2018-2019 KAKEHASHI Project Speech Contest Program: Karolina Oseguera
Karolina Oseguera, a university student and participant in the 20th Annual San Diego Japanese Speech Contest in 2018, was selected as one of the participants of the KAKEHASHI Project, a people-to-people exchange program between Japan and North America sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Karolina traveled to Japan in January and shares her experiences below.
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My experience with the KAKEHASHI Project is one that I will never forget. Before this, I had gone to Japan twice; one time for leisure and another time for work. These two experiences taught me much about the culture and the people, but the KAKEHASHI Project allowed me to truly immerse myself in the culture and history of Japan, all within the span of one week.
Upon my arrival at Narita Airport, I did not know what to expect or what kind of students I would be interacting with in my group. It was reassuring to be greeted with such friendly JICE* staff members who made me feel very confident being in their care and supervision. The students introduced themselves to me and we began to communicate and get to know each other, which was refreshing. I knew right away that I was going to get along greatly with the group members as we all shared a genuine interest in Japanese language and culture.
The first day of the trip was a visit to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which we attended a lecture by Professor Hideo Kimura. Kimura-sensei was a very intelligent and charismatic man who taught us about Japanese history, culture, economics and politics. What I found most interesting to learn was that Japan’s economy had grown 20 times in 20 years! His lecture left an impression on me in understanding how unique and how efficient the country of Japan is. Kimura-sensei finished his lecture with a quote about our time together: “Ichi go Ichi e,” which translates to “once in a lifetime we have this opportunity to share together.”
On day two of the trip, the group boarded an early morning flight to Hokkaido. At this point I had only seen the beauty of this prefecture in documentaries and in photos. Snow in Japan is a phenomenon that many people yearn to experience and I had the wonderful opportunity to do so first hand. The main event of the day was our visit to Hokkaido University to hang out with the Japanese University students. I will never forget the faces of those students who were so kind to us as they helped us practice our conversation skills and showed us around the university museum. I made a lot of friends that day and the image of the snow that blanketed the campus will forever be ingrained into my memory.
My favorite part of the trip was the homestay experience, as this was my first time taking part in one. I was a bit nervous because I did not know what to expect or what kind of family I would be placed with; however, I rest assured thinking about the level of hospitality we had experienced thus far. I was placed with an older couple in their 70’s known as the Okuyama family, and their names were Shuhei and Yogi. Initially I was a little tense being that my Japanese conversation skills until that point had only been sufficient enough to hold small talk, but Yogi and Shuhei were very relaxed and encouraging and made me feel at home. They introduced me to their friends at a language club, we had a lunch party, and we finished the day with a visit to the Sapporo Chocolate Factory and dinner at a delicious curry soup restaurant. It was difficult to say goodbye even after only spending two nights at their home. I hope to remain friends with them as long as I can.
Upon our return to Tokyo, we were treated to a wonderful dinner with local university students followed by a trip to Harajuku and a Shinto shrine. By this point I had become very comfortable speaking with Japanese native speakers, and my speaking confidence had grown immensely throughout the trip. I understand now that the best way to learn a language is through interaction and conversation with others. No matter how many mistakes I made, with the encouragement of others, I learned that this was a necessary and crucial part of the process of learning a language and many other things in life.
Learning about another culture will take you out of your comfort zone. However, with the help and encouragement from others, I began to see this place of discomfort as a positive place full of growth and memorable experiences. The KAKEHASHI Project was a valuable experience for which I am very grateful for. Within the span of one week, I made lifelong friends, I grew as a student and as a person, and I became well equipped to share my experiences with my university and my loved ones to nurture their interest in Japan as well. Thank you, KAKEHASHI Project!
* JICE: Japan International Cooperation Center implemented the KAKEHASHI Project Speech Contest Program during the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
** All photos courtesy of Karolina Oseguera.