Building Bonds and Understanding

Betsy Michel was looking for adventure when she embarked on her Experiment trip in the summer of 1962. At 20 years old, she hadn’t traveled much beyond the East Coast and wanted to experience a vastly different culture. So, she boarded a ship to Japan with an ultimate destination of Nagano City.

Back then, Michel didn’t speak Japanese—nor did her hosts, the Koide family, speak English. But that didn’t stop them from communicating. They worked hard, long hours. Using dictionaries to point to what they hoped were theright translations, they were able to share their lives and form the basis for a friendship that endures to this day.

She returned transformed. “I thought I could do anything when I got back,” Michel says. She went on to Yale Law School, practiced law, and held trustee and director positions for various organizations, including twice serving as a member of World Learning Inc.’s Board of Trustees, from 1999-2004 and 2010-2013. All the while, she continued to travel.

Michel never forgot her time with The Experiment or the Koide family. They visited one another in Japan and America, and in 1994, she established the endowed Koide Family Fund for Experiment scholarships.

“If young people are to become effective global citizens, it is important to remember that nothing that they read or see, nothing we can tell them, has the enduring shaping power of face-to-face engagement,” she wrote in aletter at the time.

Michel remains determined to reach even more young people. She recently made a generous gift to The Experiment Leadership Institute, which offers programs in South Africa and India that promote intercultural leadership, civic engagement, and an understanding of critical global issues.

“It seems to be an exceptional experience for some exceptional kids,” she says. “For young people to get out of their comfort zones and see that the rest of the world isn’t like us is a good thing. We don’t all get those chances. It will change them and who knows—maybe one day they will help to change the world.”