Daikin Homestay Alumni Reflect on Life-Changing Trip

The Daikin Homestay Program gives area high school juniors the opportunity to travel to Osaka, Japan, and stay with Japanese host families who help to introduce them to their culture and traditions. Over the course of 10 days, the students – all from Lawrence and Morgan counties – are immersed in the atmosphere of Daikin’s headquarters city.

One thing alumni from the program agree on: it changed their life. Here are some comments from those who traveled 6,000 miles as a part of the Homestay program.

Daikin Homestay alumna Ivy P. Watkins

Ivy P. Watkins: “My Daikin Homestay experience in Osaka, Japan was nothing short of amazing and absolutely life changing!

“Leading up to the trip, my cohort took several training classes to gain an introduction to the language, culture, and Daikin experience. My group formed an irreplaceable bond that made the trip all the more exciting!

“My participation in the Homestay program has been instrumental to my development as a college alumni and Human Resource Assistant Vice President at one of the top global banks on Wall Street.

“I was able to leverage my international travel experience in my resume and scholarship applications which led me to get a full tuition Presidential scholarship to attend Spelman College.”

Whittney Clark

Whittney Clark: “I went to Japan with Daikin in the summer of 2014 through my school, Priceville High School. It sounds like forever ago, but it still feels like yesterday I hopped on the plane to travel halfway across the world.

“This was my first time away from my family and home so I was extremely nervous but looking back I couldn’t have asked for a better trip. I was able to swim in the Sea of Japan, try new foods, go to traditional Hot Spas, see new sights, temples, and even learn Kendo.

“One of my favorite things we did on the trip was spend a day with local high school students. The students shared their personal stories about their lives and what it was like to be a student in Japan. It was very interesting to see how different we were, but even more interesting to see how similar we all were.

“The Homestay experience shaped me as a person and as a student. I am currently in law school graduating this upcoming May. I don’t think I would have been able to get through law school, or even my undergraduate degree, without the experience.

“While I was in Japan, I was able to immerse myself into a different culture and learn. This trip taught me how to keep my mind open and receptive to new experiences.

“Sure, I was nervous about flying across the world with people from different schools, many of whom I had never met before this trip. But what I learned is that nervousness can be used to grow. It is safe to say that I was beyond nervous about starting law school, but in my mind, if I could fly across the world at 17 years old and live in a different country for 10 days with people I hardly knew, then I could tackle law school.

“This trip gave me the confidence and ability to say “yes” to new experiences and not only try them but be successful at them.”

Drew Colbert with Japanese hosts

Drew Colbert: “I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Daikin Homestay Program in 2015. When I reflect on my trip to Japan a lot comes to mind.

“It was very fascinating to see how some things are so different yet other things are so alike, culturally.

“When I stayed with the Hayashi’s I learned the importance of family and friends and welcoming strangers with open arms.

“I also learned to try new things and experience the world for its differences.

“My trip to Japan gave me a new outlook on exploring and it also helped me to appreciate what I have. My host family was extremely loving and proud of their home country and I greatly admired that.”

Tiffany Brasher Brightwell

Tiffany Brasher Brightwell: “Participating in the Daikin Homestay program was truly an experience of a lifetime.

“Seeing the Japanese culture through the eyes of Daikin employees and their families sparked in me a desire to see as much of our world as possible.

“It’s incredibly generous of the Daikin America team to extend the Homestay opportunity to local students, and I hope the program continues so many generations can share in the experience.”

Kaitlin McCaleb: “In the summer of 2015 I traveled with a few of my fellow students to Osaka Japan. This was truly a life-changing experience.

Kaitlin McCaleb

“I was given the opportunity to fully immerse myself in cultural opportunities and make many lasting memories!

“I can honestly say that spending this time in Japan will forever have a lasting impression on my life.

“This kind of learning was unmatched in every way and I will forever be thankful for the lessons learned and the special friendships made during my Homestay experience!”

Kelley Hopkins: “I was fortunate to be selected for the Daikin Homestay trip in its second year. I spent two weeks in country, one with the group touring different cities and the second I stayed with the family of a Daikin employee.

Kelley Hopkins

“The trip was a wonderful, eye-opening experience to get to see other parts of the world that I would not have had the opportunity to visit at such a young age. It gave me an appreciation for the Japanese culture and allowed me to develop a lifelong friendship with one of the daughters of the family with which I stayed.

“She came to Alabama to be in my wedding in 2001 and we still communicate via social media today.

“I will be forever grateful for the opportunity that Daikin allowed me to have through the Homestay experience.”

Jessica Holmes

Jessica Holmes: “In the summer of 1996, I boarded a plane and headed to Tokyo, Japan. I was chosen to be part of a group of Morgan County teenagers joined together through Daikin’s Homestay Program.

“The program provided a belief system in me that fostered a confidence I carry with me every day.  For the past 20 plus years I have been married to my husband, Jeremy, and have 3 beautiful children. I love teaching my own children and the students I teach in my job with Decatur City Schools about my experiences in Japan.

“I consider the many opportunities I have been afforded based on that one decision to apply for the Homestay program at the age of 16. I hope I can always remember the feeling of riding on a speeding bullet train through the Japanese countryside or the experience of what the city of Kobe looked like the year after an earthquake devastated it. The experience walks with me in many facets of my life and I will always be grateful to Daikin for the opportunity.

Shanterrica Beer

Shanterrica Beer: “It is extremely hard to equate my homestay experience in to a few sentences. That time in my life was almost 17 years ago, and still holds a daily impact in my life.

“It helped to shape the respect and appreciation I have for different cultures.

“Coming from a small town in the South, it can be difficult to experience life outside your own bubble; meeting and living with the Toyoura family was then, and still remains a highlight of my youth.

“The bond has been cultivated over the years, and it makes my heart smile to say they are lifelong friends.”

Ross Hawkins

Ross Hawkins: “I cherish the memories I have from my trip to Japan!

“I developed a strong appreciation for culture through this immersive experience that has impacted my world view tremendously.

“My homestay family was incredibly hospitable and maximized my exposure to Japan.”

Anneliese Kruger: “My time in Japan through Daikin Homestay was nothing short of life changing.

“It is an experience that I still talk about daily with my friends and family. I experienced first hand how traveling to a different country where the language, lifestyle, and culture can truly change your outlook on life.

Anneliese Kruger

“I was placed with a host family, which I still keep in touch with, that welcomed me with open arms and showed me how accepting other people can be no matter how different our backgrounds are. Being a student from a different country, I had little knowledge about the rich culture that is in Japan.

“My host family was patient and understanding while teaching me about Japanese culture. Not only was my time with my host family amazing, the time we spent traveling the country and seeing the natural beauty is something I will never forget.

“Once I got back to the states, I began to see the changes within myself. I was more polite and understanding with people, I seeked to find adventure more, as well as becoming more independent. I cannot wait for the day to come when I can book my flights to go back to Japan.

Sarah Hamm

Sarah Hamm: “My experience in Japan is something I’ll always remember and treasure! It was the first time I traveled without my family and I feel it really helped me develop my love for traveling.

“The culture, food, architecture and people were so unique and exciting to learn about. When I was at UNA, and even now, when meeting someone from Japan, I tell them about my experience and we share photos/stories of Japanese culture.

“I am forever grateful for Daikin and the opportunity to participate in the Japan Homestay program.”

The profound effect of the program wasn’t just felt by the students, but also teachers and chaperones.

Jerry Thomas

Teacher Jerry Thomas: “Once in a lifetime experience!  While I was teaching at Brewer High School, I learned through a teacher friend of mine about the Daikin Homestay Program because she had been a part of it.  A few years later when it was announced for teachers to apply for the program, I put my name in the drawing, and was selected.  I had no idea how this would change my life forever. Attending the classes and learning what to expect was the first big change.

“I had no idea what it would be like to live in the home of a family where I would be the only fluent English speaking person.  Eating Japanese food prepared by the host mother in this household and having her do everything, including washing and folding my clothes, was totally different.  Having my food prepared and set in front of me was definitely a new experience and having everything planned was also new.

“The family,  a father, mother, and two teens, watched as I feebly ate with chop sticks, until the mother offered a small fork. This family taught me so much about politeness, courtesy, and how to live in a Japanese home.

“The big culture shock and challenge for me was learning some Japanese where I could introduce myself in Japanese at the Daikin Headquarters in Osaka, and later to be able to communicate with students at the high school where we visited.  The students at the school surprised me by coming to school that day in order to talk to our group and get first hand experience using what English they knew in conversation with us. This was quite interesting to me.

“Rarely a day goes by that I do not make reference to my experiences in Japan.  I think about the amount of walking, the temperature, the trains, the people and how I had to be prepared to follow directions and to be on time.  Punctuality was a must! I have encouraged students and teachers to apply for this trip because more culture and history can be learned in this short period of time than ever from a book.”                    

Jeanne Payne

Teacher Jeanne Payne: “Visiting Japan with the Daikin Homestay Program was an amazing cultural exchange!

“Because we had the wonderful opportunity of staying in Japanese homes, our eyes were opened to their lovely culture and gracious ways.

“By experiencing new foods, seeing new sites and making new friends, we formed memories that will last a lifetime.”

For more information, visit ab4.us/DAIHomestay.

Daikin employees in Osaka demonstrate their mastery of the Japanese martial art of Kendo for Homestay students.