Businessman Paul Getty once said, ‘In Japan, I was immensely impressed by the politeness, industrious nature and conscientiousness of the Japanese people.’ I, too, had a similar experience while my six week stay in Japan. I won a full paid scholarship from my father’s work that gave me the opportunity to go to Japan as an exchange student for the summer. This trip was a big deal for me because I had never been away from my family for more then one week.
When I first arrived at Narita Airport (in Tokyo) everything looked so high-tech, the people looked busy with their own lives, and everything looked so cool. When we drove to our hotels for our one-night stay in Tokyo, I was just mesmerized by the beauty of my new host country. I felt like a newly hatched bird as I explored my surroundings with plenty of curiosity and saw beautiful mountains and rice fields presiding side by side with the metropolitan areas.
My first impression of Kumamoto (my new host city) was nothing close to that I felt initially for Tokyo. Kumamoto from the air looked like a small farming town. I was quite disappointed but I was excited to meet my new host family and get to experience life as a real Japanese girl.
When I met my family, I fell in love with them immediately. To my surprise, Kumamoto also had a lot to give me. After about two weeks of my stay, I learned how to read the train schedules and take the train all by myself.
I felt like I was the only one who could control my own destination. Before I left to go to Japan, I was told that I would be facing a large language barrier since not many people know English and the fact that I did not know any Japanese did not help either. But luckily, my Otosan (Japanese Dad) and Okasan (Japanese Mom) knew a good deal of English and we were able to communicate.
My three host siblings knew just as much as English as I did Japanese. I remember when I first arrived, I barely knew how to count up to ten in Japanese. On my first Sunday night, my host siblings and I decided to play Bingo.
We made the rules so that when they would pick the number, they would have to read it in English and when I picked a number I would have to read it in Japanese. This way, we could correct each other and help each other improve. This game helped my counting skills immensely.
One experience that I cannot forget to mention is going to school. School was absolutely amazing in Japan. I was able to attend school for four weeks and I even joined a club.
I did Badminton Club and had an excellent time. The students of Tokai Daini (my school) were extremely kind, caring, and respectful towards me. The girls in my class were extremely curious about me and always wanted to go and hang out after school. I realized that many of my Japanese friends are very similar to my American friends. They all enjoy going shopping, going out to eat, and gossiping. The fact that a language barrier presided made communication a challenge, but we found ways to get over it by drawing, or by using an electronic Japanese-English dictionary.
Going to downtown Kumamoto right after school was one of our favorite past-times. In downtown, my friends and I would enjoy eating ice cream, shopping, or doing pari cura (the newest fad amongst the teenage population). Everything Japan has given to me I cannot describe or put into a sentence.
It’s funny to think that one small country can change a person that spent a meager six weeks in it so much. I wish that more teens would get the opportunity to travel and learn about a country like I have been able to. I have had such a wonderful time living in Kumamoto that I plan on living there after I graduate college. The people are just so friendly and always have an open heart to welcome and help others in need. My host family never let me realize that I was nearly 3,000 miles away from my real family. In my life, I have been fortunate enough to be an Indian girl, an American girl, and now (as my Japanese family and friends like calling me) a ‘Japanese girl.’
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