What does it mean to be a global citizen? How do you build a community of young people from around the world? How do you share your identity, culture and stories from home to push against stereotypes? What does a global community look like, and how do we nurture it when we return home.

The International Poetry Exchange Project was founded by Ambassador Caroline Kennedy in 2014 as a way to build bridges for students around the world. As a founding partner, DreamYard partnered with schools across the Bronx to write poems, create performances and eventually compete in an international poetry slam. As a community, we have traveled to Japan, Korea and the United States. Currently we work with four schools: Marble Hill School for International Studies in the Bronx, New York, Poongsan High School in Andong, Korea, St. Scholastica in Manila, Philippines and Shuri High School in Okinawa, Japan.

Last week we traveled to Tokyo and Okinawa in Japan for a 10 day journey that included: The Imperial Palace, the Tokyo-Edo Museum, Okinawa World, the Peace Memorial, a visit to Okinawa University to watch the Eisa dance, Meiji Shrine, Harajuku, Asakusa and lectures about Japan at the Ministry of Foreign Exchange and at the Peace Memorial. In addition, the students spent two nights in a homestay in Okinawa with local families where they cooked together, visited the beach and learned about local traditions. We also visited Shuri High School for a bingata workshop and had a poetry and performance workshop before our final poetry competition held high atop Okinawa. The trip was transformative for all of us - expanding our hearts and shaping our worldview.

Recipe for International Poetry Exchange

Gather 40 young poets from around the world. Watch

languages & hearts & stories & identities collide, shine.

Hear their traveling of mother tongues  

Japanese, Tagalog, Korean, Spanish, English, Soninke

& on. How they all sound like song & invocation.

See them slurp noodles, sample sushi, drink broth from deep bowls.

Watch them swallow the sea, ache from the lists & lists of names

carved into stone at the Peace Memorial. Weep with them

when they share sorrows, see the shards of war. Ourselves.

Bow your head in prayer at Asakusa & the Meiji Shrine.

Stand beside shisas that ward off evils. Learn traditions

the Eisa dance & bingata at Shuri High School. The art

of dyeing, the patience of weaving. Watch cultures inter-

twine & shift alive. Witness shared poetry of longing

& immigration & song & gods & cranes & new worlds.

Revel in their high school after party of Cupid Shuffle,

Gangnam Style & K Pop ballads. They community so hard.

Ask them what they love & they will yell out:

myself & non-crease sneakers & carbs & drawing

& the moon, moon, & anime & R & B, books & sleep.

Ask them what they don’t love & they will call out:

war & stereotypes & sweating & mosquitos

the president (of the US & the Philippines both)

& they will hold their hands out to each other in comfort.

& they will say homework & diarrhea & they will howl in laughter.

Because they are all teenage-ish & grown & young at the same time.

Ask them their names & they will shout them

while shaking their whole bodies: Alondra & Hawa

& Aicha & Fukumura & Ace & Angelica & Lian

& Sungmin & Hyeongseok - their names like prayers

rising into the setting Okinawan sun.

An untangling of letters & histories & place.

Say landscape & watch the streets unravel

& all the salt in the sea wash to shore. This

is how we are one. The only thing that stands

between us is the ocean, Fatou says & you know

she is right. & when Jason says, There are no borders.

there’s only our humanity, you all say yes, yes, yes!

Have them hold hands & conjure words

like: promise, hope, inspiration, community, love.

Say them again & louder & echo what they need

& want in this world. Watch them cry heavy tears

when they leave, lean deep out of bus windows. Carry on

& on. See how they hold. Watch their connections root down.

See their community rise up.