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Filtering by Tag: Japan

An Exchange Experience

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For those families who have considered an exchange opportunity, do it! You will quickly realize the world is smaller than you think and that we are more similar than different from one another. Hosting a student is an opportunity you won’t regret with life-long memories made for everyone involved.

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Birthday Celebrations Abroad

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Guest post from YFU Alumna and Campus Ambassador, Hollie Nusbaum

This summer, I had three birthdays.

When I realized that I would turn 17 during my six week exchange to Japan, I was thrilled. Having a summer birthday, I was used to my birthday being forgotten and overlooked, so I loved the idea of my birthday getting to be part of a special time. However, I didn’t realize that I’d be celebrating so many times.

My first birthday was at home in the United States. The day before I left, I threw a small going-away party with some of my friends, expecting just a few sad goodbyes. To my shock, they turned it into a fake birthday party, surprising me with gifts and singing me a happy birthday. Even before I left, exchange was showing me just how much my friends at home mattered.

My second birthday was at my host school in Japan. My actual birthday fell during the school’s summer break, so I figured it would go unnoticed by the kids at school. It was my last day of class in Japan, and I was feeling down the entire day knowing that I wouldn’t see my new friends again. As I was saying my final goodbyes and getting ready to leave, one of my friends came running over and was urgently trying to get me to come back to our homeroom. I walked in to find the whole class gathered to surprise me, everybody singing happy birthday at the top of their lungs. They gave me a picture of characters from my favorite movie, Princess Mononoke, and everybody had written me notes. I said goodbye to my class holding back tears, amazed that I was so loved and changed by these people in such a short time.

My third birthday was with my host family. I woke up homesick, not having realized how hard it would be to be away from my family on a day that I usually spent with them. I went downstairs and was immediately greeted by party poppers (scaring the life out of me)! My host dad and sister greeted me with early morning smiles and gifts. We drove to my host grandparents’ home in Kyoto and spent the day feasting at a nearby restaurant. When my host dad brought out a cake with a blazing candle and I heard the birthday song for the third time, I felt truly loved. Birthdays in Japan are usually not as celebrated as they are in the states, so it was touching that so many people had gone out of their way for me.

Birthdays are a way to show who is important in your life. Having so many birthdays this year, even if some of them weren’t the ‘real thing’, showed me how people are making my life better every day. Turning 17 in Japan was one of the best experiences of my life.

Visit yfuusa.org/study to learn more about studying abroad for the summer, semester or even an entire year!

A Lifetime of Exchange

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Guest post from YFU Alum Meg White Campbell

The idea to participate in an exchange probably began when my family agreed to host a student from France one summer when I was in elementary school. I couldn’t speak French, and Sanou couldn’t speak English, but we managed to communicate through acting and shared hobbies - It turns out French kids love ice cream, too. Then my sophomore year of high school, my mom came across and an advertisement in a brochure – these were pre-internet days – and she passed it along to me. Before long, and courtesy of a YFU and All Nippon Airways scholarship, I was off on an adventure to Japan.   

I absolutely loved Tokyo. My 5’10” felt like 7’10”, but thankfully my gargantuan proportions didn’t prevent my host family from being gracious and hospitable. We laughed a lot together (or perhaps they were laughing at me and I simply joined in). In Tokyo, I saw the coolest things! I remember a man rollerblade-skiing down a busy street, a group of people dressed as Star Wars storm troopers in the shopping district, and an apple (the fruit, not the technology) on sale for the equivalent of $25. I participated in a tea ceremony, met a Koto player (see photo below), and hiked majestic Mt. Fuji.  What struck me the most about the Japanese friends I made, and what I still admire about Japanese colleagues today, is their overwhelming graciousness and kindness. They are forever concerned how the other person is feeling. 

To say the stay in Tokyo was eye-opening for me is an understatement. It broadened my horizons and changed my trajectory both personally and professionally. Since that first foray overseas, I have lived in eight countries and participated in three other exchange programs. As a result of my current Foreign Service posting, my children, whom I call “multicultural minions”, attend a bilingual school in Berlin, where they are reaping the benefits of easily moving between cultures and languages.  

As anyone reading this well knows, exchange helps us see ourselves from the outside. This knowledge is an exceptionally powerful skillset in the world of diplomacy, where sometimes in our effort to do the right thing at the right time, we inadvertently act too quickly or fumble our messages. Sometimes even when we – and our policies – are well-intentioned, they are not always received the way we had hoped they would be. Through exchange we learn to ask better questions, to listen, and that it is ok to trust people who prefer Sarutahiko to Starbucks. 

Exchanges have taught me grit and moxie. I survived high school in Bavaria amidst fast friends and a flurry of flashcards. It was trying, but there was a lasting sense of accomplishment once I had made it to the other side. This persistence means that, even today, when I make mistakes, I dust myself off, chart a new course, and…make all new mistakes. I have better sense of perspective now, too. 
 
Learning foreign languages through exchange has opened my eyes to a new universe of people and possibilities. As my language proficiency increased, I also honed my empathy. I now know firsthand how taxing it is to work an entire day in a foreign language. Nothing is more humbling than spending three hours writing a short blurb in German to then attend a conference, where international colleagues give compelling speeches effortlessly in English.  

Learning another language is a gift we can give each other, but there are other ways to promote intercultural dialogue. We can host international students, donate to YFU, or simply shout from the rooftops how much we love exchange. I have maintained contact with several host family members and friends met during my time abroad. My Japanese host sister stayed with my family in the U.S., and one host family sends my children Christmas gifts signed “your ¾ family”. Thanks to Dr. Rachel Andresen and her continuing legacy through YFU, these lifelong connections have enriched my life and have helped me learn, grow, and succeed.  

If exchange is for you, find a way to make it happen. There will always be people who don’t understand how you could leave and miss Homecoming or basketball season. You have to weigh that for yourself, but you should also consider what you will miss if you don’t go. There’s a whole world out there waiting for you to explore.  Ganbatte, and Viel Spaß!  

 Meg and her multicultural minions (Max Elijah and Milo) with host sister Zita Lettenmeier - taken in Berlin, Feb 2016.

Meg White Campbell, a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State, is currently working as an exchange diplomat (Transatlantic Diplomatic Fellow) at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, Germany

Kickin' Violence with YFU Alumna, Grace Wickerson

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It's always fantastic to hear about YFU alumni going far above and beyond their time abroad to apply the lessons they learn towards bettering the world around them.  One such unique alum is Grace Wickerson, the winner of the 2016 National Jefferson Award.  We sent Grace a few questions to see what kind of person can go from a few weeks in Japan to creating her own non-profit organization dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence.  Read more about Grace's incredible story, and congratulations to her for winning the "Nobel Prize" of Public Service!

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Campus Ambassador Introductions: Crystal

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Were it not for YFU, I would never had been able to live a second life, even if only for a fraction of my time.

My real homestay experience began two days after initially arriving in Japan, in which I was greeted by my host mother, grandmother, and sister at the train station after I had just taken my first 'shinkansen', or bullet train. Following lunch at a typical family restaurant, in which my culture shock ensued instantaneously upon seeing our tiny drinking glasses, we drove to my host grandmother's home, a stereotypical Japanese home nestled in a tight row of houses on a road so narrow, you wondered how there were no accidents in that area, with the homes creating a sort-of barrier between the main road and the endless miles of clean lime green rice fields. They led me to the living room, and I remember the awe I felt as I took in my settings: the low table and sofa with pillows to sit on, the room next door with the tatami mats and sliding paper walls with painted landscapes, and the screen door leading to a ledge where the wooden staircase was so steep and narrow that it took me three weeks to be able to walk up it without clutching the rail with both hands. Inside, me and my host mother – a tiny English teacher – engaged in small talk for some time before I heard a car door slam, and seconds later a ten-year old boy, one of my two host brothers, stumbled into the room, grinning, panting, and carrying a plastic bag filled with Japanese ice cream treats. The father followed in a slower manner to greet me - a tall, lanky figure - but as I would learn later, a very kind man who would attempt (and knowingly, but humorously, fail) to speak English. We all sat around that table, with the kids watching some children's anime they adored, and in an effort to combat my jet lag, I continued to tell many stories about my life in Kentucky, and I remember, in a blur, all of us eating a delicious dinner and laughing at anecdotes I can't even recall.

  This was me in my host grandmother's house trying on my new yukata! I lived in my grandmother's house for the duration of my stay, and by living in a traditional home with tatami mats and sliding screen doors, I really felt like I was living in Japan.

  In this photos is my host father, two of my three siblings, and my host grandmother. My host father here is wearing the souvenir t-shirt I brought from home.

During my time in Japan, I would visit numerous temples, each incredible in their own right, attend high school and make close friends with whom I would stay in contact, wear a yukata, and watch a real firework festival. Yet I chose this moment to introduce you all to my life in Japan because of how at that moment, the time when I began to understand my trip had begun, I knew that I had only witnessed a single snippet of what I was to later experience. I visited many sites with friends and tried many things I would never have been able to do in America, but many of the golden moments I remember most vividly came from the beautifully mundane aspects of my everyday life living with strangers who decided to take me in simply to learn about a new culture and become my second family. Were it not for YFU, I would never had been able to live a second life, even if only for a fraction of my time. As a university student, I found that studying abroad in high school has helped me in so many ways, and I truly wish that more students could experience what I had. For those reasons, I am excited to be involved helping other students become a part of the YFU community.

  I spent several days attending high school, and despite not being able to say a word in Japanese, I loved every minute of it. Many students would come up and would either try to talk to me or ask for a photo, and we compared how we posed for photos (I'm doing the 'J  apanese pose' here).

  I was very shy on the first day of class, but these girls came up, and we became very close afterwards. They'd have me help them with their English homework, and I'd shared any American snacks with them. We still keep in touch to this day.

YFU Campus Ambassadors: Meet Crystal

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As we celebrate International Education Week, YFU is excited to announce the launch of our new Campus Ambassador Program (CAP). Following a competitive application process, five YFU young alumni were selected from across the country to serve as our inaugural class of Campus Ambassadors. As a continuation of their exchange experience, they will mentor prospective study abroad and international students, and share YFU exchange opportunities within their schools and communities across the country. Stay tuned throughout the week as we introduce these student leaders. 

I believe in exchange because it allows you to realize just what you are capable of accomplishing.

Name: Crystal
From: Washington, DC
Went on exchange to: Japan

My name is Crystal, and I am a freshman attending American University in Washington D.C., majoring in International Relations and Political Science. I adore traveling, and my hobbies include drawing, reading, golfing, playing piano, and exploring new places. I studied abroad with YFU the junior year of high school over summer vacation in Nagoya, Japan.

How to Make a Family in Just Six Weeks

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My host parents brought up my going to college, and asked how I planned to pay off student loans. I said that among other things, I would consider military service. The conversation continued, but I soon noticed my host mother hiding her tears. My host father’s eyes welled up as well, and he said that while enlisting would help cover the cost of education and serve my country, they couldn’t stand for me to be in danger... I then realized that I was not a guest in their house. I was their son.

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Faces of YFU: Meet Kevin Princic

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Faces of YFU: Meet Kevin Princic kevin 2

Kevin traveled to Japan in 2010 as a Japan-America Friendship Scholar. He has since volunteered as an alumni assistant at the Japanese Pre-Departure Orientation in 2012.

“Studying abroad really helped me come out of my shell in high school. I was always rather quiet and shy around people I did not know. While I am still an introvert my YFU exchange helped me become a much more outgoing person,” said Princic.

Kevin

The middle of three boys, Kevin was excited to apply his three years of Japanese language study. As part of the Shimomura family in Nishinomiya City, the experience was life-changing.

“I am still in contact with my host family. After completing my time in Japan, my host brother, Keitaro Shimomura, came to America and stayed with me for 10 months. Just last year I returned to Japan for college study abroad and I visited my host family again. It was like I never even left,” said Princic. “Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience, seize the opportunity if you can. You will learn so much and it will be an experience you will never forget.”

When Kevin applied for his exchange, he wrote “ am very enthusiastic about learning the Japanese culture and language. I will learn things that I would never learn in a classroom in the United States. I am also very excited about meeting new people and learning about their experiences.”

After having a few years to reflect back, Kevin mentioned, “my favorite memories from my exchange are the evenings I would spend with my host family just chatting or watching television. I truly felt like I was a member of the family. I also enjoyed helping my host mother with cooking or even going on random family excursions. I enjoyed family activities the most.”

Now a University of Mount Union student, Kevin’s high school aspirations have evolved. “My experience in Japan helped me decide that I wanted to pursue a degree in Japanese. After learning so much about the culture first-hand I realized that I would love to study the language, history and culture further. This decision also encouraged me to begin studying international affairs and even another foreign language, Mandarin Chinese,” said Princic.

As Kevin immerses himself in his senior year, he says, “I am still making plans for after graduation, but for now I intend to apply for a Fulbright. If accepted I would spend 10 months in Japan researching and attending language courses at a graduate school. My other options are pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Relations focusing on Asian Relations. Ultimately, I hope to end up in the State Department or maybe even Foreign Service.”

Interested in learning more about the Japan-America Friendship Scholars (JAFS) program? Visit our website for scholarship details and requirements. Applications for next year are being accepted through December 1, 2014!

Obama Champions Youth Exchange and Study Abroad

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A note from YFU USA President, Michael Hill

Person to person diplomacy and cultural exchanges are increasingly valuable in our interconnected world. US President Barack Obama agrees.

Last week, the US President and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a new program which will aim to double the number of youth exchanges between Japan and the US by 2020.

President Obama said:

I’m pleased that we continue to deepen the extraordinary ties between our people, especially our young people…  And I’m proud to announce that we’re launching a new program that will help even more Japanese students come to the United States to improve their English-language skills and gain valuable experience working in American businesses and organizations. And that’s part of our effort to double student exchanges by 2020 -- bonds among our young people that can bring us closer together for decades to come.

YFU helps provide opportunities for students by working in partnership with governments, corporations, foundations, schools and educators worldwide. I had the privilege of visiting our team in Japan last November and had the opportunity to visit the US Embassy - on the same day as the new US Ambassador, Caroline Kennedy, started her tenure. The buzz through Tokyo was palpable. Crowds lined the streets to try to get a glimpse of her on as she made her way to the Imperial Palace to present her credentials. While we didn’t meet the new Ambassador, we were able to spend time with Sara Harriger, the Education and Exchanges Officer from the US Embassy. We talked a great deal about ways we could support one another and the importance of youth exchange in preparing our young adults for future leadership roles.

YFU USA, CEO Michael E. Hill & YFU Japan, National Director Keiko Enatsu

Through creating global learning opportunities, YFU is driving person to person diplomacy. We promote  international understanding, prosperity and world peace by enabling young people to build lifelong understanding, relationships and lasting memories.

I’d like to thank both President Obama and Prime Minister Abe for sharing our commitment to youth exchange and making it a part of the broader geo-political conversation. Arigato gozaimasu!

First Hand Gap Year Experience

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Nikole Hampton Photo 2 - Graduation“Most kids from my hometown either went straight to work or straight to college.” This may have been true for many students in Harrisville, Michigan, but Nikole Hampton wanted more after she graduated in 2008, so she decided to take a gap year between high school and college to attend high school in Sweden. “It was the best experience of my life and forever changed me for the better,” Nikole says of her year. She had been unsure of her future plans, but she was sure of one thing: she was looking for the adventure of a lifetime and she got it.

“My parents were more in support of me going to college immediately, until they looked into gap year programs with me and realized that I was really motivated to do this. I deferred my acceptance to the University of Michigan, so they were happy to know I didn’t lose this opportunity either, and then they really started to support me.” Nikole got the best of both worlds with her gap year. She was able to take a giant leap out of her comfort zone and find out what she was made of, then attend college the following year.

Nikole Hampton Photo 3 - Art ClassNikole lived with a host family outside of Stockholm and attended Nacka Gymnasium as a third year (or a senior). In Sweden, students attend school until they are around 19 years old, which meant that her classmates were the same age, which was very important to Nikole. Despite the fact that she was the same age as most of her classmates, Swedish school took some getting used to. “Swedish high school is set up more like American colleges, with weekly schedules and classes that met twice per week.  We also had the majority of classes with our ‘class,’ or about 20-30 students studying the same track.  Mine was social science and art, so that is what my classes were mostly about except for our electives.” Her classmates quickly became her closest friends. “We were like a family!” She also made friends with kids on her track team and became close with her host sister who often invited her to hang out with her friends even though they went to different schools.

One of the best memories she has was the vacation she took with her host family. “My favorite was going on a road trip with my host family and skiing! It was so beautiful and we got to spend a lot of quality time together, cooking and playing cards and such.  School and life gets crazy busy sometimes, so it was relaxing to have some time off and just spend time with each other. And be in the outdoors of course!” It is times like these that really characterize an exchange. Although Nikole’s family’s English was near perfect, eventually they only spoke Swedish to her so she could practice. “They helped me with homework and taught me lots of words before school even started! They also got me a library card too, and I spent a lot of time reading which was another good way to learn a language.”

Nikole Hampton Photo 1 - Family VacationNot only did she get the opportunity to bond with her host family, but she was also able to bond with her natural family as well! “I visited family that lived in the south of Sweden and got to learn more about my heritage and experience a very different region. I also had some family living in the Stockholm area, so I met up with them occasionally too!”

Because Nikole joined her class during their last year of school, she was able to graduate with them! “Graduation was completely different than in the U.S. We had what was called an ‘utspring’ at school after an assembly, where they called out each class and we ran out of school and looked for a poster of us that our families secretly made (I realize this sounds strange...). Then our family put presents and letters on necklaces around our necks and we went home with them, changed out of our nice clothes, and then met up with our class again on a giant flat-bed truck that went all around Stockholm and blasted music.  After that, we go home again, and our families and friends were all over for a dinner and such in honor of the new graduate.”

Nikole Hampton Photo 5 - Class PhotoNikole took a risk and challenged herself and it paid off immensely. She learned a new language, made incredible friends, even ate reindeer! Now, she is finishing up a bachelor’s degree in social work at the University of Michigan. As a graduation present to herself, she is traveling back to Sweden this summer to visit her friends and host family, that she hasn’t seen in four years, to relive all of the wonderful memories she had there. This experience for her was unforgettable and transformative. She came back from Sweden motivated, confident and ready to continue with the ideas that ignited her passion for social issues while abroad.

Written by Zoe Colton Quotes from Nikole Hampton

Would you like to share your YFU Story? Please submit your stories and pictures!

"When are we ever going to use this?"

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Have you ever been sitting in {insert language here} class wondering, "When am I ever going to need to know this vocabulary?" Maybe it was learning how to tell time, give directions, explain how to cook something, whatever subject it was, you have probably had that question at some point.  Well here, Chris while riding his bike back home in Japan found his answer to the eternal question, "When am I ever going to need this?"

...I somehow sandwiched my hand in between the cement wall and my bike handle and tore up my left hand. It stung for a second, but I just shrugged it off, and let my hand stay high to stop all the bleeding for the rest of the half hour bike ride. It was only a bit of bad luck...

When I returned home, I washed up the wounds, which were pretty sore, and bandaged them up myself. I had dinner, and even typed up the previous post with my amateur-bandaged hand. After I took a shower, I asked my host mother for some antibacterial medicine. This is the first time she seen my open wounds and kinda freaked out. It had been almost 2 hours since I had returned home, and my hand had swelled, and the slightly dried gouges presented their depth. Almost ironically, my host dad arrived home just in time for the "hand inspection". They were both very concerned. I now know it is a universal parenting trait. To the hospital it was for me... at 11 at night.

My host father took me to the local hospital, which wasn't Beaumont hospital huge. It was a quaint hospital, barely lit, since only one doctor and two nurses were there at this time of night. When we went in, all three were immediately caring for me with gauze, paperwork, and questions. A quick, funny story... This past year in Mrs. Lowry's Japanese II class, we spent a significant amount of time learning vocabulary about sickness and health. Many of the kids in my class complained, saying, "when will we EVER use this". Well the moral of this is, today I did, and I used it in a very big way. On the bright side of this whole ordeal, I was able to use a whole new array of Japanese vocabulary. The two nurses treated me as if my hand was off. They were very caring. First I had x-rays taken. My wounds were then cleaned out with saline water and iodine, which wasn't too fun - yes... stick some gauze and tweezers into a small, but deep open wound...ouch. Then I found out that I would need a few stitches for some of the gouges on my knuckles. It all happened really fast. Iodine, anesthetic shots, gauze, stitches, ... pictures, haha. After the procedure was done, we were ready to return home... at 12:30 at night. Wow, what a day. After the hospital, we stopped at 7-11 for some puddings to take home. When we arrived, Erika and my host mom were waiting, and my parents at home in America were already notified by Okasan!...

Chris recovered just fine and completed his Japan exchange successfully.  You can also see the entire post here: http://ccjapan.blogspot.com/2006/07/hospital-just-one-more-check-to-mark.html

Tips for Foreign Exchange

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If you have been wanting some good tips for study abroad from a fellow student, look no further.  Below are the tips for study abroad from Katie, who went to Japan for 6 weeks.

1) Stay positive. Although it sounds cheesy, finding the silver lining in every situation will help you so much. This is the best thing to keep in mind while you're there.If you don't, you're going to have major culture shock and be miserable. Everytime something didn't go the way I hoped, I focused on the good things about it. You can always find something. A lot of the exchange students complained about things that happened to them when they were there when they came back, but I found myself having nothing but positive things to say, even though some of the things they were complaining about had happened to me as well. My stance is that you really shouldn't have anything to complain about and just be greatful you have the opportunity to be there, and remember that you can make any situation positive. 2) Accept everything you're confronted with. This goes along with staying positive. Whatever situation you're in, don't wish it had gone a different way. Whatever happens to you will be great, and you can always make it fun. Just go with the flow, and take things as the come. Don't be picky! 3) Don't have any expectations. Don't plan out the perfect host family in your head, don't hope to go to a certain place, because it's not going to happen. If you have high expectations before going and they're not met, you're going to be negative and feel like your experience there sucked. Just know that where ever you end up in Japan, you're going to have a great time. 4) And, most of all, がんばって! (ganbatte) Don't get discouraged while you're there, and stick it out! Even if you're in a small, rural city like I was, there are new and fun things to explore all the time. Be tough, and don't give up! Things are hard at first but make every effort to adapt and you'll have the time of your life.

Hopefully you find this helpful and are now inspired to study abroad!