2014 Kurashiki Student Ambassador Essay: Valerie Fabregat-Uhlmann
I had the trip of a lifetime filled with endearing memories that will always remain vivid, by virtue of the Japan-America Society. My deep gratitude goes out to Kurashiki City, Deputy Mayor Hidekuni Miyake, the Matsushita Family, and the Akatsuka Family. A special thank-you to Patty Woods, Lydia Kanki, Fran Lemery, Jun Shrout, James Benson, and Mr. Ono for giving me a fantastic milestone in my life. I am genuinely honored and grateful to be nominated a 2014 Student Ambassador and exchange two wonderful cultures on opposite ends of the world.
I got on the first plane of three to the destination of Kurashiki, and excitement was propelled through me, along with a sense of accomplishment of a dream started at eleven years old. Over a total of thirteen hours of anticipation, I finally arrived in Japan. Student ambassadors were greeted with a massive sign reading, “WELCOME TO KURASHIKI” held up by our new families. My cheerful new grandparents were there to take my hand and take me out for ice cream before escorting me home. I was so elated and overjoyed, but it was impossible to tell with jet lag washing over me. When I arrived in the Matsushita house, I immediately fell in love with the warm and serene ambiance of their home. I had feelings of complete trust and security in the brief introduction to my new family. They offered up their couch for me to rest off my weariness, and I remember falling asleep, taking in the serenity with a euphoric sensation.
One of the first things my parents said was, “You are part of our family now.” It proved to be true as I sat down at the table to share delicious homemade meals, and watched TV with my host brothers. They took me to all the popular site-seeing areas, hot springs, museums and restaurants. I discovered I love all Japanese food endlessly. I also loved observing the daily life and behavior of the people, and at times I didn’t feel like an outsider, but a daughter of the Matsushita family.
I was tremendously sad to leave my first family, whom I had bonded so closely with in such a short time, but it was time to meet my second new family. It was a little awkward when I first met the Akatsuka Family, but I could sense a genuine kindness from their hearts. I bonded a lot with my sisters, who are both gifted violinists, a talent which they inherited from their father. I enjoyed listening to their music, and talking with them. My mother was an excellent cook, and she was fun to talk to as well. I spent a lot of time improving my language skills with my sisters and their friends, and truly getting a taste of the life of teenagers in Japan. We went shopping, and to a hot springs, which actually was the first for my family. I really enjoyed my time with them, and I hope I left as good a first impression of a student in Kansas as they left of my first impression of Japan.
Throughout my treasured time with my families, the four of us students went on excursions to deepen our knowledge of culture and life of Japan. Mr. Ono escorted us around and made pleasant conversation whenever he could. We went to two high schools, many temples, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, shopping in Miyajima, cooked the famous treat, Momiji Manju, and went to many excellent restaurants. We were also fortunate enough to meet Deputy Mayor Hidekuni Miyake and the student ambassadors of Kurashiki, who were the most outgoing and intelligent teenagers I’ve ever met. It was a pleasure to meet everyone, and I am charmed to have met my two new families in Japan. I am so fortunate and grateful to have had this wonderful experience. Thank you again to the Japan-America Society and the City of Kurashiki for this opportunity. It has changed my life.