VISITING JAPAN-A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE
Saint Augustine has truly said “the world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page.” As I returned to India after spending seven months in Japan as an ASIA KAKEHASHI exchange student, I felt that my suitcase was heavier than when I was leaving India. It had been filled with unforgettable memories with friends from over 20 Asian countries, experiences that taught me crucial life lessons, confidence and the ability to conquer almost any obstacle, and excitement to use my experience to give back to my school and community.
It all started a year ago when I, Deepal Yadav of class 12B was informed by my Japanese teacher, Mrs Vandana Jain, about a seven month long Japanese government funded exchange programme, ASIA KAKEHASHI PROJECT, to Japan.
In Japanese, “Kakehashi” means building bridges. TheASIA KAKEHASHI Project is a government-funded student exchange program to Japan for engaging, focused and customized experiences conducted by American Field Services (AFS) Japan which is appointed by the National Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT),Japan to run the project, focused on facilitating intercultural exchange and understanding between teenagers in Japan and 20 other Asian countries. A speech by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the banquet of the 23rd International Conference on ‘The Future of Asia’ on Monday, June 5, 2017 stated that Japan will provide opportunities for Asian high school students studying Japanese to live in Japan at a scale of 1,000 students over the next five years.
I decided to give it a try and the next thing I knew, I had gone through a series of interviews, essays and home visits. Finally, I received the selection email. Having studied Japanese for more than 11 years at my school I had developed immense love for the Japanese culture, their technology, varied heritage, animation etc which had also led to my first visit to Japan in 2018 for a week, through another Japanese government funded program. After learning about my selection, I was filled with ecstasy about being able to live my dream.
I landed in Japan with 16 other students from various parts of India. None of us knew what to expect but we were all enthusiastic to take on whatever was coming our way. After two days of orientation in Tokyo, the capital of Japan,along with 200 students from over 20 Asian countries, I left for my prefecture, Hokkaido. Hokkaido is the largest and coldest prefecture in Japan. I had a total of seven host families. It was quite difficult adjusting with every host family for the initial few days but at the end all the host families had something different to teach me.Each of them had something different to offer me. Each family had their own customs, their own beliefs and mindset, each one of them had something unique for me to learn from.
Hokkaido, being surrounded by the Sea of Japan from one side and the Pacific Ocean from the other, had marvellous beaches and snow, starting from November itself with temperature reachingup to minus 20 degrees which gave me an opportunity to go skiing with my friends. I got the chance to admire the flora and fauna exclusive to Japan.Penguins,whales,dolphins, wild bears and regular encounters with deer and red foxes was something I’ll never forget.
This golden opportunity showed me the difference between ‘studying’ and ‘learning’ , that really boosted my confidence in my ability to speak and understand Japanese, experience authentic Japanese culture, get to know what it’s like to live in freezing cold environment , how to use chopsticks, travel around Japan, be awe of Japan’s breath-taking landscapes, understand why Japan is a leader in technology, acquire knowledge of so many cultures from across the world, make friends for life, savour Japanese cuisine and transform myself into a better version of myself. I believe I have become more appreciative of the nature around me, open to new ideas and ready to become a global leader of change in my nation.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude towards my respected Principal Mrs.Swapna Nair, my Japanese teacher Mrs. Vandana Jain, my class teacher Mrs. Shruti Mishra and all my subject teachers who aided me throughout my time in Japan and without whom this once in a life opportunity would not have been fulfilled.