Author Archives: Cassandra Peterson

2014 CIF Alumni Spotlight: Emma Russell

Emma Russell, podium, speaks with fellow students at the CIF Conference


Emma Russell, a recent graduate from Santa Catalina School and current freshman at Bates College, was an exemplar participant in the 2014 Spring Critical Issues Forum (CIF) Conference. Emma cited her experiences at CIF leading her to an increased interest in international peace and security. Not only did CIF generate and solidify her interest in politics, but Emma reported that it taught her essential skills that she was able to implement at school. She praised how her participation in the conference allowed her to strengthen her academic skills, such as learning how to conduct research, becoming comfortable with public speaking, and articulating her thoughts in a clear and precise manner.

However, for Emma, the highlight of her time with CIF was meeting Japanese students through the conference. She noted that this increased her capacity for cross-cultural communication and her appreciation for the unique aspects of Japanese culture. In particular, Emma said that she was struck how the students she met were shaped by the tragic events of August 1945, Atomic bombings, which lead to their interest in peace education. Although Japanese students had quite different approaches toward international peace and security, participating in CIF allowed Emma to understand the Japanese students’ viewpoint, in turn expanding her worldview.

She also highlighted her experience as a host sister to some of the students, which gave her a closer look at Japanese customs and language in a relaxed setting. Emma was introduced to a variety of new interests and activities within Japanese culture, including food, clothing, pop culture, and of course the relevant issues of international peace and security. She made lasting friendship, both with the students she hosted and with others who took part in CIF.

Emma stated that by the end of the conference, she knew she wanted to major in international relations in college, turning her involvement at CIF into a career in Washington, D.C. Her heightened knowledge of nonproliferation and disarmament in combination with her new interest in US-Japan relations, as well as her ability to communicate with people of other countries, has primed her for this new career path.

All in all, Emma stated that CIF opened doors that she never thought existed. She discovered that she had a passion for international peace and security and cross-cultural communication. She was able to identify a future career path in the field of politics, particularly focusing on nonproliferation and disarmament issues, and US-Japan relations.  Her time conversing and living with people from Japan gave her a fresh perspective on world events. In fact, Emma stated that she gained so much insight on world politics, particularly relating to foreign policy, that she felt more ready to undertake her college experience. She encouraged everyone to take advantage of the valuable and prestigious opportunity that CIF presents, with the hope that it will change the way that future high school students think, as it did with her.




2015 CIF Alumni Spotlight: Karin Okuda

Karin Okuda, right, speaking at the CIF Conference


Karin Okuda has always been aware of the horrific nature of nuclear weapons. Her school, Hiroshima Jogakuin Senior High School lost 330 students and 20 staff members during the bombings in 1945, which has fueled their extraordinary peace education program. Karin grew up listening to the testimonies of Hibakusha and learning about the significance of nuclear disarmament. While she acutely felt the importance of disseminating Hiroshima’s peace message around the world, it was not easy for her, as a high school student, to find out how to best reach people in different countries.

The Critical Issues Forum (CIF) project was a great opportunity for Karin to get one step closer to her dream of working for world peace and security. She participated in the 2014 Spring Conference, held in Monterey, where she presented on the daunting challenges of creating a world free of nuclear weapons. Karin enjoyed the experience so much that she also took part in the 2015 Spring Conference, acting as the emcee.

According to Karin, the CIF project gave her a fresh perspective on nuclear disarmament issues. Meeting with students from the United States and discussing how to achieve peace significantly widened her worldview. She was impressed by the American students’ passion for disarmament. It was very stimulating for her to see that students from the United States were discussing their country’s policy making process in regards to nuclear weapons. Seeing that she shared a common goal of a world free of nuclear weapons with the American students motivated Karin to work more diligently for peace and security.

During the 2014 Conference, Karin stayed with an American host family. She called the experience eye-opening, noting it deepened her understanding of American culture and friendship. It was this homestay that inspired to share her own culture with American students during the 2015 Conference in Hiroshima. She assisted in orienting the visiting schools, leading a tour, and showing heartwarming hospitality. Karin was literally a “peace ambassador” to strengthen the friendship between the United States and Japan, spreading the message of Hiroshima to the world.

Through the CIF project, Karin also stated that she was able to develop confidence in areas where she had previously been lacking. She strengthened her passion for peace and security, while enhancing her knowledge of intercultural communication. Based on her time with CIF, Karin believes that there is no barrier among hearts, although sometimes it does seem impossible to reconcile differences among governments. She has stated that she will cherish the friendships she developed through CIF, as friendship across cultures is critical in working towards a world free of nuclear weapons. The experience multiplied Karin’s desire to be a true “global citizen”, transcending differences between countries, and she is now determined to grown into a leader who can contribute to peace, security, and strengthening the friendship between the United States and Japan.



2015 CIF Alumni Spotlight: Carlo Govantes


Carlo Govantes recently graduated from Rock University High School in Janesville, Wisconsin. He was selected by the Governing Board of his school to be the leader of a five-member team during the Critical Issues Forum’s Spring 2015 Conference in Hiroshima, Japan. Carlo was selected by the Board because of his passion and vision for peace and security via international diplomacy.

This is a particularly amazing feat considering Carlo’s unique childhood experience; until 2011, he lived in the United States without legal status. However, in 2013, President Obama provided Carlo with the opportunity to apply for status as a “Dreamer”. The Dream Act allows immigrants who have grown up in the United States to obtain a temporary permit to remain in the U.S. for work and education. Under the Dream Act, Carlo now has legal status, which allowed him to apply for permission to travel to Hiroshima and participate in CIF. The experience also gave him faith in the U.S. system in that they recognized his genuine desire to improve upon the quality of life for the country and worldwide.

As a young boy, Carlo noted he had a strong fascination with Japan, including an interest in culture, history, and an origami hobby. He became an unofficial member of the 2014 CIF team by developing an international friendship between students from Rock University High School and Kwassui High School, from Nagasaki, Japan. The direct result of Carlo’s leadership and professionalism was an invitation during the 2015 Conference from Kwassui High School to sign a Memorandum of Understanding for intercultural partnership.

Carlo’s interest in peace and security grew by leaps and bounds during his participation in CIF. The conference introduced him head on to the dangers of nuclear weapons and their role in politics. It also demonstrated to him that peace between nations would be easier without such weapons standing on hair-trigger alert.

In meeting with Japanese high school students, Carlo learned that many of them have a passion for peace and a drive to further educate the rest of the world on the risk humans are taking with nuclear weapons. Carlo feels that students in Japan are much more aware of the challenges presented by nuclear weapons. He even learned that Japanese schools often have peace clubs, which tackle international issues such as nonproliferation and disarmament.

The CIF project became a bridge for him to make partnerships with schools in Japan and within the U.S. It also deepened his knowledge of nuclear disarmament. Like all relationships among countries, Carlo noted that it is important to keep strengthening ties to one another. It is important that both Japanese and U.S. high school students learn from the mistakes of the past and consequently, how to prevent future mistakes in disarmament. Not only is working together important for reaching the goals of peace and security; it is the only way.

As a graduating student, the experience of participating in CIF impacted both Carlo’s career path and his major. It inspired him to work towards not only an engineering career, but also to a path of education for future generations. He has decided on attending college to learn various abilities such as software development, engineering, and International business. Carlo will be the second child in his family to attend college in the United States, and he accredits that directly to CIF. It showed him why continuing to study would be the best way to support both my family and to reach his dreams.

Carlo has stated that he will continue to work hard towards a career that can influence peace and promote hope for friendships between nations through diplomacy and the exchange of culture. He recommends that current students take part in the experiences CIF has to offer, thinking hard on the problems at hand and what kind of solutions they can create. He will be forever grateful for the opportunity to be a part of CIF’s legacy.

2013 CIF Alumni Spotlight: Alexander Thompson

Alexander Thompson, left, gives a presentation at the CIF Conference with fellow students

Alexander Thompson was a student at the Janesville Academy for International Studies in Janesville, Wisconsin. He participated in the 2013 CIF project, and attributes his work there as some of the most important he has ever done in terms of his career and college path.

Alex believes that he gained an incredibly unique and personal insight through a variety of topics in the field of nuclear disarmament, most of which were in relation to the Japanese experience of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Through the CIF project, he learned the effects of the use of nuclear weapons against civilians in those two cities. The Japanese students he met had families and friends who had been effected by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; hearing their stories profoundly affected Alex. Global security and disarmament became strong focuses in his life following his participation in CIF.

Furthermore, the CIF conference sparked a new passion for Japan within him. Its culture, its language, its history, and even contemporary issues were all extremely interesting to him. So much so that he decided during his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to double major in Global Studies and Japanese. Three years later, he is now a junior who is heavily involved in his university’s Japanese program. Alex is also employed as an Undergraduate Research Assistant for the Japanese language. He works as a volunteer at a Japanese immersion school outside of Milwaukee, and hopes to study abroad in Nagoya, Chiba, or Osaka. All of which, in great part, he attributes to the CIF project.

Alex says if it wasn’t for CIF, perhaps he never would have discovered his interest in learning Japanese, or even his desire to become a globally-minded citizen. He believes the program has influenced his career path immensely, from fostering friendships with Japanese students to influencing his passion for intercultural communication. For Alex, the “ah-ha!” moment in his life was participating in CIF. Naturally, his future plan is to work in the field to enhance the U.S.-Japan relationship, especially these two countries’ cooperation for peace and security in a world free of nuclear weapons.

The CIF project gave Alex the opportunity to act as a youth leader in world peace and security while fostering lifetime friendships with students from another country. He strongly recommends the experience to other students, as it changed both his worldview and his life.