National Chu-Pei Senior High School, Taiwan, participated in a school exchange with Tochigi Prefectural Sano High School, Tochigi Prefecture. Ms. Lin (16), a student of National Chu-Pei Senior High School, and school principal Mr. Chen Ruei-Rong share their experiences. Ms. Lin, who had wanted to interact with Japanese students of the same age, talks about what she discovered through the workshops and her communication with them. Mr. Chen delves into the planning and preparations for the trip and shares advice for those considering educational travel and school exchange programs in Japan.

Ms. Lin’s school exchange experience

I prepared six months ahead by changing my smartphone’s language to Japanese

I have an aunt who studied abroad in Japan and my parents speak the language too, so I’ve been interested in Japan ever since I can remember. That’s what inspired me to learn Japanese by myself. In terms of Japanese pop culture, I prefer novels to manga, especially love stories. I read them quite often.

That is why I was so excited when I heard about the educational travel program to Japan. I wanted to talk to and make friends with Japanese students my age. It pushed me to improve my Japanese communication skills as much as possible. In the six months leading up to the trip, I changed the language on my smartphone to Japanese and read blogs and news articles about school life in Japan to boost my vocabulary.

The Japanese students were more cheerful and proactive than I expected

At the school exchange welcome ceremony, we performed otagei (anime fan-style dance) using light sticks to the song “Idol” by YOASOBI. We also did a guitar performance. During the photo session with Sano High School, the student next to me asked me to pose with her to form a heart shape with our hands. That made me so happy. The impression I got of Japanese high school students from TV dramas was that they were rather reserved, but the students we met were so cheerful and proactive in reaching out to us.

We did tofu-making, indigo-dyeing, and tea ceremony workshops. In the tofu-making workshop, I struggled to understand phrases like nigari (bittern) and kono mama (keep as is), but the students of Sano High School made sure to teach me the meanings by incorporating English. If I had trouble listening, there were many occasions they would write it down to help me understand. I also shared what I learned with my schoolmates. We also used translation apps to help each other out, and communicated using Japanese, English, and Chinese.

Aside from language barriers, I was also thrown off by various differences in customs. For example, in Japanese schools, students use slippers on campus and spend most of their time in school uniforms such as shirts and skirts. In Taiwan, students are usually in sportswear. We also have extracurricular activities in Taiwan, but I think they tend to be more varied and active in Japan. Moreover, Taiwanese high schoolers tend to be quite straightforward, while Japanese high schoolers use phrases like “Thank you” and “Excuse me” quite often. Their expressions also tend to be more roundabout, which is another aspect I found different.

A precious moment spent with a Japanese student my age

The student from Sano High School who helped me out during the school exchange happened to be a fan of romance novels like me, and we had a lot of fun discussing all kinds of things. We ended up exchanging our social media contacts. Moments like that were so precious, so priceless for me.

Having so many opportunities to speak in Japanese with students my age made me more confident in my conversational skills. I was probably able to improve because I was desperately searching for the right words. I think the most important thing to keep in mind during school exchanges is to not be afraid to speak in a foreign language.

The school exchange with Sano High School has inspired me to study Japanese even harder than before. I would like to study in a Japanese university in the future, so I have to improve my Japanese skills. When I return to Japan for university, I hope to meet the friends I made at Sano High School once again.

Interview with faculty

Chen Ruei-Rong, Principal

He has been the principal of National Chu-Pei Senior High School since August 2019.

Q. Tell us why you planned an educational trip to Japan.

A. National Chu-Pei Senior High School is located in Hsinchu County, a place strongly associated with the semiconductor industry as it is the base of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (TSMC). Our school is a preparatory institution with a focus on science and mathematics. Even since I was appointed principal, I have made it a priority to broaden our students’ international perspectives. As part of this policy, we offer short-term study abroad programs to the United Kingdom during the summer vacation. We have conducted several school exchanges with Japan, a developed country located in close proximity to Taiwan that we have friendly relations with. We are also aiming to establish a sister school relationship with a Japanese school.

Q. Tell us about your destination cities and programs and why you picked them.

A. In February 2023, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) held a briefing session in Tokyo for Taiwanese educators on educational travel to Japan. After attending the session, we decided to visit the Saitama-Tochigi-Ibaraki route. We thought this itinerary was convenient as it was close to the airport and central Tokyo, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Site Nikko Toshogu Shrine and JAXA’s Tsukuba Space Center. We would also get to do an overnight farm stay. We found this program attractive as it would give us the opportunity to experience various sides of Japan. For some students, this was their first trip abroad, so we also added Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Sky Tree to the itinerary.

For our school exchange partner, we sought out a coeducational preparatory school like ours. Since it was just after the COVID-19 pandemic, we received support from the Tochigi Prefectural Government Tourism Division, which is working to promote educational travel programs.

Q. How did you prepare for the educational travel program?

A. It was around March 2023 that Sano High School graciously agreed to accept us. Then, ahead of our actual visit to Japan for the school exchange, we conducted two online exchange sessions in October and November. The first time, the students created PowerPoint presentations on Japanese and Taiwanese culture, and the second time, they presented short videos to each other in English showcasing their school life. In both cases, the students took the lead in creating the videos, and we had two English teachers check the content.

Teachers from both schools exchanged numerous e-mails regarding the school exchange program and schedule, greetings, exchange of souvenirs, and other matters. Even before the online exchange, the teachers went through a series of detailed checks beforehand to ensure that the video the students created would play well on the other school’s devices.

Q. Tell us about the school exchange program in Japan.

A. We had previously conducted an exchange program with another Japanese school—it was a half-day program and we felt that it would have been better if we had more time. So this time, we decided to spend almost the entire day at Sano High School until the evening, so that the students could be divided into several groups and engage in extracurricular activities after school. It was a very productive day. Sano High School arranged special classes for the students, such as indigo-dyeing, tofu-making, and tea ceremony workshops. Personally, the most impressive and most culturally-immersive experience was the tea ceremony. The koto (Japanese harp) performance by the students of Sano High School at the welcome ceremony was also wonderful.

Before visiting Japan, I had expected the Japanese students to be a bit shy and distant. However, I found the students at Sano High School to be truly friendly, candid, and full of energy. We were pleasantly surprised to find that they were not intimidated by our arrival from overseas—they immediately opened up to us and gave us a warm welcome. They were very kind and attentive to us during the workshops, making sure we didn’t have any problems.

Another aspect that surprised me was the cleanliness of the school building, from the classrooms to the restrooms. Some of the students said that it exuded the importance of a clean environment in Japanese culture.

Q. Would you like to do school exchanges again in Japan in the future?

A. We would like to continue the same program structure every year, with both online and in-person exchanges. We have signed a memorandum of understanding with Sano High School to become sister schools, and we hope that Sano High School will come to Taiwan as well.

Q. Finally, what advice would you give to those who are considering education travel or school exchanges in Japan?

A. In preparing for the school exchange, I think the key to success is to keep in mind that we have different cultures and customs, and to meticulously discuss every detail in advance. We were glad we could devote an entire day to the school exchange. If possible, I would even like to make it a two- or three-day exchange next time. The students were able to deepen their friendships with each other, and I hear they are still communicating with each other on social media.

At Nikko Toshogu Shrine and Tsukuba Space Center, we felt that the students’ level of understanding and satisfaction depends on whether we could find guides with expertise. I recommend that you look into it when you first decide on a travel agency or provider. It is also important to organize the schedule so that travel times are not too long.

School Exchange Overview

Visiting School National Chu-Pei Senior high school(Taiwan) open_in_new
Host School Tochigi Prefectural Sano High School(Tochigi) open_in_new
Date 4th December in 2023
Age of Participating Students
National Chu-Pei Senior high school : 16 to 17 years old
Tochigi Prefectural Sano High School : 16 to 17 years old
Number of Participants
National Chu-Pei Senior high school : 32 people ( 30 students, 2 teachers)
Tochigi Prefectural Sano High School : 46 people ( 43 students, 3 teachers)

Educational Travel Overview

Itinerary 3rd December - 8th December in 2023
Main Destinations Tochigi, Chiba, Tokyo