~Written by Jessica, a 17 year old OBS Alumni and Friend of NYC, who is also in her JC’s International Strategic Affairs Council and enjoys volunteering at All Saints Home.
In February 2017, 10 students from Singapore were given an opportunity to go to Japan as part of the Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths programme; more affectionately known as JENESYS for short – and I had the privilege to be one of them!
On the way to the airport, I remember feeling like a ball of nerves, thrown in with a pinch of excitement, and a dash of curiosity. It was my first time overseas without my family and this was definitely a step out of my comfort zone. Little did I know, I’d be taking many more steps, moving further and further away from the safe boundaries of my comfort zone in the days to come.
The Singapore crew! From top left: Imran, Zeus, Zi Yun, Darwase, Amanda, Jessica (me!), Serena, Nichelle, Farisha and Farhanah
I first met the rest of my Singaporean delegates at the airport the night we took off. For many of them, it was their first time overseas alone too. Though we came from vastly different backgrounds, we hit it off instantly. We’d chatter away on a whole range of topics from the new POTUS, to bone-chilling ghost stories we’d heard through the grape vine. As our team of 10 got to know each other better, the knots in my stomach slowly loosened. I couldn’t wait to touchdown and meet the delegates from the other 12 countries.
The international delegates came from a whole host of countries like the Philippines, India and Timor-Leste. I’ve got to admit, getting to know them didn’t come as naturally as it did with the Singaporean delegates. I mean, new surroundings, new people, a shaky common language – it was undeniably daunting. I also noticed I wasn’t the only one uncomfortable with making the first move. We were all so different, no one really knew where to start.
With some of the international delegates
Somehow, the ice broke when we started with small talks about the need for heat packs in this weather. From there, we moved on to our travelling experiences, and eventually, shared with each other about the places we hailed from. Slowly getting to know each other better, we found that there was much more that we had in common than we’d initially expected! The experience showed me that you can find common grounds with anyone, really, it’s all a matter of how hard you look.
This was definitely an important experience, going into the next part of the programme: the homestay. As part of the programme, I was taken in by the Satou family. Their house was nestled in the scenic part of town by the sea; the faint whirr, swish and hum of the waters were the background music of the days I spent there. With the homestay, I was stepping into their world. I was aware of myself being an outsider, yet their warm welcome opened the door for me to look around with an insider’s perspective.
My host family! From the left: Suzuka, Me, Jhanelle (from the Philippines), Mrs. Satou, Mr. Satou
Through my time with the Satous, I realised that the language barrier only made the information we gleaned from one another that much more valuable. With the help of technology (three cheers for Google Translate!), we managed to share about our lives with each other. Once again, I discovered we had much more in common that I’d first thought. This was especially true for Suzuka, the Satou family’s daughter. We’d chat away about K-Pop and the latest Korean dramas we were binge-watching on. It still amazes me how Korean entertainment is such an international phenomenon that it’d be the bridge connecting a girl from the little red dot to another in the land of the rising sun.
While we connected through our similarities, we also bonded over our differences. From our conversations, I realised there was so much we could learn from one another; things that cannot be taught, only caught through experiences.
The Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island
The days zoomed by, and it was soon time to leave. Our departure signified the end of a magical week filled with new friendships, novel experiences, and a deeper understanding of Japan, and it felt bittersweet.
As we said our goodbyes, Farisha (one of the Singaporean delegates)’s host mother, Sano-san, urged us to return to Japan in two to three years, when the trees in her new orchard will be fully matured. She promised us a warm bed, fresh fruits and a familiar smile. I hope that sometime in the near future we can make good on our promise to return. This time, armed with more heat packs!