My Time on the California-Japan Scholar Exchange Program

Hannah with her host sister at Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto
By Hannah Paige
Hannah is a student at Elk Grove High School studying Japanese. She visited Osaka, Japan in June 2016 as a participant of the California-Japan Scholar Exchange Program, the only state-sponsored student exchange program between California and Japan

My name is Hannah Paige and I currently attend Elk Grove High School. Over the summer, I traveled to Osaka, Japan through the California-Japan Scholar Exchange Program. I was given a wonderful opportunity to experience Japan’s unique culture, language, and daily life. I stayed with a thoughtful family for sixteen days who made me feel welcome in an unusual place. On my journey, I discovered fascinating things, saw historical places, and met everlasting friends. I will remember my Japanese adventure for the rest of my life.

The California-Japan Scholars Exchange Program organized a special field trip for all of those participating in the program. We traveled to Nara, an ancient city famous for its towering temples and roaming deer. It was there that I was educated on Japan’s particular religions and specific rituals, such as the o-mikuji, random fortunes found in temples. My host family also bought me tickets to Universal Studios Japan. Comparing it to Universal Studios Los Angeles captivated my mind. To my genuine surprise, most rides and attractions were similar. Notwithstanding, my favorite place I experienced was Kyoto, the ancient capital city of Japan. I received a rental kimono, a traditional Japanese garment, and toured around the city. I would love to return and present Japan’s wondrous locations to my family.
A takoyaki stall in Osaka
Hannah and other program participants
I observed many things about Japan and its people in Osaka. I learned to assemble traditional mochi, a glutinous rice cake. As difficult as it was, I still delighted in participating with my friends. There is also a massive difference in school travel. In California, most students attend a certain school based which area they live in. In Japan, the students elect which school they attend by passing an entrance exam, no matter how distant the school is from their home. It took me and my host sister, Yoko, virtually two hours by train just to get to her school. Without experiencing Japan’s daily life, I would have never known about the laborious trek every student had to take to arrive at school daily.

While attending school in Japan, the other students were eager to share their school and culture with me. I was yearning to share my American experiences with them. As a result, I obtained many phone numbers and a bundle of information. The Japanese students taught me calligraphy, the Japanese tea ceremony, and hip-hop dancing, which I was atrocious at. In exchange, I taught them slang, daily American life, and explained (several times I might add) why America has guns. I have made many friends that I am extremely grateful for. I discovered that everyone smiles in the same language and that is what binds our two countries together.
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