Hello. My name is Mariko Konno. I am 17 years old and 12th grader in Tachibana High School. I went abroad to study for one year in a city called San Luis Obispo in California, America. I was a junior, which is 11th grade, in San Luis Obispo High School. As time passes so fast, one month has already passed since I came back to my home country, Japan.
Here, first, I would like to write about myself just a little bit, how I was first involved in English, and then my experience I had during my stay there in California.
As a four-year-old child, I started living in Georgia, America with my family for 4 years. We went there because of my father’s job. Until I was 8 years old, I went to an American school there and joined to Girl Scout, a swimming team, some local activities and so on. I also traveled all around America with my family and went to almost all the places in the States besides California.
Simply, this was how I started being involved in English. When a few years had passed before I came back to Japan, I started thinking going back to America and stay there again.
And here I am in Japan after experiencing the whole school year in America as an exchange student, grown up comparing to how I was before going to America by myself. The biggest difference I made is that I became more open-minded and more confident about myself.
Before going to America, I was quite a shy girl that I couldn’t even talk well to a clerk in a store. But because of this AFS program, I turned into another person, in a better way. Now that I finished my exchange year, I could say that I wouldn’t be what I am today without some difficulties I had in America.
If I was to talk about my dark side of my experience, that would be the times I had when I had difficulties how to express myself, to communicate and how to make friends.
As I mentioned before, I was such a shy girl so obviously I couldn’t hold a conversation with other people or keep on talking with people who I first met. I didn’t know how to communicate with people. And that kept on going for a long time, meaning that I couldn’t make friends who I can call “my friend.” But one day I started to think that I should force myself to change and should be open-minded and simply smile to make my daily life a better one.
Of course sometimes it didn’t work very well and it took quite a long time but eventually I became a person who everyone says I’m not shy anymore and could talk with some people even if it was my first time meeting them. I started to make more and more friends by joining the swim team, hanging out with some people of my friends’ and keep my head up.
Now, changing the subject to the bright side of my exchange year, I made a lot of great memories and had experienced a lot of things I couldn’t have done if I didn’t go to America.
First, more than anything, I stayed at the best host family I could ever wish for. They were just so amazing and great in different ways. Going back home from out and talking with them till we fell asleep was one of my great enjoyments in my exchange year. We talked about how the day were, what we did, what was funny and so on. Simply just talking with them was so fun. I still stay in touch with them by e-mailing each other or Skype.
Second, about the school I went in America, there were lots of differences between the one I go to in Japan. I was really confused about the differences at the beginning but I started to get used to it and had fun. The best thing I liked about the school was lunch time and the 15-minute passing period we had between classes because those were the time we could talk with friends and socialize.
During the 15-minute passing period, we all walked to one huge space in front of the school building and gathered around and talked with our friends. I liked it because I could see all of my friends at once. And the lunch time, it’s almost the same as the passing period, how we gather and talk with friends. The different part was that we eat outside lying on the grass since it was sunny almost every day through the year. Sometimes we went off campus and ate at a restaurant.
At the very last day with my host family, I really didn’t want to say good bye to them since I made lots and lots of memories together and that I knew that I would miss them. They cried to me saying that they would miss me so much and that they loved me. It was really hard for me too. One day in the near future, I would love to visit California and see them again.
Lastly, I would like to thank all of the people, who were/are involved in my exchange year; of course the wonderful AFS JPN and AFS USA staffs, my family in Japan and my host family, supporting and letting me have a great experience in a different country. It is quite hard to do ongaeshi, which means repayment of a kindness in Japanese, now to all of the people who I met. So I would like to do my ongaeshi to other people in a different way and be helpful for others.
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