A year may not seem like that great of a time period, but a lot can change in 365 days. As I stood in the airport, right at the line where my family would not be able to cross, be able to follow me, guide me, support me, I had no idea that that would be the last time I would see them the way they were then. I would no longer be the same person either; I would come home fifty pounds lighter and with the perspective of what it's like to be a foreigner, someone different from everyone else. I would come home with new eyes, eyes that have seen the sun rise twelve hours ahead from when it typically did. How could I ever be the same after that? I could not predict the difficulties that being so far apart would have on me and my family. The homesickness, the language barrier, the insecurities, and being almost on the brink of flying home for fear of losing someone I loved were all things I never could have imagined as I stood in that airport, itching to get on my sixteen hour flight. I did not cry when I said goodbye. My mom did, and my dad, trying to keep it together, lost it when he hugged me, crying into my shirt. But still I didn’t cry, not when I waved my final farewell, not when I boarded my first flight all alone, and not when I got horribly lost in the Japanese airport. It wasn’t until I was in bed at my new home, in my new life, with my new family that I realized what I no longer had. And I wept.
Having been able to study in Japan on a full scholarship, chosen out of a student body of over one thousand people, is something that I am extremely grateful for. Only two percent of high school students across America study abroad. While I call myself lucky, I also know that I worked for the privilege to call myself an exchange student. With enough hard work and an absolute unwillingness to quit, I now believe that anything is a possibility. I would not trade my time in Japan for the world, and I truly believe that living half a world away changed me for the better, but the knowledge that I gained did not come without hardships. At the beginning of my year, I would get extremely frustrated at not being able to communicate what was on my mind with others. It was something I had never experienced before then: feeling misunderstood and helpless in communication. I felt as though I was boring anyone I spoke with, as I was unable to spout out more than a few common words and phrases. Luckily for me, however, speaking with hand gestures and body langue spoke louder than any of the words I could say. It's amazing to think about how we, people from two entirely unlike places, could come together and become friends without even speaking the same language; without even speaking at all. Maybe we all aren't that different after all. Communication via facial expressions and hand motions allowed me to become integrated into my circle of classmates and overtime, the language came naturally.
Japan taught me the see the world through the eyes of others, and doing so has changed my life and what I plan to do with it. I hope to be able to continue to be an exemplary diplomat for America and represent my country in the best way possible moving forward into my college life and beyond.