Brandon Ridner - Airport High School (2000 Monroe student)
It is very easy for a 17 year old to not fully understand the gravity and magnitude of the opportunity before them. My junior year of high school I applied to MIFA for the exchange. At the time I was an avid fan of anime and the cuisine so it seemed like a really fun summer trip. What it really was, a once in a life time cultural learning opportunity, becomes clear the moment you leave the airport.
From the moment we were picked up from the airport the biggest thing I remember is the kindness of the people. Everyone was greeting us with smiles and shaking our hands. It’s unlike anything I've encountered before, like I was a rock star or famous athlete. At our welcome reception it was the same, just bigger. I got to meet my host family and already had my host brothers hanging off my arms.
Over the next couple weeks I learned numerous things about the country, my fellow students and myself. I was taught about robots, I ate food I couldn't pronounce, I climbed a seemingly never ending staircase, I danced in a night parade, wore a kimono, drank green tea from a ceremony; however, there were 2 things that truly stood out.
Our trip to the Hiroshima Peace Museum completely changed my view of atomic weapons. The images aren't subtle but honest about the power of the atomic bomb. Its hard to walk away with anything but a heavy heart and a desire of peace. I find myself chilled to the fact that this could happen again anywhere.
The other was learning that the universal language is interaction. Only knowing a handful of Japanese didn't hold me back but instead taught me how to interact with people. I was still able to play with my host brothers, interact with other students and participate in events. I was completely shocked at how I was able to do and the fun I had, even only having a very limited Japanese vocabulary.
There is a certain beauty almost in being lost in translation. Everything was new and a learning experience. It was like unlike anything I've done since in my life. I feel like a more enriched human being for being part of this program, and a better man because of it.