Cross over the walls

KCC International Café connects students from different cultures

by Kaori Saitoh

Through the International Café at Kapi‘olani Community College, students from all over the world nourish their minds by sharing cultures and languages.

In 1999, Linda Fujikawa, a Japanese-language professor at KCC, along with other faculty and staff, started the café to help local and international students on campus network with each other.

Starting with 10 members, the café members have grown to more than 100, and it’s celebrating its 11th year this year. Fujikawa said that the café attracts students from Hawai‘i, Peru, Japan, Brazil, Korea, China and elsewhere.

“Eating at the café helps students raise their international awareness,” Fujikawa said.

Fujikawa’s motto reflects her vision for the café.

“My motto is: ‘Let us cross over the walls of ourselves to build upon the heart of humanity.’ ”

Francisco Vargas, a KCC student from Brazil, just joined the café and is excited to know more about other cultures.

“It’s fun, exciting and interesting!” Vargas said.

While the café develops international understanding, the students also earn credit for the service-learning projects they perform. Projects include helping build homeless shelters, working with seniors at hospitals, cleaning up beaches and other various volunteer work.

Shunji Iwasaki from Japan, known as “Keith” by the café members, joined the International Café in 2006, and is grateful to be part of it. He participated in the Mālaekahana Project in 2009, which helped the homeless.

“I did beach cleaning and built a house for homeless people,” Iwasaki said. “I met many people. It was so much fun.”

Fujikawa said that members learn about issues and take action to help the local community.

“Through service, learning and through international awareness, we take one step over ourselves to different roles and to different people,” she said. “And by doing this, each step, no matter small or big, you are helping to build in the heart of humanity as a whole.”

Also, students enjoy the café to develop friendships with people who have different ethnic backgrounds.Tomo Huber, a café member, is from Hawai‘i and lived part of his life in Japan. Huber is a KCC alumnus and is working as a student-networking administrator at KCC.

“You can see more different people than just regularly living as just (a) citizen,” Huber said. “Everybody is fun and positive.”

Sumi Miyauchi, a KCC alumna who joined the café in 2003, said it is more than just having fun.

“The International Café cultivates the support or the warm heart of individual students,” Miyauchi said.

Fujikawa said that students’ motivation to do service-oriented activities encourages her to continue her work with the International Café.

“The most important part … is students and how each student doesn’t end at the International Café. They continue to carry this kindness,” Fujikawa continued. “Initially, and today, I still feel somehow the International Café really has a lot of many kinds of people, and it’s not something we can require, right?”

Fujikawa said they welcome new members all the time and are willing to help other colleges to start their international café, if people are interested.

“Because of the help (from all the people who support the International Café), we are who we are today. But the main power comes from students themselves,” Fujikawa said.

Students from other colleges are welcome to come and observe what the International Café really is.

Huber encourages anyone to “just come in and just look at people, just hang around with people and you’re gonna learn something different … . You are gonna definitely have fun.”

The café is held from 10 a.m. to noon every Tuesday and 1 to 3 p.m. every Wednesday in front of the KCC bookstore, which is its temporary location while its room is under construction.

The story was published in Ka Leo o’ Hawai’i on May 3rd, 2010.