Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Calling All Global Exchange Students and Families!!

 (Takachiho, Japan)

Now that the family visiting has finally subsided and I'm getting back into the groove of things...

I'm sure I've told many of you this story and you are certainly welcome to skip ahead, but for those who don't know, it started with a teacher's strike.

When I was in 7th grade we basically got November off from school. At the time it was a welcome break since one of the several things Montana doesn't believe in is “Snow Days.” But we did have to make up the time out of class...which meant Saturday classes and substitutes. The sub for my Geography class was a pleasantly quirky woman who instead of going over the boring landmarks of the surrounding states for the umpteenth time decided to pitch us all an idea – why not learn geography from someone who lives there? Why not host an exchange student? From what I recall, most of my classmates were asleep (Seriously, Saturday morning classes? No thank you) and maybe one other guy was interested in what the Area Representative had to say.

 (Muriwai Beach, Auckland, New Zealand)

I was held in thrall for the whole presentation and as I willingly admit to being a bit stubborn in terms of pursuing things I want, my family started hosting students the very next school year. I guess you could say that was my “rebel phase,” to wear knee-high goth boots and collect foreign siblings/friends who would curse with me in anything but English. Due to my familial background, we started hosting students from Germany. I learned so much from them, that the itch to get out and be an exchange student myself just grew and grew.

But my application was rejected. Pretty crushing for a 16 year old considering the amount of work that goes into one of those YFU applications, but I wasn't going to let one form letter stop me. I applied again the next year and I got in. My initial reaction upon receiving that package with the T shirt that could fit 3 of me was: “MOM. MOM. MOM. I GOT IN! I'M GOING TO...Japan? Wait. What?” I had spent all this time preparing for an adventure to Germany – language lessons, cultural tips from hosting students, etc. I really had no clue how I was going to survive in Anime-Tomorrowland.

(Kumamoto Jo, Kumamoto, Japan)

Obviously, I not only survived – I thrived. So many things just clicked for me that it was the most trans-formative experience I've had yet. Of course that inspired hosting more students and a second trip for me in college to New Zealand for a semester and volunteering/mentoring exchange students here and someday I'll probably go back to hosting. It's a cycle. I'm cool with it.

So as an avid advocate for study abroad and as a way to share that initial experience with others, I've been working on the personal project entitled OniSan. I felt the perfect way to communicate discovering my love for the Japanese culture was to express it through an adaption of an existing, universal tale with similar themes – Beauty and the Beast. I've already received a lot of positive feedback on the development and I'm really touched by the people finding those posts not only inspiring, but helpful.

(Pt. Chev Beach, Auckland, New Zealand)

That said, I am aware that many people will be...surprised by my interpretation. My experience of Japan is unique to me, as are my personal preferences. (Big shock: I didn't respond strongly to the pop culture aspects – this is a big reason why I avoided a more direct retelling set in 2007 when I was there) So I imagine those who expect or want one thing may be quite confused to see something seemingly unrelated to their own ideas. I encourage them to be open minded. I am equally as sure that there will be others who see pieces of OniSan and feel it resonate with their own stories and experiences...and laugh at how silly it seems in retrospect. ;)

Now, to all my exchange friends and family, I want to hear from you!!
What was your exchange experience like? Did you go somewhere or did you host/interact with foreign guests? What inspired you to participate in this global exchange? What was your biggest challenge? What was your biggest success? If you could tell your younger self one thing, what advice would that be? Would you recommend studying abroad or hosting to others? How does your experience affect your life now?

(Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan)

I'm really interested to know what you think! Please share in the comments or email/message me!! :)

Here are some awesome resources for those interested in joining in the international fun.
Remember to check for scholarships (That's how I was able to go to Japan):

Youth For Understanding

Cumulus International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design and Media http://www.cumulusassociation.org/
(Check with your University or College for details on their own programs)

Volunteering/Interning Abroad

Teaching English Abroad with TEFL

US Peace Corps

 (Weta Workshop, Wellington, New Zealand)


  1. Studied abroad in England for 3 months and loved it! I think it played a big part in my growing up and learning to take responsibility for myself- I went in my 3rd year of college, and it was the first time in my life I didn't have any friends or family nearby to fall back on. I lived with a couple in their house, but it was more of a landlord/tenant situation rather than a family, so I was pretty much on my own. If I wanted to go out and do anything it was completely up to me to figure out how. There were no planned field trips, no one driving me to school, it was solely up to me to get where I needed to go, and that included learning the public transportation system, which I had never used back home. That get-up-and-go attitude has stuck with me ever since, and as a result I've had some great experiences stateside as well.

    One thing I would say to potential travelers is to throw away any preconceived notions about the people you'll meet in other countries. We tend to predict people's personalities based on where they're from (and that is not a uniquely American tendency, I can tell you first hand), but the truth is everyone, everywhere, is an individual with an individual personality. You'll meet some amazingly nice people, and you'll probably meet some assholes too- it's not because of where they're from, but because they're just people.

    I would highly recommend studying abroad, and if you do then definitely get out and do things every chance you get. Don't wait for somebody to offer to take you somewhere, if you want to go just do it! Chances are there will be other students who might want to go with you, but if there aren't oh well- I discovered some great places just by walking around town on my own. My only regret was that I couldn't stay longer. :)

    1. That is such a great take-away – knowing that you can go wherever you want and do whatever you want if you just open the door and take that first step. That so many great things can come from one moment's realization, one spark of inspiration. :)

      I think that's also a fantastic way to combat some of the possible effects of culture shock/home sickness. Granted, everyone experiences that differently, but I know for me – especially during my second trip – if I pushed myself to go out then I usually had a pretty good time. I got to see more things than I would have just sitting in my room at the dorms anyway. And yet I always seem to wish that I had done more, taken more pictures, etc. Irony? Maybe.

      And thinking of people – a great deal of them are very helpful in the case you are hopelessly lost. So even if you set out trying to find one thing...so long as you ask politely...you'll get there eventually. The journey is the fun part – it's often the highlight of the stories told later. ^^

      Thank you for sharing!! :D