August 2018

Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.

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PoE International Exchange

- Opening the door to the world through home stays and home visits -

In Close Up this month, we have the pleasure of introducing the PoE International Exchange. With Ota City as its base, the PoE is a non-profit organization promoting international exchange and multicultural coexistence by welcoming people for home stays/visits and through friendly gatherings called the “World Café”. There are many ways to interpret the name of the organization, “PoE”. One of them is “Peace on Earth”, referring to the desire that all conflicts come to an end and the world becomes a place where all peoples can live in peace and tranquility. On this occasion we spoke about the activities of PoE with Mr. Nobuyuki Kaneko, the Chair of the Board of Directors, and Ms. Fumie Seki, Managing Director, who together have led the organization since its foundation in 2011.

Mr. Nobuyuki Kaneko, Chair of the Board of Directors (right)
and Ms. Fumie Seki, Managing Director (left)

Please tell us what led to the establishment of PoE.

Mr. Kaneko

My first international exchange experience was to participate in a home stay while in my second year of middle school with an American family at the Tachikawa US Air Force Base. Later, after home stays in the United States during my second year of high school and in South Korea during university, I began to yearn to meet and interact with people as human beings, no matter their race or nationality. I married my wife who also shared my perspective, and we began to participate in international exchange and multicultural coexistence activities. After being relocated to my hometown Ota City due to a work posting, we recruited aspiring candidates and formed the group called PoE Ota. Ms. Seki who is with me today, is a longstanding member working since the founding of the group in 2011, and she and her family had also participated in international exchange activities. We became a juridical entity in July 2013 and began our activities as the non-profit organization PoE International Exchange. We develop our activities under three main categories: the home stay program which hosts mainly foreign residents; organize regular gatherings called the World Café; and participate in international exchange and cooperation events.

Please tell me about the home stay program.

Mr. Kaneko

We organize the 2-day/1-night home stay program in spring, and in the fall the home visit program in which participants enjoy a 4 to 5 hour visit. Only home stays were offered in the past, but we then began to offer home visits not involving sleeping accommodation because we wanted more people to freely participate in our program. Program participants are mainly international students from a Japanese language school in Ota City, as well as from international participants directed from our PoE website.

Ms. Seki

We began to invite international students from the Japanese language school to our home stay program because we heard they passed their days between the dormitory, the academy, and their part-time job---they barely had the opportunity to make Japanese friends or participate in Japanese life. It is a shame that they have very little contact with Japan, though they are interested in our country and chose to come to Japan to study. As residents of the region, we seek to have contact with them and want international students to feel that their home away from home is with the host family they find through the home stay program.

Friendships are forged while eating
and going out together.
©PoE International Exchange

Home stay is a valuable opportunity for international
students to experience Japanese home life.
©PoE International Exchange

What are the impressions of those who have participated in the home stay program?

Mr. Kaneko

One Chinese student wrote in a report regarding his home stay, “Up to this point I was studying the Japanese language to pass exams and to find work, but from now on I want to learn the language in order to mutually understand and get along with the native people.” A home stay of only one night changed his outlook on learning Japanese, from exams and finding work to seeking real interactions with Japanese people. We consider this to be the best outcome of our activities. The catch phrase of PoE is, “Let’s draw a map of the world with people’s faces!” It delights us, if when seeing China or Japan on a world map, international students and host families recall each other’s faces even after having returned to their home countries.

Ms. Seki

As a host family, I welcome international students. My house is in close proximity to a university with a sister vocational school and the Japanese language school we have mentioned is on its campus. Since beginning to host international students, I no longer find myself impatient with the large numbers of students occupying the sidewalks in the morning. Instead, I find myself scanning the groups of people to recognize the international students who had been in my house, and this surprises me. Sometimes when doing errands some of the international students greet me, which makes me feel connected to the daily lives of the international students living in the same area, and this pleases me.

Please tell us about the World Café.

Mr. Kaneko

The “World Café” is a regular monthly gathering of PoE. We named it the “World Café” because we want it to be a place where people can experience the world as well as where they can have fun and sip tea. It is composed mainly of PoE members, host families, and international students attending the Japanese language school. The scheduled events at World Café are picnics in May and the “Year End Party” in December. In addition, last year we organized various workshops such as: “Shodo” (traditional calligraphy), “Sado” (tea ceremony), and “Let’s play traditional games of the world”. It was a milestone when a few international students, who regularly attend these gatherings, collaborated to organize these workshops. It demonstrates how much the World Café has evolved when international students, who are usually the invited guests, help organize the event.
We also strive to promote international exchanges and multicultural coexistence through active participation in international exchange and cooperation events, such as international events held in Ota City and school events at the nearby Korean school.

World Café is held every month where people
can enjoy fraternizing, eating and drinking.
©PoE International Exchange

We attended the “Ota City International Exchange Festival”
with Bhutanese participants of the home stay program
©PoE International Exchange

Are there any problems with the activities?

Ms. Seki

There are two things we need to work on: the first is to increase the participation of young Japanese at the World Café so that international students have the opportunity to interact with people their own age; and the other is to recruit more host families for home stays. One reason the number of host families is not increasing is that many people, many more than we expected, are interested in accepting only English-speaking Westerners and therefore decline non-English speaking Asians. Obviously, many people wanting to become a host family have the desire to give their children the opportunity to speak English. Many potential host families keep their distance when they learn that the majority of international students participating in our home stay program come from Asia.

Mr. Kaneko

This problem is not unique to PoE but in Japanese society as a whole, and is regretfully not easily resolved. To do our part, we would like to foster a change of awareness by creating a mechanism, for example publishing essays, to inform the local society of the experiences that host families have enjoyed through the PoE home stay program, which in turn can open the window to the soul, and the door of their house, to as many people as possible so that they may engage with people from different countries.

Poster of a workshop advertisement created by
international students attending vocational school.
©PoE International Exchange

A host family that welcomed
a student from Saudi Arabia.
©PoE International Exchange

How will future activities be developed?

Mr. Kaneko

In March of last year, Ota City presented the “Declaration of Global City Ota” accompanied by the establishment of the “Global City Ota Cooperation Association”. A PoE managing director is an appointed councilor of the association and we hope to collaborate with the association in some way in the future. Another dream we hope to realize one day is to travel outside of Japan for international exchanges, somewhat like a PoE outbound program. One of the international students who participated in all World Café gatherings was from Chongqing, China, and we are thinking of planning the “Chongqing Home Visit Trip” to visit the student’s hometown as the first outbound program. With the goal to continue our activities over the long term, in addition to dedicating ourselves to others, we would like to try new programs that inspire us too.

Tokyo International Communication Committee

Ono Bldg. 3F, 17-15 Kandamatsunagacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0023
TEL:03-5294-6542 FAX:03-5294-6540