I have been an exchange student three times. Twice to Germany, and once to Hungary. I have also lived and worked in Tokyo, Japan. On the whole, Japanese people are the most xenophobic people I’ve ever met. It is no coincidence that they have been almost 100 percent homogenous since the year dot.
Living with people who are different, in my opinion, is the only way to crack that instinctive fear of people who are different from you, and to open yourself up to that instinctive curiosity about them.
I believe that being an exchange student, or hosting an exchange student–hopefully both–can change the hearts and minds of anyone, of any nationality, who can put themselves in the place of another.
The most narrow-minded people I have ever met are those who have not travelled outside their own country. That goes for Americans and Brits too, not just the Japanese.
I grew up in the 1980s–the ME decade. Of course, there were still Idahoans putting themselves out there unselfishly. One such woman was my piano teacher. She and her husband had decided to participate in a revolutionary new program called The Ulster Project which pulled one Catholic schoolgirl and one Protestant schoolgirl from Northern Ireland and brought them together in a neutral American home for a summer.
This was when the IRA was very active. What a brilliant idea!
I personally have participated in the GAPP Program (German-American Partnership Program), been a Rotary International exchange student, and a member or IESP (International Exchange Student Program).
Sometimes an exchange doesn’t work out exactly the way you pictured it. My best friend during my year-long stay in Bavaria turned out to be another exchange student. Gabrielle was with Youth for Understanding, and she was from Mendoza, Argentina.
Since I didn’t speak Spanish, and she didn’t speak English, we communicated in German. What a trip. In more ways than one.
Therefore, I encourage you to support your local exchange student program today. Empathy for others and feeling that they are a part of your tribe, or visa-versa, is the only thing that has ever changed people’s minds.