Sister City Program Spotlight – Monroe International Friendship Association

For Monroe, Michigan, the town of Hofu, Japan, has maintained a strong presence in the area since 1993. This presence has been made possible by the existence of MIFA or the Monroe International Friendship Association.

Almost every year, four to six high school aged students from the Monroe area travel the distance to Hofu – located about halfway between Hiroshima and Fukuoka. At the same time, the same number of high school students from Hofu spend three weeks in Monroe, located halfway between Toledo, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan.

During a part of their three weeks abroad, students lived with host families while participating in group things during the day – such as visiting local schools and participating in cultural events. While in Monroe, the Japanese students get to visit the Henry Ford historical museum, go to Cedar Point amusement park, and go to a baseball game. Students visiting Hofu typically get to participate in kendo and judo classes, visit the area temples, spend some moments in quiet meditation, and walking the streets as a part of a parade ceremony.

For many of the students who participate in the MIFA exchange, it is the first time they have ever traveled without parents. Also, for many of the high schoolers, it is their first time out of the country. For myself, participating in the program in 2006 gave me the courage and desire to go abroad again – no matter what difficulties I may have to overcome. For Sarah (Ping) Gunnell, who was in my same grade and participated in the MIFA exchange program in 2005, the trip changed her life – though not in the same way.

“I think the trip mostly changed my confidence level. Before the trip I was extremely shy, but being put into a situation I was not familiar forced me to get out of my comfort zone and interact. I am sure I would have learned to be more outgoing sooner or later, but the trip to Japan allowed me to become outgoing faster while enjoying the trip. I had a lot of people say I was different when I came back from Japan and I think the main difference was my level of communication.” ~Sarah (Ping) Gunnell, who went in 2005

As a parent or a young person possibly participating on such a trip, the thought of traveling halfway around the world can be daunting and scare anyone off. However, programs such as sister city exchange initiatives teach students the importance of learning about other cultures and placing yourself in hard situations before reaching college years. This encourages not only personal growth but also growth in one’s family – by opening the door to new visitors who liven up the household for a specific time duration. As a former sister city exchange program participant, and knowing numerous American students who have joined the various trips and Japanese students that I have befriended – beyond just the ones that my family have hosted, I would highly recommend similar programs.

Who knows, with the People to People chapter in Oskaloosa, Iowa, recently forging a partnership with Kigali, Rwanda, perhaps Oskaloosa will soon have the opportunity to create programs such as the one that the Monroe International Friendship Association has been able to maintain for so long.

To read up more on the Monroe International Friendship Association, where the logo clip art was found, follow this link: http://www.mifamonroe.org/MIFA/About_Us.html
To discover if your own city has a sister city affiliation, start by checking your local area’s website or by searching here: http://www.sister-cities.org/

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