I went on the 2018 Session 3 trip to Mito, Ibaraki; Abiko, Chiba; and Tama, Tokyo. To put it simply, this was the best trip I had ever gone on.
Prior to the trip, I was a fairly introverted student who only had an interest in anime and the nature in Japan like the cherry blossom trees and the green grass you see in a bunch of pictures. After going by myself with only a basic understanding of the Japanese language, I've found a newfound appreciation for the country and its people.
The host families were all very welcoming and I had very unique experiences with each one. In Mito, I stayed with a family of six who lived in a house off the main road in the middle of rice fields. While I was still a bit out of my comfort zone as this was the first time I've ever traveled alone, my family made me truly appreciate the family bond and always made me feel at home even though we had the language barrier! They took me to some of the most gorgeous waterfalls and temples in the area and they taught me all about what their daily life looks like. My family in Abiko lived in a much more urban area where I got to experience more of the city. They love to travel to, and we got to make sushi rolls at home and my sisters always wanted to watch anime movies with me before bed. Finally, my host family in Tama were suburban as we lived in an apartment. I really learned a lot about the community as my brother's school was kind enough to let me sit in with my brother as part of a summer learning program.
While this was just my experience during my off time in the morning and at night, this doesn't even capture how much we would do as a program group during the day. Whether it be visiting a soy sauce factory or visiting the Girls Und Panzer museum that made the local area famous, it was something new and exciting every day. All of the other participants made me feel like a big family and I still cherish the memories we had.
This program had taken me straight out of my comfort zone and made me a much stronger person. Before I left, I would often deal with anxiety from the smallest things that would make life difficult. After the trip, I've learned just how to navigate the many small challenges such as language, bringing gifts I think the family will enjoy, and trying to give back as much as they give to me. I was able to complete the giant challenge of entering a culture I know little about, yet come out feeling like I could conquer anything thanks to the extremely kind host families, staff for the program who made me feel safe, and the participants for being kind and being able to share my experience with. I've begun Japanese courses at my college and feel ever the more motivated to return and greet my past host families and show them how much I've improved.