As I write this essay, my palms begin to sweat and my heart begins to race. I am still unsure exactly what emotions my memories elicit, but I am sure they are strong. One of the requirements for this essay is that it be about a trip taken with family–I went on an exchange program alone, but because of its strong link to my family I believe my essay should still be considered. In August 2010, my senior year, I left for what I thought would be a 10 month exchange to Japan. Ever since I was introduced to Japanese culture in 6th grade, I lived and breathed Japan. I loved everything Japanese. By 11th grade, I knew that more than anything I wanted to live in Japan.
After a thorough application process, I was accepted into an exchange program and soon I was weeks away from leaving. As the departure date grew nearer my excitement was quickly overshadowed by...terror? The longest I had been away from my parents, who I am closer to than anyone else in the world, was two weeks during camp. I suddenly remembered the horrible loneliness I had felt and wondered how I was going to cope with that loneliness for ten whole months. After I started my own blog I was filled with a new wave of excitement and ignored my fears.
The day I left my mother, though, to fly with my dad to Japan, that apprehension came back in an overwhelming flood. On the way to Japan, I experienced a terror I had never felt before. Arriving in Japan, though–stepping out into the world I had adored for so long–was a dream. I was buzzing with excitement. I craned my neck to see skyscrapers stretching up into the Japanese sky and nearly fainted with each new, exotic bite of true Japanese food. Sooner than I hoped, though, the anxiety returned. I had only a few more days before my dad returned to America and I was alone to meet my host family. These days flew by, filled with exhilarating ups and agonizing downs.
My host family consisted of a mother, a father, and two brothers. My host father and brothers were shy, but my host mother and I quickly bonded. We to the beach, we watched Korean soap operas together, and we attended a traditional Japanese dance festival about feudal Japan, one of my favorite aspects of Japanese culture–I was experiencing things most American teenagers had never even dreamed of, but no matter how amazing I could not shake the crippling homesickness I felt. I quickly started school, and a new stress was added: the high expectations of Japanese school. My schoolmates were kind but shy, and my homeroom teacher frequently scolded me. I found myself video chatting with my mother every day, although I was only supposed to talk to her for one hour only one day per week.
I knew that I loved Japan with all my heart, so how could I be so miserable? I realized that Japan was not my one true love. It was equal to something I had never expected or considered: family. After three months, I decided that while Japan would be there forever, I would only have so long with my parents. I returned to my family in America, but I still love Japan. I will continue to study Japanese in college, and someday, with my family with me, I will return to that beautiful place that stole my heart and have yet another experience of a lifetime.
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