Lauren Caldwell Essay

Kurashiki Student Ambassador, 2011

I’d like to start by thanking all the wonderful people in both America and Japan who helped to give me this wonderful experience. It was no doubt, the best three weeks of my 17 years of existence. I want to thank the Heart of America Japan-America Society, as well as the city of Kurashiki and the families who kindly hosted me during the duration of my stay.

The first family I stayed with was the Kinoshitas, Hiroko, Susumu, and their 2 children, six-year-old Nanami and one-year-old Yukihiko. I found out somewhere near the end of my stay with them that last year they had hosted one of the girls from my school who went on the same trip. I thought that was interesting. The day I arrived was actually Susumu’s birthday, although unfortunately, due to his working late hours I did not get to meet him until the next day. Hiroko speaks English very well, but Susumu doesn’t, and the children don’t speak hardly any English at all; so it was very interesting to communicate with everyone. When Susumu drove me to a festival he asked me to teach him random English words, and then he and Nanami would repeat them over and over; it was very fun.

One of the activities Hiroko took me to was a yukata lesson. She let me borrow one of hers and I learned how to put one on properly. This was particularly fun and interesting to me because one of my side goals on this trip was to buy a yukata of my own. The teachers of the class were traditional women, and when I understood how to tie my obi they made me do it over and over again, to assure that I wouldn’t forget when I came back to America. Personally, I think they were a little bit surprised that I could do it.

While I was there, I had to give a speech at city hall for the mayor of Kurashiki, it was nerve-wracking, but thanks to my host mother translating the speech I had written with the help of my fellow student ambassadors, I pulled it off. There we also met the high school kids who were to leave for Kansas City just a few days from then, and they demonstrated what they would do for the people back in Kansas City. They folded 2 large origami cranes. We also showed what we would do at the party a few days later, the Cha-Cha Slide; it was very embarrassing, but also kind of fun.

On my last day with the Kinoshitas, they took me to the mall to buy myself a yukata. The one I bought is light pink with pink and purple flowers, with a pink obi and some shoes. For all of it I only paid a total of 10,000 yen, which was very good because had it not been on sale, it would have been 30,000 yen. My host mother was impressed that I found such a good deal. After the mall, we had to hurry to get to the arty where I would meet my second host family.

At that party, we played some games and talked to a lot of new people, as well as meeting and eventually going home with our new host families. This is when I met my new host family, the Endos: Atsuko and Shinya and their one-year-old Jin. I didn’t get to know Shinya very well though, because he worked even more than Susumu. I pretty much only saw him in the mornings if I woke up early enough, and sometimes at night. He, like Susumu, didn’t speak very much English, so Atsuko had to translate a lot.

During my stay with the Endos, I was interviewed for then news, which was really more embarrassing than anything. Also during my stay with the Endos, one of my fellow ambassadors, Danni Campbell , and I did a lot of things together which we called “play dates” because our host mothers put them together for us. These “play dates” included going to a mall, going blueberry picking with host mothers and host siblings, going to an onsen with Danni’s host family, going to a few 100 yen shops, and going on a train over one of Japan’s longest bridges to an island where we got to make our own uchiwa fans and eat udon with my host mother. Also we went to a few shrines with both of our host families. All of this was very fun for me because Danni and I knew each other prior to the trip; in fact we go to the same school and have been friends since sophomore year. It was very comforting to have such a good friend with me when going to such a new place. Though by the end of the trip, I made friends with the other two ambassadors as well. In fact, I’ve had Rosalyn Lucas over to my house once since the trip.

As presents for my host families, I brought a bottle of Gate’s barbecue sauce as well as a Kansas City barbecue cookbook for each family, almond M&M’s, candy-coated sunflower seeds, a Wizard of Oz cup and a large box of Crayola crayons for Nanami, and a KU Jayhawk hat for each of the young boys. I was glad to see that they all enjoyed their presents very much. Susumu especially enjoyed the barbecue sauce, and Nanami drew pictures of her family and myself with her new crayons.

I consider this trip to be one step closer to my goal of becoming a Japanese teacher when I grow up. It really made my goal feel attainable for the first time in my life. I am eternally grateful for this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity provided for me by Heart of America Japan-America Society and the city of Kurashiki. And though I doubt any future trip to Japan could compare to this one, I have made friendships that I can see lasting a lifetime. So thank you, everybody who made my trip possible.