By Aitana Camponovo
On Thursday March 23rd, I was invited by Education Counsellor Taichi Kaneshiro to spend an evening at the Embassy of Japan in Washington DC. Apart from enjoying fresh sushi and great company, this event was hosted to bid farewell to the graduates of the LEAP exchange program (Long-Term Education Administrators Program), who had been working in America for the last year and to congratulate them on their hard work. While representing Japanese Plus, I had the pleasure to meet a wide variety of officials from all over DC and Japan and to get to know the LEAP graduates. Funny enough, without having to even leave my very own city, I had the privilege to stand on Japanese soil that night.
The highlight of the evening was speaking with the LEAP alumni in Japanese. They were fascinating individuals who shared valuable perspectives with me that night. It turned out they had been dispersed all over the country, one being in New York, others in Alabama and Arizona, but had rejoined as a group in Washington DC before they would board one final flight back home to Japan. When I told them I would be joining them in Japan very soon to study abroad, I asked for some advice. Surprisingly, they shared they were worried about going home because of how much they felt America had changed them; they of course missed their families, but would miss America more. It seemed they too were conflicted, but for reasons different from mine.
This April, I will be studying abroad in Chiba, Japan for a semester through a program called AYUSA. One week prior to this evening, I had been solely focused on preparing for my exchange trip, so much so that I did not take any time to stop and breathe for a second. My world at that point was nothing but what was coming up in the next two weeks. I was finishing all of my final exams in March, months early, and already beginning to say my goodbyes to close friends and teachers. Though it was a stressful time full of late night studying and packing lists, the dinner that evening was like a breath of fresh air. Visiting the Japanese Embassy for the first time taught me the meaning of the phrase “the world is your oyster.” The world of Japan is not just a language website on my phone or late night study sessions. I realized that if only I opened my eyes a little more, I would see there is a lot more out there than what I previously thought; I just have to be willing to look for it.
I am very grateful to have been invited to such an event, and I am excited to attend many more in the future once I return from Japan. It was especially an honor to be the youngest one there, and I am thankful for everyone in the Japanese Embassy who made that special evening possible.