Edward M. Greb is fascinated with the people and culture of Japan.
So much so, that at a recent reception honoring the Washington & Jefferson College sociology professor, friends and colleagues joked that he must have been Japanese in another life.
"He has many Japanese ways. The major one is his extreme humility," friend Cora Lee Phillippi said. "No matter what he does, he'll give his students the spotlight every time and let the success be theirs."
Mr. Greb, 80, who has a doctorate and lives in South Strabane with his wife, Barbara, has spent most of his 38-year teaching career working to foster international exchange, cross-cultural education and bonds of friendship between his college and the Samukawa International Exchange Association in Japan.
It's for this reason he was honored in Washington, Pa., last Thursday at the Woodlands Community Clubhouse, and hours later at a campus dinner meeting of the college chapter of Pi Gamma Mu, the international honor society in social sciences.
The exchange association based in Samukawa, Japan, works to expose its townspeople to worldwide cultures, customs and traditions. Samukawa, in greater Tokyo, is the village where Mr. Greb takes his students every two years.
To express their gratitude to Mr. Greb before he retires next year, the exchange agency and people of Samukawa commissioned a large, camphor-wood wall sculpture by Japanese artist Akatsuki Harada, a Samukawa resident. The 25-pound gift was presented to Mr. Greb and college representatives during the dinner meeting.
An accompanying letter from exchange vice chairperson Isao Goto explained: "On the plaque are carved a Japanese kanji 'Kizuna' and some symbols of our town, including Mount Fuji and the narcissus, our town flower. The kanji 'Kizuna' means 'the bond.' Dr. Greb has forged a real bond between the professors, students and others of your college and town and the people of Samukawa."
The exchange did not send a representative to the event due to the recent death of its president, Noboru Matsumoto, from heart failure, Mrs. Phillippi said. Her family owns the travel consulting firm that has planned and led Mr. Greb's student tours to Japan since 1987.
Mr. Greb first became interested in all things Japanese while taking Asian studies classes at the University of Pittsburgh. After arriving at Washington & Jefferson in 1975 with degrees in psychology, sociology and higher education, he took courses in Japanese language and sociology from Sophia University in Tokyo.
To date, Mr. Greb has facilitated the exchange of an estimated 200 students to and from the college and Samukawa.
At the college end, the trips to Japan are part of an Intersession Term Travel course that offers students a taste of what living in a foreign country is like. It includes a weekend stay with a Japanese host family.
For two to three weeks in January, students travel to villages and cities in Japan, participating in activities such as climbing Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan, and meeting with "hibakusha," survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima.
Mr. Greb teaches his students that understanding and respecting "difference" is key to cross-cultural learning.
To perpetuate cultural exchanges, Mr. Greb established two funds over the years.
The Barbara Betler Greb and Edward Martin Greb Student Intersession Travel Fund assists full-time W&J students studying abroad during the Intersession Term.
The Phillippi-Greb Friendship Fund helps the exchange to finance visits of Japanese faculty, students and adults to the college.
Last week, Mr. Greb announced that he is donating $50,000 to the friendship fund -- $10,000 over five years -- to help increase Japanese contact with and travel to the college. He said half of the fund is named for Jonathan Phillippi, a colleague and Mrs. Phillippi's son, who taught in Samukawa for eight years and helped to found the exchange agency.
Earlier this week, college president Tori Haring-Smith said the Samukawa partnership "served as a precursor to many of the college's 40 study abroad programs."
Currently, Mr. Greb is on special assignment to strengthen ties between the college and Japan. He's also involved in discussions on student exchange with three Japanese universities.
He said his long-term goal is for Washington, Pa., and Samukawa to become sister cities.
"We're both in semirural areas and basically the same size. Maybe when the political climate is right, it can happen," he said.
Kathy Samudovsky, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published October 17, 2013 1:43 AM