Until last February I’d never been out of North America, when suddenly I was offered a wonderful opportunity: a free trip to Fukuoka, Japan. One day a school official called my friend Malvina and I to his office. When we sat down, he asked us if we would like to represent our school at a meeting. After seeing our puzzled looks, the school official added, “In Japan.” That was all we needed to hear. We enthusiastically responded, “Yes! Of course!”
As I prepared for my trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, my elation escalated. It was like a dream: I was finally getting a passport, I met with diplomats at the Japanese consulate, I was thinking of what gifts I could bring my host family…. I was too excited for words.
Soon the day came when Malvina and I boarded a plane headed to Narita airport in Tokyo. After a bus ride and a second flight to Fukuoka, we were both exhausted. When we arrived and saw the beaming smiles of our host sisters, we experienced a rush of ecstasy. After getting our suitcases and meeting with our host families, Malvina and I split ways. I was no longer surrounded by familiar faces; everything was new to me.
I quickly fell in love with both the Japanese culture and my host family. My warm-hearted, funny host dad balanced the quiet, serene nature of my host mom. My host brothers were kind and sweet, and my host sister, Sachiko, and I bonded easily. I had been matched with a dynamic girl who kept me constantly laughing, and whom I respected for her confidence and humility. Sachiko and I listened to music together, danced with her hip-hop club, and taught each other about our cultures.
My week in Fukuoka was very busy: through multiple tours, planned cultural experiences, and meetings with diplomats and other leaders, I gained much respect for the Japanese culture. By walking around downtown, shopping, going to restaurants, visiting shrines, temples, and castles, I experienced the contrasts of Japanese society: the traditional versus the modern, the sacred versus the mundane. I learned about Japanese values and practices, and eventually I remembered to take off my shoes before entering homes.
I miss so much about Fukuoka, but mostly miss the people and the land. Fukuoka is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. As a lover of mountains and sea, it was a perfect fit for me: the houses nestled into the valley, the looming skyscrapers in the distance – what a sight. My spirits soared while I was in Fukuoka, probably because I was surrounded by such joyful people. The girls at school had this incredible joy about them and were always smiling and giggling. At school, I was treated like a celebrity. Kids would run down the hallways to get a glimpse of me in a classroom. They dared each other to say something to me during calligraphy class. They wanted to be around me, because I was different. And I wanted, so badly, to be around them, too.
The lessons I learned from my visit to Fukuoka will stay with me forever. Specifically, I learned about Fukuoka and Japanese culture. In Japan, I was more than just a tourist; I was truly involved in the society. I experienced the importance of diplomacy and international travel, and even more valuable, I discovered humanity’s extraordinary capacity for love and communication. Our differences can bring us together, because underneath it all, we are all humans who love to laugh and live life to the fullest.
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