By Kathy Dong
What is Cupertino known for? It’s diversity.
For example, many locals know about the annual Cherry Blossom Festival that celebrates Japanese culture. What they don’t know is the history behind the festival. Cupertino and Toyokawa, a city in the Aichi province of Japan, have had a sister-city relationship since 1978. Starting in 1983, Cupertino has been sending students to Toyokawa to experience the cultural differences in Japan and to gain international understanding.
In 2009, I was one of those delegates. When I first arrived at Toyokawa’s City Hall, I was overwhelmed with emotion; I was excited to be in Japan for the first time, nervous to meet my host family, and incredibly sleepy from the long flight I had just endured. I instantly recognized the Shimizu family, who would be my hosts during my trip; over the next few days, I saw Japan from a new perspective. We explored the Toyokawa Inari, tried to make gyoza and tempura for dinner, and even spent two days studying with students at Daida Junior High School.
The program allowed me to experience Japan beyond the typical level of tourists; it truly immerses students into Japanese lifestyles and allows them to get a glimpse into the daily pursuits and culture of a Toyokawa resident.
Of course, the experience is surreal and exciting, but exchange programs are so much more. They provide students with personal, professional, and academic benefits; students have the opportunity to practice a language outside of a school setting (even though there may be a lot of charades and guessing involved), experience the culture and lifestyles of other countries firsthand, explore business and learn about careers overseas, and build lifelong, international friendships.
Studying abroad also challenges students to go outside of their comfort zones and to see the world in a new light; in foreign countries, students frequently find themselves facing uncertain scenarios, helping refine decision-making skills that apply to daily aspects of life. Experiencing a new country allows students to become more flexible and adaptable to the unknown.
Arguably the most important aspect, in this growing age of globalization, is that the international experience and global knowledge we receive today will be invaluable for the future. Regardless of whether you’re a CEO of a large corporation conducting international business, a United States diplomat, or an engineer in the Silicon Valley, you will inevitably be exposed to a myriad of cultures and diversity in the work force; experiencing different cultures and exploring new countries in high school and college can help students gain a new perspective on the world, one that will surely be beneficial in the long run.
With all of the benefits from a study abroad program, why not get involved today?