By Renee Clarke, Employer Relations Manager

I just got a notice from a sister sponsor that I am hitting my 25th anniversary of when I was an exchange student on the high school one-year program to Japan. What an opportunity for reflection! During this time of reminiscing and reflecting, I knew I needed to share more on how this homestay experience in Japan influenced me a quarter-century ago. This experience truly impacted my life.  When I tell “my story,” I usually start with that experience. In striving not to make this entry 25 years long, I used a thesaurus to help me gather my thoughts. Here are some synonyms for “influenced” that best summarize my pivotal year.

Affected – My perspective has been affected by how I see the world. Participating in multi-cultural activities starting in Japan, I got to meet so many people from cultures I did not know existed. I became so interested in their stories and simple comparisons of our experiences.

Altered – Traditions in my home have never been the same; they have been altered since my time abroad. Each New Years, I send year-of-the-[fill in the current Chinese zodiac animal] postcard. Now that I am a parent, I get my kids in on the act. Friends and family are officially on the look-out for the 2016 Year of the Monkey rendition.

Changed – My food choices and tastes have changed. Not only does everyone know where we will eat when it is my turn-to-pick, but I prefer and attempt to use chopsticks whenever I can!

Determined – I am determined to keep my Japanese up. I have been lucky to have found Japanese-language exchange partners over the years, but I still challenge myself to read my kids the Japanese version of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Harapeko Aomushi.

Formed – I formed an everlasting bond with my host family and the friends I made that year. I was touched when my husband and I went to Japan on our 2nd wedding anniversary and he confided in me that he was nervous to meet my last set of parents.

Moved My experience moved me to incorporate some Japanese traditions in my life. Our wedding guests still remember how we performed the Sake Ceremony.

Persuaded – My experience in Japan persuaded me to invest in community. Knowing what it was like to be surrounded in a new language, I really enjoyed being involved in English as a Second or Other Language programs as a conversation partner.

Shaped – My experience in Japan shaped my outlook. I am so grateful to my father and stepmother who encouraged me to take this first step to becoming the person I am today. Each year, since I was 15 years old, I have been so thankful for the experience I had in Japan. I realize more and more how truly lucky I was.

While you are still young, take the trip of a lifetime and live overseas! There is still time left to join the Work and Travel Program with CCI Greenheart.