Student’s Exchange Year was Life Changing
Jan. 6, 2016 -- Senior Molly Fleischer spent part of her sophomore and junior year as an AFS Exchange student in Japan. “My goal before I left was to become fluent in Japanese,” she said. “And, after speaking the language every day, I learned so much!”
She felt that her writing skills improved very quickly because she was texting her Japanese friends, practicing the written word.
Molly and her friends.
Learning to speak the language is also an entree into a nation’s culture. Molly experienced the things that make Japanese culture very different than the US and the things that are universal across all human cultures.
“The Japanese culture places great value on the common good and not disturbing or upsetting others,” she said. “Most people do not talk on their cell phones on the commuter trains or in public, if they have a cold they wear a mask to protect others against infection and they seldom express political opinions outside of their small social circle.”
She also experienced the incredible kindness and generous hospitality of many people. “My host families were so amazing,” she said. “They helped me understand the culture and encouraged me to explore cities and small towns, eat all kinds of food and attend local festivals.”
Her host families and school were in Tokushima, a small city on an island in southern Japan. She rode her bike to the train station and took a train to get to school every day. The school she attended included 950 students in grades 10-12.
Molly with a classmate and their calligraphy
Molly met many students at her school and had friends who welcomed her into their lives and families.
She also learned more about herself and the world and was challenged to grow in many ways.
One experience was especially significant for her and left her with a different way of looking at the world.
Molly's host family lived in a rural area, near a ride paddy, (below).
I had been out with friends and we were returning home on the train. I got off the train at a station to catch a second train to my host families home, it was like 11 p.m. I entered a basically deserted station and wasn’t really sure about the schedule. There was only one other person there, seated with their back to me. I was nervous and my phone battery was pretty much already dead.
But I approached the stranger and asked, in my imperfect Japanese, if they knew when the next train would arrive. A very kind young woman checked the schedule on her phone and we began talking. We found out we had a lot in common. And, it turned out that she had graduated from the same school where I was enrolled. We boarded the train together and exchanged information so we could hang out again.
I think this was really important because I learned that I can find friends anywhere and the world is not so scary.
Molly had been interested in going on an AFS exchange since she was in middle school. Then, during her freshman year, she met Janine Walker (’13) who had returned from an exchange year in Thailand.
“When I heard Janine talk about her experience in Thailand, I was sure that I wanted to do an exchange year,” she said.
Dancers at a famous Dance Festival in Tokushima.
After graduation, Molly plans to study linguistics and Japanese translation. She is applying to Swarthmore College (PA), Vassar College (NY), Macalester College (MN) and Temple University (PA).
AFS-USA (formerly the American Field Service) has offered international exchange programs for more than 70 years and includes programs in more than 40 countries. The AFS-USA mission is to work toward a more just and peaceful world by providing international experiences for you ng people.
Heights High families are currently hosting five AFS exchange students.
Students who are interested in going on an AFS exchange or families who are interested in hosting a student can contact AFS volunteer Carla Bailey.