Testimonial of Danielle Zagar

Danielle Zagar
Global Education Teacher, School District 42
Adjunct Professor, Global Competency Certificate Program, World Savvy
Vancouver, Canada
2017 Asia Study Tour Participant

I have wanted to go on this Study Tour since I first heard about it in 2008. My background is in Genocide Studies, and more recently I completed my MA in Post-War Reconstruction. What accounts for man’s inhumanity to mankind, and how societies rebuild after horrific, unimaginable atrocities, have long captured my interest. And there is nothing like the opportunity to travel to the actual sites of these events, and hear from survivors, to move such learning out of the intellect and academia, and into the heart. More importantly, it moves this learning into experiences that greatly facilitate the meaningful sharing of such knowledge with others: students, colleagues, and the wider public. And for this study tour in particular, the latter is so important due to the denial and revisionism that persists about the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese Imperial Army against China and many other Asian countries during the Asia-Pacific War.

This denial and revisionism is aided by the lack of understanding of these events by many in the West, and therefore, I believe this Study Tour is of critical importance. I will be forever grateful to New Jersey ALPHA for sponsoring me to participate on this Study Tour, and to BC ALPHA, not only for suggesting and supporting my participation on this trip, but also from what I have learned from them over the years. Don, Thekla and Joseph are the epitome of trailblazers and inspiring role models. Their dedication and passion motivates me constantly.

Coming into the Study Tour, I had what I considered a fairly solid background to the history and atrocities that occurred in many Asian countries at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army during the Asian-Pacific War. So the learning that I experienced during the study tour wasn’t as much academic, as experiential, emotional, and personal.

From the experiential perspective, moving through six different cities during the tour was extremely educational. Each new city had a different focus and learning opportunity, both in terms of the content of what we were learning, and the history and culture of each different place. It was truly profound to learn of the atrocities suffered in Shanghai, Quzhou, Nanjing, Beijing, Harbin and Seoul, as well as to see the vibrancy of the cultures and the resiliency of the people from which we had the honour of meeting and learning. In each city, I found the contrast between what my expectations and assumptions were coming into the trip, compared to the robust and rich cultures and people I experienced, to be a wonderfully positive and energizing experience.

From an emotional perspective, there were many, many aspects of the Study Tour that affected me. As a woman, a mother, and a grandmother, there is no doubt that the most difficult aspects centered on the various parts of our tour related to the ‘comfort women,’ and the other injustices that women suffered during the war. These are stories and experiences that I will never forget, and am committed to passing on; this is particularly important given the fact that the ‘grandmas’, like Holocaust survivors, are passing on. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to continue to share their stories, and to be actively involved in the quest to have Japan officially recognize and apologize for their actions. True healing cannot take place without such actions from Japan, and as current events in the area attest, peace in the general region is also greatly threatened as a result of such contentious history.

Finally, from a personal perspective, I have taken away innumerable benefits from this trip. In addition to the aspects mentioned above (which of course, are personal as well as experiential and emotional), I particularly appreciate the inspiration and motivation I have taken away from this trip, both from the participants on the trip, as well as those we met in China and South Korea. Teaching is a demanding vocation, and this year in particular, I came to the end of June depleted and more than a little disillusioned. Meeting the people I did throughout this trip – all fellow travellers on this journey of fighting for social justice – completely revitalized my commitment, passion and energy. I am approaching the new school year with focus and determination.

Some final thoughts:

First, because of this trip, I have come to really understand how extremely relevant an understanding of this particular history is to current events. In our global world, the inter-connectedness of current events impacts all of us, in one form or another. I have been teaching my Global Education program from this perspective for a long time, but I am learning, just like my students. There is only so much I know and can share at any given point along the continuum. Thanks to this study tour, I now have a whole new realm of knowledge and experiences that I can relay to my students.

Second, it’s been reaffirmed for me that the search for justice is a never-ending task, and to not lose heart. The various people we had the good fortune to meet and learn from on our tour, who have devoted their lives to helping those who suffered, provide such clear and inspiring examples of perseverance, passion, commitment and courage. The search for justice requires people committed to their cause and passions, and being willing to be devoted, against all odds. The people we met in China and South Korea, as well as those on our trip, are all examples of this, and I carry this inspiration in my mind and heart.

Finally, the recognition of the complexity of the geo-politics of events and situations never ceases to amaze, and sometimes, depress me. For example, at times during our trip, I found myself critical of China, and what I perceived as minimal efforts the government has made to support their own survivors, especially compared with what we experienced in South Korea. But through our reflection sessions in particular, I gained a greater understanding of the particular circumstances and challenges that China as a country has experienced. While this understanding doesn’t ease my heart, it does reiterate for me, the importance of teaching the complexity of events to my students.

This was an incredible experience, from which I will continue to draw inspiration and narratives to help inform my teaching practice and my continued advocacy in social justice circles. Many, many thanks to every single person I met during these two weeks.

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