What did you do when you were in Japan?
I went to Japan with SWY (Ship for World Youth) 19 in 2008. There were approximately 13 nationalities represented, and half of the participants were Japanese. SWY is a Japanese government-run youth program to promote cultural awareness, international cooperation, friendship and building global networks. People from all over the world discuss issues in their home countries and how they are dealt with in each country. The exchange of ideas is really valuable, because you're learning about different perspectives and ways of doing things. It started in Tokyo, followed by a homestay, followed by six weeks on the ship with all the other delegates. It was a real honour to be selected, and the experience was life-changing. I learned a lot about other cultures, international issues and youth issues in a range of countries.
The program consisted of an introduction in Tokyo, followed by a homestay in another part of Japan - for the Australian delegation it took place in Ehime prefecture. This gave me a chance to see both Tokyo and the rural areas of Japan.
What was Tokyo like?
When we were in Tokyo we visited some local markets and a temple. Walking in the heart of Tokyo was a surreal experience, with all the buildings, crowds of people and the sheer size of the population. I felt that it was a very modern city, but at the same time you could see the traditional elements like the temples and historical places, so it was nice to see the modern Japan juxtaposed with the more traditional side.
We went to Roppongi one night to see the nightlife, and it was really vibrant, with a lot of people enjoying the multitude of bars and restaurants. It was good to see another side of the city, which was very multi-faceted in a way. If you're interested in the history, the architecture or the nightlife, Tokyo has something for everyone. It was great to get an insight into how Tokyoites live just by seeing how they use transport and where they go to eat.
What was the homestay experience like?
I really enjoyed the homestay experience in Ehime because I had the chance to find out what it's like to live with a Japanese family, and to understand how they cook their meals and structure their day. I was able to experience the way they live, their customs, hospitality and warmth, as well as their approach to having someone stay there. They're so generous and polite - it cemented the preconceived ideas I had about Japan being a hospitable culture. My host mother had been on SWY when she was younger, and I didn't feel like I had to bridge any large cultural gaps, as I think there was already an awareness of intercultural understanding on both sides. My homestay family really looked after me, so I really appreciate having that experience.
What interests you about Japan?
The culture is one of the most interesting aspects of Japan for me.
My mum used to host homestay students and it sparked my interest in Japan. Through having that exposure at home and learning about the culture through conversations with them, I was given an opportunity to learn more about Japan. I became good friends with one of the students, which gave me a fantastic insight into Japan and Japanese culture. I also did a course on Japanese culture at University, and I was really fascinated with it. I feel that Japanese culture is a unique culture that has evolved, and contains both traditional and modern elements.
Narges is the president of SWY Australia.
Edited: June 2014
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