May 29, 2000
Like many of his peers at Inglemoor High School, junior Eric Lam is eagerly counting down the days until school is done. He awaits summer vacation with great anticipation this year, as it promises to be an adventure into a culture in which he has long wished to be immersed.
On June 11th, Eric will depart for Japan to live with a volunteer host family for six weeks. He is a recipient of the prestigious Japan-America Friendship Scholars Program, which is administered by Youth for Understanding (YFU) International Exchange. YFU was established as a private, non-profit educational organization dedicated to preparing young people for their responsibilities and opportunities in a changing, interdependent world through exchange programs for high school students. It is one of the world's oldest and largest student exchange organizations and offers programs in more than sixty countries.
Having been chosen from more than 275 applicants nationwide, after an intensive selection process, Eric feels honored to be able to participate in this program and looks forward to his experience. He says, "I am very excited to go to Japan, as I have been interested in the Japanese culture for many years now. There is such beauty in this culture, especially in the art and music. I am particularly interested in the music, as I am a musician myself. I play both the piano and violin. Mostly, I am looking forward to experiencing the culture firsthand after reading so much about it."
Eric has been studying Japanese for three years at Inglemoor and finds the language difficult, but also fascinating. He comments, "It's like a puzzle, but with consistent study, you can understand how it works, and when you do, it's rewarding."
He hopes his time in the country will improve his language skills, as he sees enormous value in learning a foreign language. "In a global society, learning to speak other languages is vital to communicating and understanding people of all nationalities," explains Eric.
Before traveling to Japan, the scholarship recipients will attend an orientation program in their local area, coordinated by one of the ten YFU regional offices throughout the country. Upon arrival in Japan, the students will spend their first week in a language and culture-based orientation course at the Olympic Memorial Center in Tokyo.
During the week, they will also visit several top Japanese government officials before leaving to join their volunteer host families located throughout the country. Eric has yet to receive information on his placement, but hopes that he can live with a family in a rural area, perhaps near the mountains.
As an ambassador of sorts from the U.S., Eric wants to impart a willingness of Americans to adapt and learn about other cultures. He says, "The U.S. has long been a melting pot of different ethnic groups, religions, and traditions. I want the Japanese people to see that Americans are made up of many different groups, yet we're all Americans. People in different parts of the world have differences, but they also have many similarities. I think that it's important to find the things we have in common because it helps to bring people together."