Stimulating ambitions of Japanese youths the Aramco way

This year’s Saudi Aramco scholarship winners at the Yokohama Senior High School of International Studies (YIS) Shiki Tokiryo, Amina Tomioka, and Kaori Furukawa (three females seated in the front row, from right) pose for a photo at the scholarship ceremony with their parents and YIS faculty. Also among those pictured are Shinji Mori (back, third from right), YIS principal at the time; Kyoko Sakurda (second row, second from right), newly appointed principal; and Abdulrahman AlMogren (back, fourth from right), AAJ deputy managing director for the Strategic Procurement and Logistics Department.

The 7th Saudi Aramco scholarship was recently awarded to three graduating students of Japan's Kanagawa Prefectural Yokohama Senior High School of International Studies (YIS).

YIS is the very first public high school in Japan to have an Arabic language course, and Aramco Asia Japan (AAJ) has been supporting the school by upgrading the equipment in classrooms and providing scholarships to eligible students annually.

Abdulrahman AlMogren, deputy managing director for Strategic Procurement and Logistics Department of AAJ, congratulated the students in Japanese. “Being able to speak foreign languages is a great asset, broadening your horizons and enriching your life. I share the hardship you have been through, as I am also currently learning Japanese with my wife,” said AlMogren. “I understand it is not something you can achieve overnight. Let us keep brushing up.”

Amina Tomioka, one of the scholarship winners, expressed her appreciation to AAJ. “I am very honored and grateful. I plan to continue studying Arabic and make use of the scholarship to participate in a study tour to the Middle East.”

Belief into reality

The relationship between Aramco and YIS dates back to 2010, when AAJ approached YIS after learning about the school's Arabic course — a rarity for high schools in Japan. The initiative was based on the belief of then-principal Shinichi Hanyuda that Arabic is one of the official languages of the United Nations, spoken worldwide, and that a correct understanding of the Arabic/Islamic world is important for a global citizen.

To date, 167 students have taken the Arabic course at YIS, and though that number is relatively small compared with other languages, the students who take the Arabic course are enthusiastic and dedicated.

“Learning Arabic language at YIS led to a desire to run restaurants that serve innovative cuisine combining Japanese dishes and halal food,” said Shiki Tokiryo, a past scholarship recipient.

Positive changes

Kyoko Sakurada, who was recently appointed as the principal of YIS, has been engaged in and witnessed the development of the project over the years. She recalls the days of the startup of the unique program when, as a member of a local school board, she was remotely coordinating with YIS.

“It was a challenge with no precedent. But I still remember how grateful I was with the establishment of scholarship program and the Saudi Arabia YIS Friendship Hall. I was even more thrilled that the program was still active when I was transferred to YIS as an assistant principal in 2014,” she said.

“We have been enjoying the relationship with Aramco in different aspects. The interaction with visitors from AAJ has contributed in stimulating students' motivation in studying the Arabic language and deepening knowledge about the Islamic culture as well as broader international situations.

Many of them have been inspired to continue their studies at university,” Sakurada added.

Dream for tomorrow

As evidenced at an Arabic café hosted by the students where AAJ was welcomed with cups of coffee as well as dates, a simple and formal connection in the beginning has been deepened into interpersonal networking over the years.

One of the advantages of studying at YIS is the exchange program with sister schools overseas, which provides students with the opportunity to interact with students their age who speak the language they are studying. “It has always been our dream to connect with a high school in Saudi Arabia. We hope to materialize the exchange program by taking the Japanese students all the way to the Kingdom and familiarize themselves to the country and the local students one day,” Sakurada said.

The new school year at YIS has just begun, with 13 freshman students having selected to study Arabic out of six foreign languages available. “I am pleased to see Japanese young generations proactively engage in our language and culture. I have a great hope that these students would play a key role in bridging Japan and the Arabic world, as well as the rest of the world in the future,” said Anwar Hejazi, representative director of AAJ.