I had wanted to go to Japan for some time, so I was excited to find the opportunity through the Berkeley Sakai Sister City Association. Traveling with a group was great fun. I quickly became friends with not only my Japanese host family, but also my fellow American students, which provided constant entertainment. Another American girl and I stayed with a Japanese girl named Nanami and her family in Sakai. Nanami’s family was extremely kind, welcoming, and generous, and took us to some of their favorite sites and restaurants, showered us with gifts, and taught us some Japanese games. I thought the language barrier would be a huge obstacle, but we were able to get across a lot through gestures and the use of handheld translators. It was fascinating to see how people my age lived in another country, and to have a shared experience with fellow Berkeley students even after we returned home.

Through the program, I also was able to host two Japanese students named Rika and Rina the next year. I enjoyed sharing my life in Berkeley, and continuing the cycle. When I returned to Japan in 2007, I was also able to meet up with Rika and Rina again. Japan is a beautiful and captivating country to visit, and having knowledgeable people to share it with unlocks opportunities you just don’t get by yourself.

The trip made me more interested in other languages, cultures, and people, and a more respectful traveler overall. I think the best way to experience another culture is to stay with a host family. It’s a lot harder to figure out what to do or see by yourself. The trip made me a better communicator, and more willing to seek opportunities and step out of my comfort zone. It also inspired me to study abroad in college, and to pursue more international programs. In addition, it gave me a greater sense of community, and I continue to be involved in the Berkeley-Sakai Sister City Organization today.

I would definitely recommend this experience for other students! No regrets.