My husband could not believe how much I cried when my families in Cobourg got together to celebrate our wedding in 2005. In Japan, I am not a soppy person. I am pretty good at keeping a poker face. Cobourg is a place where I can be myself and be true to my heart. The year I spent in Cobourg from 1994-1995 as a youth exchange student touched my inner soul so deeply that I owe who I am now to Cobourg Rotary.

Japanese ExchangeRotary Youth Exchange Program offers the participating students not only a chance to learn the language and to be immersed in the culture but also to mature as a person. I personally learned the importance of "family (whether blood related or not)," the value of cross-cultural understanding, and the responsibility of being a member of the community. Also, the love and support I received from my counselors and host families were so great that I never felt I was away from home. I still remember the moment I came up with a word "Japa-nadian" to describe myself. I was swimming with my host mother and sister in their swimming pool in their backyard, and wanted to articulate my sense of belonging to both Japan and Canada. The label called nationality became obsolete in my head. The path toward being a global citizen opened up in front of me.

After a year as an exchange student, I went back to my home country of Japan to complete my Bachelor of Arts in Policy Studies. I entered graduate school to do further research on Canada's multiculturalism. Then in 2001, being selected as a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar, I started another master's degree in Anthropology at the University of British Columbia where I studied the topic of ethnic boundaries. Now that I come to think of it, all of this studying was necessary for my brain to catch up with my inner soul which had grown up so much during my year as an exchange student.  

It all started in Cobourg. Host families making me feel so at home, accepting me as a member of their families, and teaching me Misato with the Lorenz host familyhow important it is to learn about each other. I still remember the warmth of tea that my host mom(s) served after dinner. Seeing host dad(s) working day and night but very close to home gave me a better picture of my own father who used to work long hours away from home. Going grocery shopping with host mom(s) was just as exciting as going to movies with host brother(s). After fifteen years, I still have such vivid memories of Cobourg. After fifteen years, I still consult my host mom and dad when I need advice.

Ever since I moved to Canada after being married to my beloved Canadian husband in 2005, I have been teaching Japanese at a university in Ontario. I have also been involved in a few student exchange programs to promote global awareness and cross-cultural understanding. When trying to communicate the value of such programs, I find it very effective to present myself as a sample. I still have a few more years to go before the expiry date, don't you think? The power of youth exchange programs is so great that it can change a student's view of life, and the power transcends through the student to the outer community. The effect is unlimited.