Local Businessman Funds Cultural Exchange Scholarship
By JENNA BROGAN
Posted: 08/16/2009 01:30:27 AM PDT
SANTA CRUZ -- When local businessman-musician Michael Downey visited Asia for the first time, he was inspired to bridge the cultural gap that separates America from South Korea and Japan.
Today, Downey hopes to accomplish that goal by funding travel opportunities to Asia for individuals like himself who want to learn first-hand from another culture.
Downey is CEO of Hashi.org, a nonprofit organization founded in 2006 and based in Santa Cruz that promotes cultural exchange opportunities between East Asia and America. He has been accepting scholarship applications for travel and study in either South Korea or Japan.
On Sept. 1, the organization, will announce who gets $1,000 to participate in an overseas program like those offered on Hashi.org -- including, but not limited to, home-stay, work, travel, student exchange or volunteering.
"We are reaching out one person to another, one country to another," said Downey, who funds the program with the help of his local business, Cypress Construction Services Inc.
Since the organization was formed, Hashi.org has awarded 10 scholarships to Americans, Koreans and Japanese, for the purpose of creating a cultural "hashi" -- "bridge" in Japanese -- between the countries.
Inspired to build that bridge in 2005 while touring in Korea and Japan with his band Michael J Downey and the World, Downey created
the organization in the hope of breaking down cultural stigma.
"We hope that this small experience will plant a seed in each participant, so that he or she will be able to understand another culture better and strip through the negative images presented by the media," said Downey.
Previous scholarship recipients include a Japanese graduate student who wanted to study the similarities and differences between Japanese and South Korean architecture and culture, and an American anthropology graduate working on her Ph.D. dissertation in Korea.
The scholarship will be awarded based on the applicant's need and on how well the intended use of the scholarship coincides with the mission of Hashi.org.
And according to Downey, there is no better time than the present "to extend the hand of friendship out there in the world."