I may not have a ‘normal’ American high school experience, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I grew up in Southern Japan, schooled on a Navy base. Growing up DoDDS (Department of Defense Dependents Schools), there is one thing you can’t deny: we’ve seen much of the world.
At our location, travel opportunities are broadened significantly. Even our school sports teams travel to other military bases and international schools across mainland Japan, Okinawa, Guam, and Korea. I’ll forever cherish the memories and experience from these sports trips.One unforgettable trip during my junior year, our volleyball team of ten girls traveled to Taegu, Korea.
I was excited because I’d never left the country for sports before. DoDDS had budget cuts from the war, so each sport was traveling less. I was a surprised that we were able to go, though I tried to hide it.We were traveling by hydrofoil, which left early from Fukuoka port.
The hydrofoil was an odd hovering boat vehicle; it did not sit in the water, but was raised up to cross the Sea of Japan. It ultimately played a larger role than anyone expected, but for now, it ferried us easily to Korea in two hours, where we disembarked for a weekend of culture and, of course, volleyball.Taegu was different than anywhere I’d been for sports. In huge barracks with cement floors, filled with hundreds of bare bunks, we slept, stifling laughter through the night, yelling not to jump across bunk bed tops lest someone break an ankle before playing our sets.Venturing outside, our team bond strengthened.
This was not like going to Osaka or Yokosuka in Japan. Rather than our usual small groups, we all stayed together. People saw our jerseys and asked where we were from, but no one even knew where our town, Sasebo, was.After our games, we went downtown with Taegu’s team.
New friends were made over dinner at Outback Steakhouse (a novelty to us, lost on most Americans. Even Denny’s has this effect.) Street vendors sold everything from socks to knockoff designer bags. Far from the laid-back vibe of Sasebo, Taegu’s bustling crowds and neon lights fascinated me.
When we packed up, our team was laden with shopping bags and photographs, promising to keep in touch with our new friends. Tired and happy, we were ready to go home.I fell asleep on the returning hydrofoil. Suddenly, I was jolted awake.
The engine’s hum cut out and left us rocking. This was no normal rocking; looking out the window, you could see sky as we leaned one way, then down into the depths as we leaned back. A crew member ran to the side, out on the deck, and disappeared.
What was going on? We hadn’t gone far. Finally, an announcement crackled on in various languages to explain. Something had been sucked into the engine. They were trying to fix it. Meanwhile, the rocking got worse, and the boat still wasn’t going anywhere. I felt shaky looking into the water. What if we sank? Later, another announcement informed us that they couldn’t fix the engine. They would lower the hydrofoil into the water, and a little motor would try and get us to an island between Korea and Japan.We were at the mercy of the waves. Hundreds of passengers; most had bags, there were lines to the bathroom, and everyone looked hopeless. Lying on the floor felt better than sitting, so down went the team. You can play sports, you can talk, but you really get to know someone as you lie in a boat, sick, shaking, some crying, wondering what’s next. We weren’t sure if we’d make it home. Our coach became a dad to the team; making jokes and telling stories through the ordeal. Hours passed, then another announcement: we were almost to the island. We would get off the hydrofoil and onto another, first confined in a fenced area to wait due to international red tape. We stumbled off, and when the next craft came, we boarded apprehensively. The second ride passed uneventfully in comparison, then we arrived at Fukuoka seven hours after we left Korea. School, Monday, was only twelve hours away. There, still sick with sea legs, everyone could mark us. ‘What HAPPENED to y’all? The volleyball team looks rough!’ Indeed. But the experience strengthened our resolve, drew us closer, and gave us one of the best ‘remember when’ stories of all time. We’re going back next year.
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