Author: Samantha Ufret
Everything about the 1st of July seemed bright and lively as I got out of my car in front of the American Airlines terminal at Newark Liberty International. I walked through the sliding glass doors to see a small crowd of teenagers congregating in front of the check in line; chatty and awake despite their half-hap walking zombie appearance. After all, it was three in the morning. Like me, the rest of them were dressed in khakis and burgundy polos that bore the circular crest of our dysfunctional little clan. On our badge bore the words, “People to People Ambassador Programs” with an image of the world sewn in the middle. Amidst the sea of wrinkled pants and matching shirts were two chaperones desperately trying to get our attention to collect passports before going through airport security for the first of many times during this two week trip abroad.
I stood at the door to soak in this image for a minute or so; relishing the sudden realization of the fact that all my wildest dreams were coming true. In a few seconds, I would begin my 14 hour plane ride to the country I only fantasized about going to: Japan– Land of the rising sun. Although I was just taking my first steps towards Asia at that moment, my journey with People to People had begun nearly a year before when I received the letter nominating me for this trip. After a grueling interview process, and nearly eight months of fund raising hell, the day of my departure had finally arrived. I said hello to my new friends, goodbye to my parents, and konichwa to the country I’ve wanted to visit for as long as I can remember.
Over the next two weeks, I got the chance to see first hand what life in Japan was really like. We toured through Japan’s social scene and saw how surprisingly well old world tradition and present day pop culture coexist in the mega modern metropolis of Tokyo. We explored Japan’s cultural hotspots in Kyoto– looking for Geisha in the heart of the city while visiting many of its Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and taking part in a real live tea ceremony. We backpacked dozens of nature preserves throughout Honshu and Kyushu– traveling across the countryside and having the incredible chance to stand above the cloud line on Mt. Fuji while learning about the nations efforts to conserve energy and preserve its natural habitats and national treasures. We met one of the few survivors left from the Nagasaki atomic bomb drop while on a trip to the city’s Atomic bomb museum to discuss ways to bring about world peace with local high school students who do what they can to spread goodwill towards mankind.
After seeing how everyday Japanese citizens have made it part of their lives to take care of the environment, preserve their history, and work towards ways of achieving world peace, I came back home feeling that there is so much more I could do for my community...for my country...for this planet. This trip helped opened my eyes to the hundreds, even thousands of ways I can help make this world a better place for generations to come; whether it is finding ways to get my family to start recycling, or promoting love, peace and understanding as an officer of my school’s GSA club. Because of this trip, I’m a totally new person, a person who is willing to do what she can to make this world a better place...one step at a time.