This year marks the 30th anniversary of the working holiday system in Japan. The program has enabled 20,000 young Japanese a year to live and work abroad, gaining valuable experience and broadening their point of view, but that number should be more. The re-energized attitudes and global outlooks that people acquire on working holidays are just what Japan needs to build a better future.
The working holiday program began with Australia in 1981, and now comprises agreements with 11 countries, including Britain, Canada, France, New Zealand and Taiwan. The agreements allow those aged 18 to 30 to work and live in other countries for one year. Many who go abroad want structured programs, while others are adventurous enough to explore on their own. So, instead of one size fitting all, the system accommodates people in search of many different experiences.
In the past, most participants just went to work, but recently, more and more young people are reported to be acquiring licenses, certificates or work experience that will help them in their careers. Volunteer programs have expanded as well. As the working world globalizes, a certificate of proficiency in English will look better and better on job applications. Practical skills and real-world experience will be increasingly needed. Working holidays help many young people develop those assets.
Perhaps chief among the acquisitions is the ability to interact with people of completely different backgrounds, cultures and ways of thinking. With the scarcity of jobs and an uncertain economy, taking off for a year may seem risky. But living outside Japan’s sheltered and lockstep educational and employment systems can help young people find their own sense of purpose. Young people in Japan are often criticized for lacking initiative and a can-do spirit. A working holiday is one good way to discover the best way to build a good life and contribute to society.
Leaving aside the comforts of home is always difficult, but sometimes getting away is the best tactic for reconsidering how to study, work and live. Of course, there are many ways to do that by staying here in Japan. Young people, though, need a chance to form their values in their own experiences, rather than in what they are told. For many young Japanese, the chance to work and study abroad will transform their lives and guide them back home with the energy and insight for the future.
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