What is your favorite travel memory?
During one vacation week in Japan, a friend and I took a bike tour of the bridges and tiny islands dotting the sea between two of the major southern islands of Japan. I was completely unprepared for this type of activity, having only ridden my bike a maximum of 45 minutes through city traffic at a time. There were injuries, moments of doubt, totally unexpected surprises, and encounters with some truly warm and beautiful people (as well as a couple of strange ones). We talked our way into sleeping on the dining room floor of one bed and breakfast and spent another night curled up in private booths in an internet café. We soaked our bodies in natural hot springs and took in some beautiful art on an entire-island-turned-art gallery called Naoshima. The sense of accomplishment and exhilaration I felt at the end of the trip was indescribable and I’ll never forget the views from the top of some of the most impressive man-made structures I’ve ever stepped on, nor the taste and smell of the hole-in-the-wall old school restaurants where we indulged in authentic Hiroshima okonomiyaki and Takamatsu curry udon.
How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?
I’ve learned to listen a lot more. Working with mostly young adults, I’ve noticed that not only does everyone have different motivations and goals for their cultural exchange, they’re all in different points of their life journeys. While many are looking to take a break from school or work for a bit, others are interested in gaining language skills, and some are looking to earn some cash and see the world. My reasons for working abroad were unique and specific to me, and I think it’s great that we can facilitate these types of opportunities for people with a wide range of interests and motivations.
What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?
I think the fact that we are a relatively small organization, and I work in one of the smallest departments within it, allows us to give real, quality and personalized service to each and every one of our applicants and participants. I’ve worked at large organizations that were very focused on numbers and quotas and were less than pleasant places to work at, let alone work with from the customers’ perspective. At InterExchange, we value the effect of the work we do, doing our best to live up to our organizational mission and each of us genuinely cares about how global understanding through intercultural exchange can influence our society in monumental ways.
What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?
Empathy. Keeping a finger on the pulse of our prospective participants helps us to determine in which direction to take our current and new initiatives. A lot of self-examination helps to clarify and expedite processes and practices. Being a 24/7 advocate for cultural exchange (study, work or travel abroad) helps to create more of a public dialogue about intercultural exchange programs and opportunities. Being aware of the level of knowledge our participants have about intercultural exchanges or gap years in theory, so that we can reflect and come up with ways to reach new audiences and/or create ambassadors who will promote these types of programs in the future.