The Berkeley Sakai Sister City student exchange trip of 2016 was the first time that I was exposed to a culture that was strikingly different from my own. When we first walked off the plane, I immediately noticed all of the new things all around me-- from the food to the cleanliness, to the street signs and direction of traffic. Having my newly-made friends with me, taking in all of the newness alongside me, made the sense of overwhelm manageable and just a little less scary.

As the days of the trip went on, I became more familiar with Sakai, and could even recognize parts of the city that I had biked through with my host family on multiple occasions.

Then the day of the city-wide fish market arrived and my host family treated me to a traditional Japanese hairstyle and kimono. My host sister, her friend, and I headed out to meet up with the other exchange students and their host sisters at the fish market where I caught sight of the hundreds of fish market goers and booths. It was a fish festival, something that was equally enthralling as it was foreign to me. As we walked through the crowd, I saw other Japanese youth wearing their own kimonos, and I couldn’t help feeling grateful that this culture reached out its hands to welcome us and give us a taste of Japanese life, addressing the very purpose of the student exchange-- to create a peaceful world through friendship and cultural exchange. At that moment, I was experiencing the essence of learning and accepting a new culture and having it accept me back.

I was then promptly informed that we would all go on stage to auction off fish and other freshly caught seafood. As a vegetarian, I was more than hesitant at first, but I dutifully climbed on stage, with the other exchange students at my side, and was eventually convinced to hold a fish. There I stood, facing hundreds of people, dead fish in hand, and a great big smile on my face. Amidst the chaos and unfamiliarity, I found myself having a blast and feeling right at home yelling a mispronounced version of “fish” in Japanese.

The day ended off with fireworks by the water, an activity I also thoroughly enjoyed. These experiences and lessons I learned in Japan will aid me as I move forward in life and tackle obstacles as well as celebrate achievements, as something that seemed scary at first but ended up being educational, mind-opening, and most of all, fun.