On January 31, I took part in an outing to Tokyo Metropolitan Engei High School to report on a visit to the school by six members of the Future Farmers of America (FFA). As a college student working as an intern at the U.S. Embassy, I was tasked with interviewing some of the FFA members and Japanese students for the American View. I’d like to share my impressions of the event here.
FFA is a youth organization in the United States that supports agricultural education. Similar organizations exist in Thailand and South Korea. Japan also has an affiliated organization called Future Farmers of Japan (FFJ) that provides students with opportunities to participate in social activities and leadership training through agriculture.
When we entered the school grounds, I was surprised by the wide variety of plants and animals being cultivated in such a small space. It felt like we weren’t in Tokyo anymore because we were surrounded by nature. The FFA members visiting from the United States seemed fascinated by everything they saw there. They were especially curious about the Japanese garden and the bonsai area, probably because they had never seen anything like it before. They took photos of everything and listened carefully to the Japanese students’ explanations. When the American students were touring the animal facilities, I heard them saying “Cute!” and “Awesome!” at every turn. What impressed me most was how happy and proud the Japanese students looked when they showed the American FFA members around their school. One of the FFJ members I spoke to said that having similar interests really helps break the ice during exchange programs with students from other countries.
As we walked around the school, I noticed that the FFA members were striking up friendly conversations with the Japanese high school students every chance they got. Thanks to their common interest in agriculture, they managed to communicate through words and gestures even though they didn’t speak the same language. Many of the Japanese students said they wished they could speak English better so they could learn more from the FFA members. Others said that the exchange program sparked their interest in studying abroad. In an interview, the school principal said, “When you don’t know anything about another country you tend to view it as an adversary, but when you’re more familiar with it you can become friends. That’s why it’s important to get to know each other.” In other words, interacting with people from another culture helps students expand their perspectives and understand one another better.
When I interviewed the FFA members after the high school visit, they all said the same thing: “Japan is such a great country! The people here are so kind and the cities are really clean. I’ve had so many life-altering experiences here.” Hearing them say this made me feel very proud to be Japanese. But what inspired me most was when FFA President Brian Walsh said, “Just do it! When you’re ready to challenge yourself, focus on what you really want to do instead of what other people might think.” Brian said that when he was in junior high school, he used to be very self-conscious and always worried about what might happen if he made a mistake or what other people would think of him. But when I met him, he was completely confident, without a trace of insecurity. He told me it was the FFA that had brought him out of his shell. The FFA had given him the opportunity to travel to different places and interact with all sorts of people. As a result, his confidence grew and he became eager to take on any challenge.
By interacting with people from different backgrounds, the Japanese high school students also gained an opportunity to broaden their horizons through the exchange program. I look forward to the
day when they take on important roles in the future of Japanese agriculture through active participation in global society.