The process began with an essay and an interview with the selection committee. While some of the kids were very nervous about the interview, I really enjoyed the opportunity to show my enthusiasm about going to Japan and representing my hometown. When I got my acceptance letter, I screamed with excitement. I was going to Japan!
Last March, I met my future best friend for the first time. I hosted a Japanese girl named Ayaka, and once we began to really get to know each other, that’s when the fun began.
When she came back to my house from visiting a school or a farm, we would play video games, and I taught her how to cook certain dishes. Then she cooked for our entire family!
We took her to a mall especially for the Disney store and then the San Francisco Zoo, where she was blown away by how many animals the zoo had. Her visit raced by, and she headed back to Japan.
The Tracy group went to Japan in June, and once I saw Ayaka again, I nearly cried I was so happy. I loved her family; Ayaka’s father was deaf and her mother was still taking English classes, but they took me in as one of their own, and they’ve become part of my own family, no matter how far apart we are.
Ayaka also took me to the zoo, along with several museums and a dairy to get fresh ice cream. We both shared a passion for animals, history, Disney, and who doesn’t like ice cream? Once I visited her, I realized that even an ocean apart, we had so much in common.
In the city of Sapporo, there was never a stronger feeling of being American. We looked different and talked different; being in a new country was little overwhelming, and yet for me there was always an underlying sense of significance and pride.
That completely shifted in Memuro, especially when we visited their school. Little clumps of students trailed us wherever we went, staring at us with curious eyes as bright as stars. It was like being a rock star, catching every person’s attention with every step you took.
We shared about our ideas and our culture. I’ve never felt as important as I did the day as I stood in front of the class and explained what was going on in the U.S. and how the country worked. They especially liked the sound of New Year’s Eve. Nothing like a good party!
The most difficult part of the experience is trying to boil it down to 400 words, so you, the reader, will understand what a truly amazing, life-changing experience this was for 10 kids from Tracy and their 10 new brothers and sisters from Memuro, Japan.
• Allie Fern, 14, is the daughter of Paul and Rebecca Fern of Tracy. She attended Jefferson School and will begin her freshman year at Tracy High School next week. First Person is an occasional column written by members of the Tracy and Mountain House communities. To comment, call 835-3030 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
• Applications for the 2013 Sister City Youth Exchange trip to Japan are available online at www.tracysistercity.moonfruit.com. The yearly trip for local eighth-graders is sponsored by Tracy Sister City Association, an educational nonprofit.