While most kids prepare to head to a new school for their freshman year of high school by shopping for a new set of clothes and comparing their schedule with their friends I was preparing in a very different way. Instead of going to my local high school my family and I were moving for one year to Japan and I would be attending school there.
Two weeks after my last day of eighth grade I found myself looking out of the window of a plane waiting for the 13 hour plane ride that was soon to come. After being given only two more weeks of intense immersion within the Japanese culture I found myself staring at the front of my new school. Armed with only enough functional Japanese to introduce myself, I felt as if I would never survive. Walking into the school everywhere I turned I saw no one who looked like me; I was the only foreign student in the entire public Japanese school. My school uniform hung awkwardly on my tall frame, the skirt to short for my gangly legs. On top my long arms made my shirt look like it had shrunk in the wash.
As the day progressed I was hugged, spun around, whispered about, and giggled in front of. I was introduced to so many people that my one phrase of Japanese I knew came in handy. During lunch instead of waiting for the “all clear” to eat I just started eating, earning myself a severe whispered reprimand and odd looks. By the end of the day I felt as if I had both physically and mentally ran a marathon.
Eventually my Japanese language skills improved making it easier to communicate with my teachers and peers. During the day I attended school from seven in the morning to three thirty in the afternoon. After that I was to participate in a club until five thirty or six in the evening. After my long day at school I walked home to complete my homework and study Japanese for over and hour each night. Girls within my class also took me under their wing and with their encouragement I was able to work on my Japanese through conversations. With my increased ability to communicate with others I was given the opportunity to participate in different events. Some of the events included local festivals, traditional concerts, and even participating in traditional dances.
Having this experience really opened my eyes to the differences between the Japanese culture and America. Being given the opportunity to completely immerse myself in a different culture helped me to expand the way I view and interact with new experiences. By the end of my one year stay in Japan I feel that I really developed a deep cultural understanding of Japan. I was given a very intimate view of life in Japan with all of its traditions and customs in full view. I feel I assimilated into the culture and was able to learn about Japan but also keep my individual identity and share about my own culture.
From my very first day of school to my last my view of life had changed. I no longer felt awkward in my school uniform or ate without permission, and looking back on my first day of school I realized that I had been uncomfortable with a new experience and I was no longer scared of new opportunities. Using the Japanese language as my tool I had worked to break down cultural barriers that initially plagued me when I first arrived in Japan.
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