Summer 2008 I was chosen as a US Ambassador as part of International Air Cadet Exchange (IACE) to travel to Japan and represent the United States and our culture. IACE is one of the premier offering of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), the US Air Force Volunteer Auxiliary’s aerospace education and cadet programs. Thousands of cadets from across the country applied for the few coveted slots. Cadets must meet age and rank requirements, send in transcripts, SAT scores, letters of recommendation, and written response to 36 situational questions, pass Physical Training test, CAP Academic test, uniform inspection and interviews. I was honored to be selected to represent the USA and CAP in Japan.
To prepare for my trip I contacted a Japanese cultural establishment in my home town, Morikami Museum, and met with Japanese fellowship envoy, Kimiko Kitani, who gave me language lessons and cultural tips which I put to good use. Everywhere I went in Japan, I was applauded for speaking Japanese and was complimented on my accent.
International Air Cadet Exchange Japan was an amazing opportunity. It was such a unique experience to be so integrated with such a different culture. There were so many differences; everything from the food and manners, to the direction of traffic on the roads. The Japanese people were very welcoming and we were able to communicate despite language barriers. They were very appreciative of my attempt at speaking and would clap when I would introduce myself in Japanese.
On the exchange, we got to see many aspects of Japanese culture. We started off our trip in Tokyo, where we stayed at a hotel and met with officials in their aviation industry. After touring and experiencing the hustle and bustle of the big city, we traveled to Osaka where I stay with a host family. I loved being fully exposed to the Japanese life style, although it was somewhat difficult because the host parents spoke no English and the daughter, who was the leader at the local Sky Friends squadron, had to attend school. Many of the things we take for granted such as sleeping on a bed, sitting on couches and western bathrooms are atypical in Japan. Even with the language impediment, my host mother was able to teach me how to make traditional Japanese dishes, such as sushi, miso soup and Sukiyaki with unusual ingredients such as cherry blossoms, octopus, squid and fish heads. In the evening, my host family took me to a traditional summer festival. Being dressed in a kimono and dancing to the tiako drums was a once in a life time experience!
One of my favorite parts of the trip was staying at the Japan Aviation Academy (JAA) in Yamanashi. There we went through Samuri training! This included traditional cultural experiences such as Zen meditation, dancing, flower arrangement, calligraphy, tea ceremony and taiko drums. We also visited temples, the Samurai and Kimono museum and climbed Mt Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan and a holy place. I enjoyed staying at the JAA because I was able to meet many teenagers from around Asia . Even though we are from completely diverse cultures, Mongolian, Thai, Chinese, Russian, Filipino and Japanese we were able to connect through a “world cup” soccer tournament we played and a karaoke night!
IACE was such a priceless experience and I feel so honored that I was selected to represent the United States and Civil Air Patrol.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.