Silence echoed throughout the barren parking lot, broken only by our recurring weeps. We watched through tear-ridden eyes as the school bus drove into the distance, leaving behind a trail of sorrow. It was barely five minutes of enduring those intense intervals of pain and grief that we realized the necessity of traveling abroad that upcoming summer. We never realized this idea would blossom into a life-changing experience, for all we wanted at the time was to see their faces again…
I was haunted by the memories that our Japanese exchange students embedded into my mind those following days. The best friend I’d made during those three weeks was no longer following me to class every day, leaving me disappointed as I regularly turned around to find nobody. We battled our way through impeding conflicts to get to Japan, for the paperwork, airline prices, and lack of an adult sponsor were all formidable opponents. But a week after school was out, I was boarding a plane with my four close friends and teacher, not knowing what to expect in the next three weeks.
Massive butterflies spawned in my stomach during the flight. The thought of being in a foreign country for nearly a month was exhilarating yet uneasy at the same time. We finally landed after a dreadful twelve hour flight, questioned through customs in a language that I was apparently suppose to understand, due to my similar ethnic features. Our English teacher/correspondent we’d met earlier that spring met us at the airport to take us to the school, where we’d meet our host families. I, luckily, felt at ease because I would be staying with my best friend and his family. The journey to the school was a quick change of scenery, as the dry wastelands of Oklahoma transformed into lush, green hills and plentiful rice fields. Upon arrival, I jumped off the van and gazed into the night sky, only to find the faces I’d longed to see for months emerge from a window. I rushed to the top of the building, unaware of the extensive rule of indoor and outdoor shoes, embracing my friends for the first time in what seemed like eternities.
I was awoken at the crack of dawn, much too early for a summer day. I already felt right at home and even survived my first taste of raw fish that previous night, which was surprisingly good. As we headed towards the train station, I was excited for my first day of Japanese school life. I figured the students would be direct contrasts to the ones at home, completely studious and never talking out of place. It turns out they weren’t much different; they just lived completely different lifestyles. I received many stares within my first few minutes of entry, all of interest. Making friends was rather instant, due to their curious, affable natures. I quickly discovered that words really can’t express emotions, for we were able to understand and connect with each other, despite the definite language barrier.
We were able to enjoy Japanese culture and festivities when school wasn’t in session. The visually stunning shrines and scenery of Nikko, Tokyo Disneyland, and even my first steps on the Pacific shore all left me wondrous memories. It was indescribably difficult to accept that we were leaving, but a friend from class told me that it’s never “goodbye.” In the final moments before departing, I hugged my ‘kyoudai’, brothers as he called us, for the final time, only to hear him whisper such simple yet monumental parting words: “See you later.”
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