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Amanda Elliott surrounded by some of her classmates in Japan.
Courtesy photo
Amanda Elliott surrounded by some of her classmates in Japan.

A journey of discovery around the world

Editor’s note: Hartselle High School student Amanda Elliott, 17, spent seven weeks in Akita, Japan, this summer on a scholarship through Youth for Understanding, a nonprofit educational organization. This is the last of an occasional series Amanda wrote for The Daily.

At long last, I have returned to the quiet, welcoming town I have long called “home.” The return was not easy for me, at least not as easy as embarking for Japan had been. When I boarded the plane to Tokyo seven or eight weeks ago, I was embarking on an adventure of a lifetime, with all my family and friends back home anxiously awaiting word of my travels, and my certain homecoming.

Saying goodbye to Japan, I knew, would be much more difficult. Each clumsily spoken “sayonara” was a new heartache to endure. While I had left America, knowing I was sure to return, who was to say I would see my friends, and even my host family, ever again after our last tearful farewell at the farmside airport in Odate? I had much to think about on the 12-hour voyage back to the States.

I met up with my friends from Youth for Understanding once on the ground in Tokyo. The familiarity helped take the sting out of what would otherwise have been a solemn and mournful occasion for most of us. We recounted tales of our adventures, all seemingly eager to put our command of the English language to proper use again.

The YFU scholars huddled together in unified anticipation, as well as unspoken regret, of our homecoming reunions. Most of us were on an international flight that grounded at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. After two months immersed in one of the most polite, safe, clean and well-mannered cultures of the world, the bustling, loud — and quite bluntly, relatively unsanitary — world that met us in Chicago was shocking. For me, it was a wake-up-call. Japan was behind me, now, but a memory, and I was back in America.

At first, I was actually more culture-shocked than what I had been in Japan. The fast-food restaurants in the airport all made my head reel in disgust. (I doubt I had so much as smelled a cheeseburger the whole summer.) No one greeted each other in passing. The saleswomen did not smile, or bow, to me as I entered and left their shops. People were, by Japanese standards, simply rude to one another. They pushed and shoved their way through crowds without apologies or any regard for their fellow man, arguing over who-knows-what, and dare I say, failing to discard their empty drink bottles into the designated plastic-recycling bins. Gasp! Where were the designated plastic-recycling bins? The world around me had fallen into inconsiderate and eco-destructive chaos.

I’m glad to say my disgust and shock wore off slightly after I was back in Alabama. I was met at the airport by my one-man welcome party — my dad. From then on, I have hardly been able to keep my mouth shut. I want to tell everyone about what happened to me in Japan, and sometimes I continue talking and rambling long after the once-interested party has casually strolled away. I am ever eager to find myself at Asian restaurants, where I can show off my chopstick-handling skills (and if it happens to take the place of a potential meal at a fast-food restaurant, so be it. I have yet to find the stomach to eat fast food.) My pictures and memorabilia rarely leave my side at school, and I proudly stroll through the halls with my Japanese backpack and traditional hand-made purse swinging by my side.

I am so proud of the culture I now know so much of, though I still feel limited in my knowledge. I know someday I will return. This experience has given me a new outlook and a sense of greater purpose and possibility for the future. It has been a truly life-changing and eye-opening experience, and I will never forget the lessons I learned while living in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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Amanda Elliott

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