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September 6, 2012

Local Voices from Around the Globe: Small-town girl adjusts to big city

Sarah Cook

—   Konnichiwa! A greeting from Japan.

  My name is Sarah. I am living in Japan for a year as a Rotary exchange student. I took off from Albany’s’ international airport on Aug. 17.  Three days later, New York time, I was landing in my final destination of Osaka, Japan.  

  From there, my host family picked me up and we left for the city I would be calling my home — Kobe, Japan.  So far my experience has been overwhelming, to say the least, but I expected that. Rotary prepared us well to leave for our journey. I am only 15, which many find hard to believe because of my height.  Many are surprised my parents would let me go.  My mom was once an exchange student to Mexico and so she understood and has helped me through my troubles, but if you ask her she will tell you it is completely different being a parent of an exchange student compared to being one. All of my family members have been very helpful; including my dad and my younger sister.

   I’m staying with an incredibly gracious host family that has gotten me ready to start my life here in Japan. I have two older sisters that live at home, my host dad is a cop, and my host mom is a housewife. Even though we have a language barrier, we have gotten along great. I had my doubts when leaving rural upstate New York, because that was all I had known. In New York, I live next to a farm and some Amish people. Now I am living in a BIG city, next to a school and a highway. I have always loved the city and am adjusting quite well. Although the homesickness has hit me a couple of times, I am enjoying my time. One of the hardest adjustments is taking public transportation to school and everywhere else. There is no yellow school bus to come and pick me up; and yes I have gotten lost a couple of times and my host has gladly come and picked me up.

   I have had to make many speeches within my first week. I’m not big on public speaking, especially when I have to make the speech in Japanese. Luckily my host sister translated my speech and we worked on it together.

   I had my first orientation/welcome party. I met all the other exchange students in Japan; two from Brazil, one from Mexico, one from France, one from Canada and then me.

   My school is no Cherry Valley-Springfield Central School, that is for sure.  My school is Kobe Yamate Girls school. Yes you read right, I am going to an all-girls school. The school is on a hill that takes about 20 minutes to walk up.  Including walking, I also have to take a bus and a train.  My classmates are very sweet and love to speak in their broken English with me.  The school is quite big. The school is five stories and the gym is in another part of the school and they have a pool above the school, so we have to climb to the roof of the school to get to the pool. All grades (I think) are split into four classes, and each has about 20-25 girls in them.  My school offers me private Japanese lessons, and I love them. All of the teachers are very nice and love to say “hi” and help me.  I am taking many classes.  Some that I took last year and some I shouldn’t be taking until next year, but I don’t understand any of them so it doesn’t really matter at this time. I’m taking:  world history, gym, home economics, chemistry, biology, math A, Math 1, English reading, English grammar, English oral communication, calligraphy, chorus and health.

  Being different is hard sometimes. I get stared at constantly in public.  People will look at me and then whisper or nod their heads toward me when talking with a friend.  Sometimes I have trouble with this, especially after a long day. I knew this was going to happen; whether it is because of my height, hair color or the fact that I’m just different altogether, people stare and are going to.  We would probably do that, too, in our hometowns if someone so different just started living there.  If people don’t speak our language, don’t look like us and don’t do things the same, how would we treat them?  That is the important question.  Would we accept them and become good friends or would we leave them by themselves? We might stare, but I hope we could become friends with them (and learn something about them).  That is my goal here in Japan, to help create good relations.  If you want to read more about my adventures check out my blog: www.sarahsjourneytojapan.blogspot.com.

  Sayonara for now!

  Sarah Cook is a Rotary Exchange student from Cherry Valley-Springfield Central School.