by Skyy Genies
On Sunday January 29, 2017, two of my classmates, Rakiya and Chidera, and I met the Kakehashi Japanese exchange students at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. Even though, I was born and live here in DC, I have never been to Arlington Cemetery, so from the beginning, I knew this was going to be a life-changing experience for me in many ways.
When we first arrived, we were kind of shy so we walked behind the Japanese students for a while. Then when the crowd slowed down to take pictures, we introduced ourselves to the Kakehashi leader. Immediately, we were greeted and thanked for coming by the Japanese students. This felt, amazing because not only did it make us feel comfortable, but appreciated even though we were the ones who were thankful.
We trekked along the paths throughout the cemetery, taking pictures, learning facts about the sites. This was very fun and educational, however for me, the most memorable moment about this experience was watching the “Changing of the Guard” Ceremony at “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” We all watched in awe as the precise and synchronized guards saluted the tomb, checked their rifles, and yelled their duties. Afterwards, the Japanese students asked if we’ve ever been here before and what that meant, in this moment, we were the same. I didn’t know any more about what we just watched than they did. We learned and grew together as a group despite our cultural differences.
After the ceremony, we walked through the amazing amphitheater and museum. Then we walked to the peak of the cemetery where you could see the Capitol and monuments. It was here that we took the group photo. Even though we weren’t formally a part of the Kakehashi program, we were graciously invited to be a part of the photo. This was our last stop at the cemetery. After the peak, we walked to the seating and were asked to take selfies with the Japanese students. This was so nice, even though we had just met, I felt comfortable around these students as if I have known them for much longer than just a day ago.
It was then that I realized, that Japan was the place I wanted to be, I am so grateful that I was able to spend that time with the Kakehashi students. It changed my life drastically.