Story and Photos by Korey Carter
NOV. 18, 2015: It’s hard to put into words how I feel about this summer, but I’ll try the best way I can. It was amazing. I did something that I could have never done if it wasn’t for the TOMODACHI US-Japan Youth Exchange Program, a six week two-way exchange program between the United States and Japan. I was chosen through an application process, then an interview. Once selected I traveled to Japan with five spectacular people, from the District and eight from Japan. I got to hear one of the most unique languages in the world for two and a half weeks straight, I even learned some Japanese, which makes me wonder just how much more I could learn. I got to stay with an awesome family who welcomed me with open arms, like I was one of their own. Yuki, my host brother, was an awesome guy who was quiet but had an enriched personality. He helped me navigate through Japan and get used to the new culture. His mom cooked great food that I wished I could have brought back to the States, but no one can cook Japanese food like Yuki’s mom. Yuki, is one of the kindest people I have ever met. He would go out of his way to look out for me, made sure everything is going well and that I was adjusting to life in Japan. Even though we aren’t related by blood, I feel like he’s my brother and always will be—now and forever.
In Tokyo, we saw all kinds of new and amazing things—from new foods like Monja or Udong Noodles (Monja looks a little like throw up but tastes delicious to Udong Noodles that are just like Ramen noodles but with bigger noodles) to Yokohama’s (Japan’s equivalent of Ocean City) love for the Pokemon Pikachu. Everywhere we went in Yokohama there would be something that has Pikachu on it whether it was buildings or fans, there was always a Pikachu.
I got to travel to the Tohoku region where I stayed on a farm, climbed a mountain, took pictures on giant boulders and
went net fishing on a boat with some of my friends from Japan and D.C. One thing that shocked me the most about the Tohoku region was that I never felt that at peace before in my life. There were rolling hills with beautiful trees and there was forest for as far as the eye could see.
On the DC side of the program, we went to visit a lot of different important people and organizations, like OUDC (Operation Understanding DC) and the Holocaust Museum, but we also got to have fun and do things together with one another. We went sightseeing, walked on the mall, and even looked into the economic gap in D.C., where the middle class is slowly shrinking.
When we came back from Japan, it was kind of weird at first in DC with the students who hosted us in Japan, because even though I was able to have some American food, I still missed Japan. Watching Yuki and the other Japanese kids move around in DC was funny. On the first day, S.M. said, “You guys subway ways look so scary” and Andreas said “We don’t got ads and pretty color, we got rust.” all of us laughed about it for the whole day. Being with everyone opened my eyes to the world and just how beautiful it truly is.
I could never forget the people I met. Everyone was unique in some way. We all had something different to bring to this experience and that’s what made it work so well. Even though there were moments, where something controversial would come up in talks about a touchy subject, I think it made us grow closer as a family. I can honestly say that this was the best summer of my life and that no matter what happens, I have to go back to Japan to see my new family again.
Korey Carter is a senior at Friendship Collegiate Academy.