Different cultures, similar issues


Golf balls and dancing Rice Krispies played a big role at Marylhurst University last month when 26 Japanese high school students visited the campus to study English, sustainability, renewable resources and non-profit organizations.

Students from Mikunigaoka High School in Osaka, Japan, visited the Portland area March 21-28 as guests of Pacific International Academy, an English-language school that has been located on the Marylhurst campus since 1997.

During their stay in Lake Oswego, the students attended lectures and classes about Oregon’s environmentally friendly practices and ventured out to sites as varied as the Bonneville Lock and Dam, the World Forestry Center and the Hoyt Arboretum to learn about their sustainability functions. They heard from the nonprofit Solar Oregon about alternative energy sources, and from the Portland Development Commission on urban planning.

“I was very impressed by the city planning in Portland,” says Mikunigaoka student Kosuke Sakamoto. “I want to visit Portland again, and some of the students say that they want to live there.”

The Mikunigaoka school website describes its students as “Japan’s future leaders.” The school is one of 56 in Japan that have been designated Super Global High Schools as part of a five-year program that supports studying abroad. But while Portland may have earned an international reputation for its environmentally conscious lifestyle, what could Japan’s future leaders learn from Oregonians?

“Japan and the Pacific Northwest are kind of on the same latitude,” says Greg Dardis, interim chair of the Department of Science & Mathematics at Marylhurst, who lectured the high school students on solar technology.

In addition to the geographical similarities, he says, “a lot of issues the Northwest has to think about, with respect to endangered species and energy issues, are very similar to Japan.”

Dardis’ lecture took place the morning after the visit to Bonneville, located 40 miles east of Portland on the Columbia River, and students had a lot of questions for Dardis about the efficiency and practicality of hydroelectric power.

“They’d never seen a dam that big before,” he says. “The questions they asked were interesting, because they were really quite practical. They weren’t interested in trivial ideas; they were interested in (whether) people really make money doing this, or if it’s really good for the environment. That was really gratifying to hear those kinds of questions.”

To illustrate the science behind electricity, Dardis used golf balls to explain the flow of electrons from one atom to another. He handed some students golf balls — which represented electrons — and declared each student to be an element, such as hydrogen or silicon. He then approached each of the students and asked their names. When one student told Dardis her name, he responded, “No, you’re not,” stole a golf ball from her and said, “You’re carbon.”

Dardis also used a Van der Graaff generator, a metal pole topped with a hollow globe that generates high voltages. Students took turns shocking themselves with one hand on the globe; the electrons would flow to their hair, which would stand on end.

Next, he handed Rice Krispies to students who stood near the generator. The electrons circulated to the cereal, which vibrated in their hands. When another student approached them and put their hand within two inches of the cereal, the Rice Krispies discharged all their electrons and jumped up and down.

“Rice Krispies will dance between two peoples’ hands if you get the right voltage,” Dardis told the students.

His explanation of electricity then transitioned into an explanation of a solar cell’s inner mechanics, which showed how sunlight can be converted into energy on a molecular level. He touched on how it’s even possible to live independently from “the grid,” citing an example of a Lake Oswego resident who engineered a home designed to get its energy exclusively from the sun, with a roof 100-percent layered in solar panels and double-insulated walls.

Visits to locales around the Portland area offered other tangible examples of how several local residents and non-profit organizations are harnessing alternative energy to their advantage.

Representatives from Portland State University took the visitors on a campus tour to show the environmentally focused student-run programs and initiatives there, including the university’s numerous LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings and the Energy Loop — four underground pumps that use the Earth’s natural temperature to heat or cool buildings.

In Troutdale, the students planted native willow and shade trees and removed invasive garlic mustard and Himalayan blackberries along Beaver Creek during a visit with SOLVE, a non-profit program that relies on volunteers for clean-up projects to restore local streams and wetlands.

“It was good for them to see how a local organization is trying to impact the environment and include volunteers in that experience,” says Erica Fulton, Pacific International Academy’s academic director. “Students got their hands dirty and had a day in the field.”

During their Bonneville tour, the students learned how a hydropower generator works, its role in the U.S. electrical distribution system and how salmon use a fish ladder to climb over a dam to spawn. A tour of the design-build firm Green Hammer’s newly completed housing in Southeast Portland taught the Mikunigaoka students about the principles and technologies employed in green building standards.

“I believe they walked away being much more aware of how a small community can be designed and built to facilitate accessibility for aging in place and encourage positive engagement within the community to create a healthy culture and space to age in,” says Green Hammer founder Stephen Aiguier. “We need more of these types of global learning opportunities for the youth of the world. We can only have positive results from these types of cross-cultural learning opportunities.”

The goal of all of the visits, says Rahi Ghazimorad, director of services for Pacific International Academy, was “to nurture curiosity in these students at this age.” The annual program will bring another group to Marylhurst in 2016.

“Hopefully,” Ghazimorad says, “we were able to impact them in a positive way, broaden their horizons a little bit to give them an opportunity to see how different cultures approach similar things.”

This story was originally published in the April 30 issue of the Lake Oswego Review.


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