Students Stand Out as Cherry Blossom Festival Ambassadors

Posted: May 4, 2012 at 11:52 am, Last Updated: May 4, 2012 at 11:53 am

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By Rashad Mulla

This spring, after seeing the cherry blossoms decorate the Tidal Basin in the nation’s capital, four Mason students decided that they wanted to play a bigger role in the city’s annual spectacle.

The students, all undergraduates in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS), joined other students from universities across the country in serving as the 2012 Goodwill Ambassadors of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The festival ran from March 20 to April 27.

The students who participated were juniors Mica Dumas and Grace Kim, global affairs majors; senior Nazmeene Khan, an economics major; and sophomore Sarah Paolozzi, a foreign languages major. Kim, Dumas and Paolozzi have minors in Japanese studies.

As ambassadors, the students served as official representatives of the festival, attending events and guiding visitors.

Cherry Blosssom Ambassadors

Four Mason students were among the Goodwill Ambassadors this year: Nazmeene Khan, far left, back row; Grace Kim, second from right, front row; Mica Dumas, far right, back row; and Sarah Paolozzi, far right, first row. Photo by E. David Luria

According to Sufumi So, faculty member in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and an expert in Japanese language and culture, the Mason students were interviewed and selected because they are “talented, energetic individuals who have a true passion for international relations, community involvement and the festival,” as stated on the National Cherry Blossom Goodwill Ambassador Program website.

“I completely agree with the Goodwill Ambassador selection committee that (these students) do have these qualities,” So says.

The student ambassadors say they benefited from being part of the program in more ways than one. For example, Kim, who spent six years in Japan as a child, felt that her involvement as an ambassador helped her reconnect to her Japanese heritage.

“The Japan that I remember from childhood stays vivid in my mind, but 10 years have passed since then,” Kim says. “I was most interested in learning about Japanese social tendencies and historical context. Japan is an evolving country, which continuously produces new ideas and trends, and I was most interested in finding out about its cultural evolution.”

Dumas, who spent seven years in Germany and 12 years near Tokyo, learned about the Ambassador program from So, whom she respectfully refers to as “sensei.” As a true global citizen who is interested in returning to Japan after graduation, Dumas says that the festival both fascinated her and helped her learn more about the Japanese community fabric.

“As an American, I lived in Japan for 12 years, so the National Cherry Blossom Festival truly reflects my personal experiences,” she said. “As a Goodwill Ambassador, I not only represent the festival, but I am also able to introduce Japanese cultural activities which help to strengthen the friendship between Japan and the United States.”

Paolozzi says she felt that being an ambassador would allow her to learn more about all aspects of Japanese culture, which she both respects and appreciates.

“I had always enjoyed the cherry blossoms, and I have a great respect for what they are and how they came to the United States,” she said. “Japanese culture is very unique, and I enjoy learning its customs, practices and, most of all, language. It’s something that I am very fond of, but that definitely keeps me on my toes.”

Khan viewed the appointment as a symbol of the relationship between the United States and Japan.

“When I think of the Japanese cherry blossoms, I think of friendship, beauty and respect,” Khan says. “I think of the everlasting friendship between America and Japan. I think of the respect given and received by both countries. Finally, I think of the beauty of how it has been expressed.”

According to this year’s participants, the opportunity is worth going through the competitive application process.

“To be part of this festival and help promote the ethics, beliefs and morals of the National Cherry Blossom Festival has been a great honor that I will take with me for the rest of my life,” Khan says.

This article originally appeared on the CHSS website.

Write to Robin Herron at rherron@gmu.edu

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