Economics students travel to Japan


(from left) Melissa Frey, Ella Dittmer, Brooke Janssen, Shmya Evans, Max Mendoza, Zakaria Salem and Aasiyah Muhammad visited the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on the last day of their trip.

In mid-February, economics teacher Melissa Frey received a phone call from a representative for the Georgia Council on Economic Education about a trip to Japan. The representative told her that one school could no longer go because their school didn’t approve the trip in time. This opened up six spots for Decatur.

From March 28 to April 6, Decatur economics students Brooke Janssen, Ella Dittmer, Aasiyah Muhammad, Shmya Evans, Max Mendoza and Zakaria Salem traveled across Japan.

The trip was completely free for students. The Japan-America Society of Georgia funded the trip with money from the Japanese government.

According to Frey, the goal of the trip was to foster cooperation between Georgia and Japan and inspire students to support Japanese business when they become adults.

In order to choose the six students, economics teachers gave their students a survey to find those who would benefit from learning about economics in a unique setting. Teachers looked for students who had good grades in their class, an interest in economics, rarely traveled and hadn’t gone on a school-sponsored trip before.

The school used the results of the survey, teacher recommendations and a lottery to pick the final six students.

Janssen found out about the trip after an administrator called Janssen’s mother and told her that Janssen had been selected.

“[My mom said], ‘You’re going to Japan.’ At that moment, my mind was just blank. I almost had no reaction because I was not anticipating getting a call for this trip whatsoever,” Janssen said.

After getting over the initial shock, Janssen remembered the survey she took in economics. At the time, none of the students knew what the survey was for.

One question on the survey asked what country the respondent would like to study economics in. According to Janssen, multiple countries were listed as answers to that question to try to “fool” the students. Teachers looked for students with an interest in Japan specifically.

“I guess I got lucky [because] I did click Japan,” Janssen said.

The students and chaperones for the trip—including groups from Cambridge High School in Milton and McIntosh High School in Peachtree City—flew out to Japan on the morning of March 28. The group traveled to Tokyo, Kamakura, Yokohama, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Kyoto during their trip.

Frey enjoyed being in Japan while cherry blossoms were in full bloom, especially  because of their prominence in Japanese culture.

In Hiroshima, the group visited a museum that had items from the time of the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945 and photographs depicting the immediate aftermath of the bombing. That part of the trip stood out to Frey.

“It was really impactful and deeply moving to be in the place exactly where the atomic bomb was dropped…It was really sad, but I think it was really important to understand how devastating nuclear weapons are and how important peace is,” she said.

Janssen agrees and believes that visiting Hiroshima demonstrated the effect peace had on rebuilding the country.

“Hiroshima was by far my favorite stop because the Peace Memorial Park was really calm and it was nice to have this feeling of unity coming over Japan which was previously war-torn from World War Two,” she said.

The group visited countless Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines throughout their trip as well.

“We were able to see how they’ve done a really good job of preserving the cultural traditions and religion of Japan in a way that was surprising for such a developed and industrialized nation,” Frey said.

On the first day of the trip, the group visited Shibuya, a commercial center in Tokyo that Janssen likened to Times Square in New York City.

There were also some economics-related activities during the trip. The students visited various Japanese businesses. While touring Nissan’s factory in Yokohama, students got to see the assembly and testing of cars. At the YKK Group showroom in Tokyo, the students made their own pouches using YKK zippers. Students witnessed how Japan emphasizes teaching math and science to kids when they visited the Panasonic Center in Tokyo.

These activities helped to enforce concepts economics students would learn in class, such as the value of money or the effectiveness of specialization, Frey said.

The value of the trip extended beyond a year-long class. For Janssen, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“I’m never gonna come across another opportunity to go to Japan for free with some of my classmates…It’s something that I won’t ever forget.”


Contact the writer, Nayeli Shad, at Photos courtesy of Brooke Janssen.