Before Japan

This summer has been a wonderful experience for me. Following the summer portion of the two-way US-Japan exchange program, I had to begin preparing for the second portion: my voyage to Japan. I had to prepare both physically and mentally for everything that was in store for me.

As a group, the DC Tomodachi students met with several people to help us prepare for the trip. The person who stood out most to me was the spoken word artist, George Yamazawa, known as “G.” He met with us in the Martin Luther King Memorial Library and opened our eyes and minds to a whole new thinking process through poetry. After sharing some of his personal poetry, he challenged us to write poetry about important chapters of our lives, using metaphors from random topics. At first, it was really challenging to think of what to write, but he encouraged us to just write how we feel, and the metaphors came pouring out. When we shared our personal poems, i was surprised to hear some of the things other students wrote. They were all amazing. I even surprised myself with my own poem. This was a great experience for me and has influenced the way I write to this day.

After meeting with him, I was ten times more excited to go to Japan and document my experiences than I was before. I also felt really anxious to experience first hand what I had been hearing about and researching for quite some time. As the days drew closer to November 1, I could do nothing but anticipate.

Atiya Artis
Coolidge Senior High School

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Tenaj’s Summer Reflection

I had an amazing summer! I learned so much about myself, my culture, my city, Japanese culture, and how accepting I was to new things, with the help of six marvelous Japanese students. We traveled all around DC, and we saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. Through this experience I have learned so much about myself and faced so many challenges with my new friends (good and bad).

We built friendships that will last a lifetime. It took some time for me to get used to all the questions they asked. They were very observant which I loved. They made me think to myself and then I went home and asked my parents the same thing. We all had to think but we came to a great conclusion. I learned that I was more accepting then I thought I was and more open as well. They really opened my eyes to a new world and perspective on life. I feel like we have known each other forever because we bonded so well, it’s just amazing. We haven’t even known each other that long. During those two weeks and a half we really learned the true meaning of TOMODACHI (friend).

We did so much in just two and a half weeks. By the time I got home I was ready to pass completely out, which was great because it meant that I had an awesome day of learning and having fun all at the same time. I didn’t know I could do so much in one day. We all felt that way. Each day was a different learning experience. We visited so many places and met so many people. I really had a fantastic time at Words, Beats, and Life, Latin American Youth Center, walking downtown, going to the different museums because it had been a while since I have been to a few of them. One place we visited was really touching for me even though I had been there plenty of times, The Holocaust Museum. This time we had a small group tour and I really got to understand the Holocaust more in depth. I just wanted to cry because the facts were disturbing. I am glad we got past that. I really had fun at Words, Beat, and Life. I really liked doing graffiti and djing

We did a lot this summer. We had a lot of good times and a few bad times. I remember when we were at Catholic University and some of us were falling asleep and the guy kept telling us to get up. He was getting very frustrated with us because what he had to say was so important for us. We went to United Way to learn more about volunteering and did some service work. When it was time for lunch we had pizza and the Japanese students couldn’t believe how big the pizza was. Most of us had two to three slices except for Chiro and he had nine slices. We couldn’t believe it at all. We all jokingly said he was American because the way he ate.

This summer was the best summer ever. I will always remember it because it was very unforgettable. I hope to travel to Japan when I get older to visit some of my great friends. I love these guys so much!

Tenaj Gueory
McKinley Technology HS
Washington, DC

Talia’s Summer Reflection

I would have to say that one of the things I enjoyed most about this half of the program was just being able to meet and befriend six exchange students from Japan. From day one of the program we all got along well and in my opinion we were all pretty similar. We quickly connected with each other and clicked soon afterwards, leaving all awkwardness behind. I believe that it was our quick and easy connection that led us to feel comfortable around one another. The first day, I found out who I was going to be staying with while in Japan and even though she was older than me we still were able to bond fairly quickly and find out what we had in common. We all became close in such a short amount of time that it hardly even seemed like it was our first time meeting and it just made the whole experience a lot more fun and enjoyable.

Throughout the program we visited different sites and organizations around D.C like Martha’s Table, United Way and the Holocaust Museum, and I was constantly learning something new. In my opinion this half of the program was not just a chance to show the Japanese students D.C, it was also a chance to show me D.C. It gave me the chance to learn about current affairs and social entrepreneurship and everyday there was at least one new lesson to be learned. I feel as if I took away the most while at Busboys and Poets. Andy Shallal had a lot to say about the life we live and how our society is set up and I really got captivated in what he had to say. The insight and knowledge I gained during this program has helped me to become a more self reflective person and it gave me a broad range of experiences.

I never would have dreamed of being a part of something like this and I’m thankful for the two and a half weeks I had with them. For the past three years I have been a fan of Japanese culture and music so being able to meet with and talk with students from Japan is something that I’ll never forget. My two and a half weeks with the exchange students were the highlights of my summer and something that’ll always be important to me. Each moment spent with the TOMODACHI group was cultural and knowledgeable and I can’t wait to put myself in the Japanese students’ shoes when it’s my turn to travel abroad.

Talia Wilson
Eastern SHS
Washington, DC

Joel’s Summer Reflection

Many times through the first part of the program I had mentioned the quote made by Confucius that “true knowledge knows the extent of one’s ignorance”. This is because I wanted to stress the importance of learning and experiencing the different cultures in our midst of the world. What also had somewhat provoked me to mention the quote was finding out during the first few days that there was an extent to my own ignorance of the Japanese culture. This troubled me because after being told that I knew so much of Japan’s history, I didn’t realize that I knew so little of its present.

When I first got to meet the students from Japan, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to talk about subjects that would put us on a “common ground.” However, when I started to just talk about these certain subjects like anime we had great conversations about places we could hang out in while in Japan. At that point I felt that I could relate to them with my knowledge of the history and art. Even before this, a friend of mine who is of Japanese descent had told me never to expect a thing about the Japanese, which I took to heart.  Especially when I learned that a lot of things we listed about what we thought the life of an average teen in Japan was like were false.

I truly believe I had grown from this experience just learning the differences between the present culture of Japan and the culture I had grown to know in the US. Two things that had truly affected my point of view of learning about culture alone were Bo’s metaphor of the iceberg and Ben’s story of the man with different colored glasses, which talked about one common theme, looking beyond the surface of what we see in order to truly gain knowledge. All these things that I have thought about through this first part of the program had truly opened my eyes to what I should do in order to gain true knowledge when I go to Japan and be able to give others this knowledge when I return.

Joel Bernola
Duke Ellington School of the Arts
Washington, DC