65 years have passed since the AFS Intercultural Programs, Japan (formerly AFS Japan which was founded in 1955) started its High School Student Exchange Program between Japan and the US in 1954 (the previous year of the foundation of AFS Japan). AFS is originated from American Field Service. A ceremony to celebrate this 65th Anniversary was held at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center, former Tokyo Olympic Village. About 400 people including former and current AFS exchange students and other people who had been involved in the Program participated in the ceremony.
I myself studied at Thomas Edison Preparatory High School, Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1962-63 as a 9th-term AFS exchange student. I stayed with an American family for one year. As a sensitive high school student, I gained a valuable experience. I was invited to the ceremony as a former AFS student, and in my speech, I talked about my happy memories of the school and the host family, and my hope for the future of the AFS High School Student Program. (For details of my experience in those days, please refer to a book titled YOSHI DOODLE CAME TO TOWN So East and West Have Met –A True Story– written by Inez Shacklett, published by Sangyoshinchosha in 1992. YOSHI is my nickname.)
American Field Service’s primary mission was to rescue wounded and sick soldiers, particularly in European countries during the First and Second World Wars. However, after the Second World War, reflecting the reality that there were an enormous number of casualties in the war, its mission shifted from the concept of rescuing the wounded and sick soldiers in the fields of war to creating a peaceful world. Therefore, the new mission of AFS was defined to provide people with ‘intercultural learning opportunities to develop knowledge, skills and understanding to create a peaceful world’. In order to put it into practice, it was crucial to actively exchange people, young people in particular, in the process of restorations and nation buildings of many countries after the Second World War, and this movement spread over the world, particularly in the US. As a result, the AFS High School Students Program was established.
From my experience as a former high school student who benefited from the AFS exchange program, I firmly believe how the new mission of the AFS is precious and correct. According to a brochure of AFS Japan, more than 20,000 Japanese high school students have already studied abroad, and about 17,000 foreign high school students have studied in Japan under this program. (Both figures include the exchange programs of one-year term and short term).