Another scholarship recipient, Jillian-san (YFU 2017)shared her story with us!
First of all, I would just like to thank you so much for the opportunity to live out one of my dreams; experiencing Japan and its many unique cultures for myself. You gave me the chance of a lifetime. A couple years ago from today, I could have never imagined myself traveling thirteen hours away from my home to live in a completely different area of the world. Whether it be the fact that I had major anxiety to leave home for a couple hours or the fact that I could not fathom the idea of the expenses to travel to Japan. Therefore, I would just like to give you my deepest gratitude for providing me with this unforgettable experience.
Honestly, preparing for Japan was nowhere near as anxious or nervous as I had expected.
I waved and hugged my mom and best friend goodbye but, I never felt sad or nervous. It was actually a very smooth transition into Japan. I never had the rush of surrealism that ‘I was in Japan’; I don’t recall ever having a true realization of the fact. I previously imagined being much more affected by such a large change yet, I felt exactly the same as I did back home in Michigan. I’m not saying that the experience wasn’t life inspiring. It was. I am stating that Japan was not very different from America. The food, the television shows, the way they sleep and take care of their animals. These were all very different from my normal life in America yet they didn’t exactly FEEL different.
My host family was the Nishizaka family and I absolutely adored them. They were the reason I was so easily accepted, they were the most kind and thoughtful people I have ever met (although, mostly everyone in Japan was exceptionally kind). My host sister was 28 years old and had down syndrome. If anything was a hard experience, it was being able to cope with a sister that constantly wanted my attention yet I could barely understand due to language barrier. I loved my host sister with all my heart but she did make me very uncomfortable sometimes. I was very patient and thoughtful of her but sometimes I couldn’t help but hole myself in my room and read by myself for a while. I had these tiny moments of distress but overall, I was so glad to have my host sister. I was able to experience her dance classes where I got to meet her friends (who happened to all have down syndrome as well). They were the sweetest group of people you could ever meet; there was a boy who was obsessed with foreigners and was completely overwhelmed when I held his hand for a performance, and there was a very shy sweet girl who wanted to introduce herself in english to me (she was exceptional!). Their class had accepted me completely and whole heartedly, I was only able to go to about 3 dance classes before their “Final Dance Recital”. In which, they had been rehearsing since January. I had 3 classes to learn the dances. I was in the recital. ON STAGE. Everyone was so thoughtful and eager for me to join them; even though I had not remembered a single dance move.
Japan was amazing. It was definitely a struggle between communication and there was a certain strictness with some of my teachers at school (It was all resolved in the end and I became very close with said teachers). However, I am so grateful to my host family. If they hadn’t been so caring and put their thought into every meal and word then I would not have had such a spectacular experience. One of my biggest worries was definitely the fact that I am vegetarian and a lot of YFU representatives expressed their nervousness about my dietary restrictions. My host family didn’t seem to even be aware that I was vegetarian until I got there which was more or less very worrisome. My host mother seemed to glide with ease at everything that came her way. She was able to provide me a delicious, and vegetarian dish for every meal and I can (not so) proudly say that I even gained around 10 lbs in Japan. The food was extraordinary even if I couldn’t eat everything.
Thank you so much for this opportunity again. I’m so glad to have met my host family and been able to spend my summer with them, I honestly could not imagine spending it any other way.