Cultural Exchange Event Held with ParalympicsGB Athlete and Keio Yokohama Elementary School Students
November 10, 2021
A cultural exchange event was held for students from Keio Yokohama Elementary School and ParalympicsGB representative Krysten Coombs on Wednesday, October 27.
Commemorative photo taken during the exchange event
After training at the Hiyoshi Campus's pre-Games camps, Coombs competed in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in the Badminton division for athletes with short stature, securing a bronze medal for his performance. The event was inspired after Yokohama Elementary School students crafted origami medals for Team GB and ParalympicsGB athletes when they came to the Hiyoshi Campus. While COVID-19 resulted in the cancellation of many cultural exchanges between athletes and students, the origami medal project, spearheaded by the student-led volunteer group KEIO 2020 project in cooperation with Keio Yokohama Elementary School teachers, was an incredible success, collecting over 100 medals. Once Coombs received the origami medals, letters, and photos prepared by the children, he helped work to make this online cultural exchange event into a reality for the students who had reached out to him.
Origami medals crafted by Keio Yokohama Elementary School students
Origami medals and letters displayed on Hiyoshi Campus
The Keio 2020 project is a Keio student-led support organization sponsored by the Keio University Institute of Physical Education for the Olympic and Paralympic delegations from the United Kingdom. The group has been active since 2016 when it was decided that Hiyoshi Campus would be the pre-Games training camp location for athletes from the UK. In September, the group was selected as a "Host Town Contributor of Merit," and received a letter of appreciation from Tamayo Marukawa, the Minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, in acknowledgement of their hard work. The recent cultural exchange event was made possible through the careful preparations and cooperation of the KEIO 2020 project, with student members conducting a rehearsal run of the event the day beforehand. A total of 35 students from the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades gathered online to practice their questions for Coombs in English with university students, run through the schedule, and make sure that all of the participants were well acquainted with how to use Zoom in advance. The KEIO 2020 project made sure to provide opportunities for the children to calm their nerves by scheduling time both before and after the rehearsal to break into small groups, introduce themselves, and chat. On top of the exchange with ParalympicsGB, the collaboration that took place between Keio's students and the those from our affiliated school turned out to be an invaluable model for exchange on an elementary-collegiate level.
KEIO 2020 project members pose with origami medals
In consideration of the younger schoolchildren who would be tuning in to watch the event, the day's proceedings were conducted in both English and Japanese. The event began with a congratulatory message from the children to Coombs for winning a bronze medal, followed by a quiz that viewers could take part in on topics like Coombs's favorite Japanese food. All participants then joined in practicing Coombs's regular exercise program, and the event concluded with a Q&A and speech from the Keio Yokohama Elementary School Director, Naohiko Kohtake. During the quiz, Coombs introduced his native county of Devon and encouraged all present to visit one day. Coombs showed off his medals and politely answered a variety of questions, including how to deal with nerves, get back up when feeling down, and what he would like students to know about parasports in the world today. When asked about what they can do about discrimination against people with disabilities, he said that he wants more children to know that it is important to recognize that all people, not just those with disabilities, are different and that he hopes we can recognize these differences and accept one another.
The event was held at night to accommodate the time difference. Even then, in addition to the students who were scheduled to ask Coombs questions, more than 400 students from Keio Yokohama Elementary School tuned in, resulting in an incredible event that facilitated an increased interest for a large number of students in cultural exchange that overcomes national borders.