P3/P4 break is one of my best experience in INSEAD so far –  My teammates and I organized a one-week trip to Japan, bringing 40 other students to our beloved country. Though Tokyo and Kyoto are by far the most popular cities, my mission in this trip was to take INSEADers from all over the world to Iida – the city in the countryside to provide a homestay experience at local farmers. I was really happy to see my friends smiling with the host families. The following is the story from my motivation, challenge and friends to the discovery.

Since my first days as a university student, I have been passionate about revitalizing the countryside of Japan. There remains our authentic lifestyle, tight relationship with local people, and beautiful nature. But many of the rural areas are facing serious social problems such as ageing society and declining industry. Those problems were ever more severe in the Tohoku area damaged by the big Tsunami and Earthquake in 2011 (you may know the name “Fukushima”, the region where the melt-down nuclear power plant is located). Before pursuing the INSEAD MBA, I worked in that area to provide financial support to the companies damaged by the disaster. I frequently visited many devastated areas, talked with management teams of local companies and connected with dozens of young social entrepreneurs who moved to the area for the revitalization. Through my job, I realized that Japanese local areas are resources of business potentials such as exporting premium food or expanding inbound tourism.

Soon after joining INSEAD, I noticed that many people are interested in Japanese culture and traveling to Japan. Their interests are diverse; premium food, Japanese sake (rice wine), technology, subcultures (comics and animation), the nature across 4 seasons, and unique history. The interest and enthusiasm shown by my classmates was always beyond my expectation. As I really loved the countryside of Japan and wanted to explore the business opportunity of inbound tourism in the countryside, I decided to organize a Japan trip with another ’18J, Narune, who is also passionate about the regional development.

During the one-week trip, we went to 4 distinctive cities: Kyoto, Tokyo, Arima (hot spring resort), and Iida (farm stay). Among them, Narune and I put the greatest effort on farm stay in Iida, taking about a half year for preparation, collaborating with the local government and having discussion over conference calls (As a part of it, I even visited there last winter). Here is one of the outcomes: In Iida, 40 students broke up to groups of 4 people and stayed at the local farmer’s house, diving into a “family experience”. They shared some work in the farm, cooked dinner with the family, and enjoyed talking with the family over dinner. Many of the farmers could not speak English, but the family and students seemed to have fun over communication trying to solve these issues through Google Translator or music as communication tool. Although there were still some challenges due to the language, the farm stay was a great success. I was really moved when many of the participants remembered the name of their host family even several weeks after the Japan Trip.

Through the trip, I have surely discovered the potential of the countryside to attract people from abroad. However, what is more memorable is that many of my friends in INSEAD cheered me up during the process of making the tour. I started to prepare for the tour in October, 5 months before the trip. It was not an easy process, but my friends often talked to me about the trip and they encouraged me to realize my passion about the countryside development. I just remember that similar things happened when I did an internship in the Grameen Bank, a micro finance institution in Bangladesh, in P2/P3 break. Before going to Bangladesh, some classmates talked to me about it and introduced their friends to me, which was really helpful. I really respect the positive and collaborative mindset of INSEAD people encouraging their friends to pursue unique things which they love.