I will never forget the day I decided I would work abroad. It was my freshman year of high school and I was sitting in French 1 listening to a CD with recordings from all over the world. Suddenly, an accent caught my attention. It was a boy from the Ivory Coast. I told my teacher that I was interested in hearing more Ivorian French but she laughed and told me to forget it. She said that I was wasting my time because the country was in civil war and I would never want to visit. I asked her what America was doing to help and she shrugged.
I was crushed. At that moment, this young boy from the CD was watching a civil war unfold and my classmates - and teacher - were unfazed. I refused to believe that no one around me cared and I decided to help. I began to read about the problems in northwest Africa and eventually resolved to become a U.S. diplomat.
My semester in Paris was one of the best experiences of my life. I had always thought of myself as an independent person, but for the first time ever I had to rely on myself completely. I was alone in a terrible home-stay, knew no one at my university and was faced with using French everywhere. Although things seemed impossible, I took the opportunity to challenge myself. I began volunteering, found a babysitting job and became the secretary on the international student board at my university. I purposefully put myself into situations that I had never faced to see what I was capable of achieving.
My plan worked. By the end of my semester, I had organized a school trip to the Louvre, knew my way around Paris, had great friends and had shook hands with the president of the French National Assembly. I found new cultural interests, discovered different tastes in food and music, developed an increased appreciation for languages and communication and was reassured in my own passion for helping others in foreign situations.
For me, France became stage one in my journey towards facilitating healthy relations across the world. My time in Paris taught me how to control my stress and how to ask for and accept help. I gained the confidence needed to live somewhere new. I also developed a desire to learn more about varied cultures.
My attention turned towards Japan. I submitted the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program application in October 2010 and eagerly waited for a reply. Finally, I found out that I was in.
In July 2011, I packed two suitcases and moved across the world. I had read a lot about Japan but I could not imagine how different and exciting everything would be. For example, my daily commute includes mountains, the Pacific Ocean, shrines, temples, locally owned restaurants, a fish market and most of the residents of Katsuura.
Although Japan is very different from America, I’ve been adjusting really well. I have great friends (both Japanese and foreign), manage my work and fun and have been welcomed as a member of the local community. I know that without studying in France this transition would not have been as smooth. Nothing could fully prepare me for all the changes I experienced but my time abroad helped me learn how to notice and respond to situations that stress me out. It taught me to enjoy the good in life and it helped me appreciate cultural differences. Overall, France was the best preparation I could have for Japan because it taught me to be confident when faced with the unexpected.
Currently, I am living in southern Chiba and working at seven public schools (three junior high schools and four elementary schools). My students are funny, bright kids and the teachers are very helpful and talented people. Everyone is welcoming and life is very peaceful. I take karate lessons with my students, learn Japanese on Friday afternoons, teach adult classes during the week, visit Tokyo on the weekends and am enjoying the country.
I don’t know what the next chapter in my life will be, but I am thankful that I can always benefit from my time in France and now my experiences in Japan.