In this article, the exchange between the local residents and international students and the latter’s perception of the region and local people were analyzed based on an online survey of international students in Oita, Akita and Tottori prefectures where the population is decreasing and the ratio of residents above 65 years old is more than 26%. In Oita and Akita, the prefectural governments supported the establishment of the international universities and the number of international students has increased sharply. In Tottori, a national university has adopted an internationalization strategy and accepts about 90% of the international students in the prefecture. The number of international students in Tottori has, however, declined 7% in the past six years. The results of the survey show that the percentage of the international students who participate in the exchange with pupils/students in local schools and home stay/visit activities is higher in Oita and Akita than in Tottori, partly because the prefectural governments have promoted the exchange between the local residents and the international students. Still the percentage of the international students who participate in these exchange activities in Tottori is higher than that of the universities in the metropolitan areas.
Most of the international students who study in these prefectures have affinity and gratitude towards the local residents partly because of the frequency of and satisfaction with the exchange with the local people. Though many of them find the local life rather inconvenient and dull, they also find merits in studying in these prefectures, such as inexpensive living cost, natural- beauty, kind people and a quiet environment.
Considering the important role of international students in the internationalization of education and rural regions, and the disadvantage of the rural universities in attracting international students, it will be necessary to consider a system to evaluate and support the efforts of rural universities in promoting the acceptance of international students and the exchange between them and rural communities.