The Japan Bound initiative was created by GPI US to bridge the gap between students in Japan and the United States. Through our Japan Bound programs, we aim to increase cross-cultural awareness through enriching conversations and experiences, to provide our students with the opportunity to discover new perspectives and enhance their personal growth. We are currently working to further this mission by developing more program options through our new Virtual Experiences (stay tuned!). For more information about Japan Bound, please visit the Japan Bound website.
Our original Japan Bound program is a two-week cultural immersion trip to Japan for American high school students including stops in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Kagoshima, with many exciting activities along the way. Our inaugural program was planned for Summer 2020, but has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic to prioritize the safety of everyone involved in the program. While this is unfortunate, we wanted to share some background behind why we feel the experiences provided by our Japan Bound programs are so vital for young people. Hear from Tyler (one of the creators of the Japan Bound program) as he shares his personal story about broadening his own perspective through uncomfortable experiences below:
Let’s start with “experience”. It seems like an overrated concept, something a 13 year-old child would roll their eyes at as their grandpa lectures them on it (trust me I’ve been there). But if we were to listen to the world’s greatest minds, both past and present, virtually everyone would have something to say about the importance of “experience.”
Experiences can be scary, but are always rewarding. We often think we can create our own experiences, but unfortunately, it often isn’t as easy as simply Googling “gain more experience.” Some of the best experiences come when we least expect them! I’ve spent many days thinking about why I should or shouldn’t try something new, when often the quickest way to find out is to, as Nike puts it, “Just do it”. My favorite example of this, and one that is incredibly embarrassing for me, revolves around my experience with food when I visited Japan for the first time.
New Food, Who Dis?
To put it bluntly, I was a picky eater. From a young age all the way up to college, I struggled with new foods. I told myself it was normal to order a burrito at Chipotle filled with just chicken and cheese (ironically I’m now lactose intolerant) and you would have had better luck getting me to take a practice SAT test than eat a whole avocado (now one of my favorite foods). Salads? Forget about it. I think it’s safe to say I was nearly a lost cause at around 15 years old.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school – I was fortunate enough to plan a trip to Japan and South Korea with some of my closest friends. Because my friends were from these countries, this meant that I was going to be welcomed into their homes and get to experience their culture. The plan was set and I was looking forward to the experience. Nice and easy, right?
Wrong. I hadn’t thought about the food aspect or just how different the culture was going to be from what I was used to. All of my traveling prior to this trip had either been with my parents within the U.S. or to visit a relative in Italy. This meant that I had been complacent and always well within my comfort zone without realizing it. This trip and Japan in particular would provide just the push I needed to change that.
Upon arriving in Japan, we were whisked away to my friend’s grandma’s house and thrust into a feast like I had never seen before. The food ranged from familiar things like tempura (deep fried shrimp or veggies) and karaage (Japanese fried chicken) to unagi (eel) and tsukemono (pickled vegetables, usually radish, plum or turnip). I was overwhelmed. Meanwhile, Grandma was anxiously awaiting our approval. She had the world’s biggest smile on her face and her eyes were fixated on us and our plates. There’s nothing worse than denying someone’s grandma the satisfaction of watching you enjoy her traditional meal, especially when she had worked tirelessly all day to prepare it for you. We were left with a choice: to eat or not to eat.
I ultimately chose to eat, or at least try to eat, and I certainly didn’t love everything I tried. But that wasn’t the point. I had spent much of my life saying no to things because I thought I wouldn’t like them, and I never gave myself the chance to find out. On this trip, I realized that just “signing up” wasn’t enough. I could’ve just eaten the karaage and politely refused everything else I didn’t feel comfortable eating. I could’ve carried on the rest of the trip withdrawn and only willing to experience new things from afar. Would I have had fun? Probably. However, chances are I’d still find myself waiting around for the world to change me and not the other way around.
I was so fortunate to have access to this opportunity in high school. But this change doesn’t have to start abroad. You can start small. Start with self-reflection. Work harder to better understand yourself and your own perspective, and then extend that understanding to those around you.
There are plenty of opportunities to expose yourself to new cultures and perspectives, whether it means taking some online courses, participating in a virtual cultural exchange, or signing up for a trip to Japan. If you find something that interests you, go for it! With those opportunities will come new experiences, some fun and some uncomfortable. These experiences will help you build stronger connections and develop better communication skills as you gain a better understanding of yourself.
Remember my Chipotle order in high school? A chicken burrito with cheese. Why not add rice? Or go for a burrito bowl? “Nah,” I said, “I like it this way.” The truth was, I was a little scared to step out of my comfort zone. However, part of me knew that I wasn’t giving the unknown a chance, so I took baby steps. By the end of high school, I added rice. In college, I tried getting a bowl with a tortilla on the side (pro tip). Soon I would try mild, medium, and hot salsa, before discovering medium salsa wasn’t my favorite. Next came beans (both black and pinto) – only black beans made the cut. I added guacamole (life-changing) and then corn. I then removed the corn (it wasn’t for me). Then, I finally topped my order off with lettuce – because why not? Now, nine years later, that simple chicken-and-cheese burrito order from high school has turned into a loaded burrito bowl with all the fixings (well, at least most of the fixings). Never would I have thought that the evolution of my Chipotle order would turn out to be a perfect metaphor for my own personal growth, but here we are.
None of this growth is easy, so don’t stress about it! Take it one step at a time and reflect on what’s scary or uncomfortable for you, and why. Remember, as astronaut Sally ride once said: “All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary.”
Thanks for taking the time to read my piece! If you have questions for me about my experience, or if you want some advice or support, feel free to message us or comment down below. Additionally, I’d love to hear from you about an uncomfortable moment that you’ve experienced in your personal growth. Why was it uncomfortable? Were you able to take positives away from it?
As a bonus here are some of my favorite quotes about “experience” from some of the most famous minds and thinkers. Chances are your favorite actress or athlete has something similar to say on the subject!
Quotes from around the World
“The only source of Knowledge is experience.” – Albert Einstein (Theoretical Physicist)
“Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first and the lesson afterwards.” – Oscar Wilde (Poet/Writer)
“Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced.” – John Keats (Poet)
“All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary” – Sally Ride (Astronaut/Physicist)
“People go through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.” – Eleanor Roosevelt (Former First Lady, Diplomat, Activist)
“Good judgement is the result of experience and experience is the result of bad judgement”- Mark Twain
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Ben Franklin (writer, political philosopher, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, diplomat, etc)
“Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely” – Rodin (French Sculptor)
“You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.” – Albert Camus (Philosopher)