Therefore, many high school students go to cram school after regular school to study for entrance exams. The pandemic made it challenging for more families to pay for their high school-aged children to attend cram schools. Furthermore, many of the students who were no longer able to go to cram school also lost the opportunity to spend extra time learning from their teachers after school when classrooms moved online.

I believe the opportunity for education should be distributed equally to people regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds and I wanted to do something to address the worsening education inequality in my home country. This is why I joined a group of university students during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to tutor and provide study tips to economically disadvantaged high school students in Japan.