That is what Sean from Vancouver, WA, wrote in his reflection upon returning home from Putney. Sean was one of the four Shinnyo-en youths who attended the Putney School Summer Program this year. Together with Sean, Tomo from Lexington, MA, attended Session I of the Summer Programs from June 26 to July 15 while Amy from Lisle, IL and Ted from Redwood City, CA attended Session II from July 17 to August 5 this year.
Tomo expanded his creative repertoire in ceramics and sculpture making while Sean also explored ceramics and painting. Amy enjoyed the challenge of making ceramics by throwing on a wheel while Ted acquired new glass arts skills. Both Amy and Ted challenged their musical skills in a songwriting course together in the afternoon. Those Shinnyo-en youths came with already practiced or accomplished skills in various arts or music. However, Putney allowed them to stretch their creative abilities and interests, and help them acquire new skills. Self-exploration at Putney is not limited to just arts or creative skills. Provided that all of the students live in campus dorms for three weeks without knowing their dorm mates before, they have to learn to stretch their social and interpersonal “muscles” as well. Putney’s safe, serene, and enclosed environment around the passionate and personable instructors and staff allows anyone who attends the Summer Programs to grow immensely socially and emotionally, as well as artistically or intellectually, in just a short three-week period.
Ineko Tsuchida, the Foundation’s Program Director, visited Putney for a day on July 28. Despite arriving in Putney in the middle of a heat wave with high humidity, the concentration of the students wasn’t broken as she observed them turning a wheel in a ceramics class, making a glass dish or composing a song in a studio. Once they were outside of the studios, they gathered together under the trees or on picnic tables to play card games or chat with newly made friends. None of them were in a hurry to leave their dining table after a meal because they were engaged in casual but enriching conversations with their new friends and instructors. The instructors didn’t necessarily stand out as adults, not only because they appeared as young and energetic as the students, but also because they were so equally engaged in conversations with the students as they ate meals together at the same tables.
This year marked the 10th year of the Shinnyo-en Foundation’s support to Putney School Summer Programs. Every year in recent years, four Junior Shinnyo-en Association members from the Shinnyo-en USA temple communities have been invited to take part in the Putney’s Summer Programs. They all come to Putney not knowing exactly what to expect and anxious to be in a new environment with strangers. However, shortly after the first interaction with their dorm heads and new dorm mates, they soon learn that they belong there. Tomo shared his feeling of the first encounter with others at Putney as follows: “When I first arrived, I went to my dorm and met the people I’d be staying with for the next few weeks. We played cards, did some icebreakers and name games, and established some general rules for the dorm. In just these first few hours I got an extremely different feeling than I do from other people… Everybody seemed genuinely respectful of the people around them. I learned from this that it’s not just about saying something or doing something, but about really meaning what you say and being passionate in your actions.” Amy, who arrived a little later than other students, said, “When I got to camp, most people had already met their roommates, apprentice teachers, and dorm mates. I was one of the late comers and awkwardly tried to jump into the conversation. I quickly learned what Putney’s defining characteristic was… A welcoming, non-judgmental environment. It didn’t matter that I came late, everyone treated me as if I was a longtime friend. This interaction cemented my decision to be as open-minded as possible during this trip.”
Whether it is a creative block or a social challenge, the participants attested the safety of Putney allowed them to make mistakes and learn from them. Ted wrote, “A Putney society is a society where you feel safe giving your art 100% of your energy, being able to make mistakes and hit some rough spots. At Putney you feel safe to make these mistakes (experimentations) and hit these bumps. You get really close to the members of your society, and you start to work with the people around you very well…”
Amy also summed up Putney in one phrase “Non-Competitive Exploration.” She continued in her reflection, “I would like to believe that I’m not a very competitive person, though some people may tell me otherwise. Whenever I see someone at school set a bar, I usually try to see if I can also reach that point. But it’s a competition against myself. At the end of the day, a lot of my achievements are set by other people, which in theory is not too bad, but coming to Putney made me want to realize my own goals. And that’s what I was able to do. Putney was super non-competitive. I set my own goals and was able to achieve them on my own. My classmates weren’t my competitors; they were my friends.”
Sean is the one who started his reflection with the enthusiastic remark, “I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to attend one of the best summer programs in the country.” He also concluded his reflection with an observation on his own growth as follows: “… my favorite overall part about the Putney Summer Programs was getting to become friends with such a diverse group of people from all over the world. I loved getting to step out of my comfort zone to do things I would never do back home such as waking up every morning to sing, or go square dancing, and even volunteer to clean a barn. I got to attend dances, I became more self-reliant, and I got the chance to be surrounded by positive and supportive faculty and students. I am so proud to have represented Shinnyo-en at this program and I am so grateful that I could have this memorable experience.”
Just as Sean wrote, most of the Junior Shinnyo-en members who attend the Foundation’s sponsored programs recognize their affirmed or renewed faith in Shinnyo-en as a result of their participation. They also attribute their remarkable experiences and safe trip home to their faith with much gratitude. We are very pleased and honored to have been able to provide such enriching experiences to young Shinnyo-en members at such an impressionable time of their lives.