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LIVING with a family in a foreign country can be unnerving. There are local customs and practices to adhere to, plus extra manners to mind.
However, Terri Chai felt at home with her host families in Japan and South Korea during her homestay programme there.
“It was an eye-opener for me. I experienced the kind of hospitality one could extend to a stranger from a different cultural background,” said the 30-year-old marketing executive who was in Sapporo, Japan, and Seoul, South Korea, from Nov 12 to 22 last year.
The programme was organised by Titan Planet, a homestay and cultural exchange network.
Titan Planet is a non-profit organisation run by three friends and partners. The main aim of the programme is to give Malaysians an opportunity to experience a different culture, discuss everyday living and exchange ideas and opinions.
The organisation is affiliated with Japanese language centres and colleges. It is also affiliated with the Hippo Family Club in Japan which focuses on language learning.
The club – also established in South Korea, Taiwan, Mexico and the United States – provides an environment where languages can be heard, used and developed casually.
“My host families were very kind and treated me just like a family member,” said Chai.
She experienced local culture such as the Japanese tea ceremony and even took part in her host brother’s school activities.
In general, participants may get to experience local festivals and town activities while some families try to accommodate their guests' personal interests.
“We try to match the host family’s hobbies with that of the participant,” said Steven Lim, Titan Planet's head of programme.
So far, over 60 Malaysians have participated in the homestay programmes in Japan and Mexico.
Titan Planet charges each participant between RM3,500 and RM4,500 for the two-week programme, including administration fees and return air ticket. There are two to three trips a year.
Successful applicants undergo a brief orientation on basic Japanese etiquette and language before leaving.
Lim said he and his partners look for flexibility, independence and a love for travelling in candidates.
“There is no schedule for participants. Your schedule is the host family’s schedule,” he added.
On their return, participants will be asked to write a short testimonial and present at least two skills learnt during their stay, for example, in terms of technology, cultural practice or even cooking.
Does Chai feel that it was worth the experience?
“It's yes with a capital Y! Those interested in knowing what's beyond your own comfort zone should go for the homestay programme. The trip has taught me to be open-minded and flexible because I had to adapt to different cultures and customs. I'm more easygoing now,” said Chai.
For more information, visit www.titanplanet.net.
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