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[YRP Students' Essays] Still Flying

The essay is written based on the novel, "Looking for Alibrandi" written by an Australian woman Melina Marchetta, about a girl in her last year of high school who is trying to find her identity.
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      "Surprise! Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Jap, happy birthday to you! Blooowwww!"
      When I recall my school life back in Canadian International School of Hong Kong (aka CDNIS), the first thing that pops into my mind is the surprise birthday party that my friends gave me for my fifteenth birthday -- my last birthday in Hong Kong. Thirty minutes later, I find myself laughing at old photos and my friends' silly messages on yearbooks, totally forgetting about time. I like the feeling of nostalgia. But when I catch myself in the mirror on my desk, I get pulled back to reality and realize that I am not who I used to be. Of course, I'm still Emi Kitagawa, Japanese, born on May 17, 19XX. However, I'm not the Emi Kitagawa who used to laugh her head off everyday with her friends. It's been two years since I moved to Japan and came to Doshisha International High School. I changed. I changed like an ape turning into a human. I don't know who I am now. What makes me different from others? What are my dreams? Does my life mean anything? To find clues to answer these questions swirling around in my head, I came up with a brilliant idea of going on an imaginary time machine and travel to my past...

      There I am, listening to my grade two teacher reading Roald Dahl's famous book, Matilda, to the class. I'm probably daydreaming because the only English words I knew back then were "thank you" and "hello". When I first entered CDNIS in grade two, I was a timid, quiet girl who couldn't speak English at all. So when my teacher told us each to speak in front of the whole class individually about our weekend, my heart started to beat as fast as a mouse's. Ready or not, my turn finally came, and with a quiet, shaking voice I said,
      "I went mountain and Daddy."
      I was surprised that nobody made fun of my poor grammar. Instead, they said,
      "It's 'I went to the mountain with Daddy!' And then? What else did you do?"
      My classmates always helped me with English, and my teacher even created the Extra Help English Class, EHEC for me. Over the years, I grew more and more confident talking in front of many people through many presentations, plays, skits, performances, and graduation speeches. Whenever I looked like I needed help, my teachers would smile and say, "Emi, ask!" Without the kindness and warmness of the students and teachers, my English would not have improved this much.
      It wasn't only confidence that I acquired from this school. CDNIS gave me the opportunity to experience many, many things. I went to countless field trips each year, including my favorite, Roald Dahl museum, and in each place there was something to learn from. At school, we were given one instrument of our choice to learn in music class, and my interest in saxophone led me to even join the school band. At CDNIS, there were many activities to choose from to participate during after school hours, and each activity only lasted for one season, therefore unlike Japanese schools, you didn't have to continue one activity for the rest of your school life. Let's see, I participated in the track and field club, hockey club, badminton club, squash club, math team, interact club, environmental club, and many more. Above all, the track and field club played an important role in my life.
      "Go, go, go Emi! Run like the wind!" my teammates and coaches would say. "The last person to reach the goal has to dance!"
      There was a time when we tried to experiment how the nutrients of a banana can affect the endurance of a runner.
      "Emi, are you tired yet? How many bananas did you eat?"
      "Nope! Two and a half,"
      "That's strange, I ate four and I already feel like barfing,"
      "That's because you ate too much!"
      Track and field was just plain fun, and running became my favourite sport. For the outside-of-Hong Kong experience trip, I went to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In the orphanages, I learned the importance of volunteering, and I was also able to realize how gifted I was. These experiences helped me acquire the courage to tryout new things and challenge myself.
      "Hey Emi Kitiwanga!" my principal says to me, like he always does.
      "It's Kitagawa!" I reply, like I always do.
      The people in CDNIS were very friendly, so everybody said hi to each other. I was the only Japanese in my grade, and my friends called me "Jap" for fun, but I never felt humiliated or like an outsider. However, there was always one thing that made me feel uncomfortable -- language.
      "Did you watch the Mei Sum Siu Hok show yesterday?"
      "Yeah that was damn funny! Did you buy Joey Yung's new CD yet?"
      "Duh! Oh, and..."
      My friends would soon start talking in Chinese about their favourite Chinese singers and TV shows. I didn't understand Chinese, so whenever this happened, I felt excluded.
      "Emi! Let's go to karaoke after school!"
      Whenever my friends asked me out for karaoke, I didn't want to go because I couldn't sing Chinese songs and usually ended up just listening to them sing for the whole time. I hated feeling this way, so one day, I started to listen to Chinese songs and watch popular Chinese shows. My father knew Chinese, so I asked him what the people on TV were saying or what the lyrics meant. I also asked my mom not to pack umeboshi, Japanese dried prunes, for lunch anymore because my friends thought they were disgusting. "I am Chinese, not Japanese," I tried to tell myself.
      "Emi, do you know this Japanese comic?" my friend came to ask me one day.
      "Yeah! It's my favorite comic! I have the whole series at home!"
      "Really!? Can I borrow it?"
      I realized that I was having much more fun talking about my own culture than watching something that I didn't understand. From that day on, I stopped listening to Joey Yung and started listening to Morning Musume again. I felt more like myself and was proud to be Japanese. I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I could not pretend to be Chinese. This incident caused me to wonder what life in Japan would be like. I had the assurance to get along with the people of my own race and have fun. So finally, holding my ticket to the new world, I stepped out of my second homeland, not having the slightest idea that I was soon going to suffer a major setback.

      "Let's go to the toilet together!"
      "Wait let me get my cell phone!"
      Okay. If there is something that connects people with one another, it's definitely not culture or religion, because I am certainly not getting along with these Japanese people. Why can't the girls go to the toilet alone? Why are people always staring at their cell phones? My first year at Doshisha International School was hell. There was not one time that I did not feel like an outcast. Life in Japan was too different from life back in Hong Kong.
      " you guys mind if we join your group?" my friend and I asked a group of girls when we had to get in groups for a project. The girls looked at each other. They obviously did not want us in their group.
      "Okay," one girl sighed and said.
      The people in other groups looked relieved because they weren't affected. I soon realized that this happened very frequently in this school. People here liked to gather in little groups unlike in Hong Kong where everyone talked to each other. Doing something different from others was considered embarrassing. I soon became accustomed to the Japanese society and started to hate myself for changing. I couldn't remember what I was like before and started to get confused about who I really was. My parents still lived in Hong Kong, so I had to live in the dorm. Dorm life was fun, but when I was having a bad day and felt like crying, there was no place other than my bed where I could be alone. At the peak of my Great Depression, I received a letter. It was from Elsa, my best friend in Hong Kong. She knew that I wasn't doing so well at school and sent me photos to cheer me up.
      "Oh my god, Stanley sang in class today and it was so funny! If you were there you'd be laughing your head off!"
      She also sent me silly emails everyday to make me laugh. My mother called me every week, telling me to look on the bright side of things. I realized that no matter how far we lived, there are people who always supported and loved me. With their help, I gradually started to remember what I gained from CDNIS and started to feel proud to be different from others. I did not care if people thought I was weird, because I was sure that my family and friends loved me for who I was. I learned that everything happens for a reason. The depressing days were actually seeking-for-myself days.

      Phew, that was a long trip. Well, one sure thing that I realized is that I have actually gained lots but had lost nothing throughout my life in both Hong Kong and Japan. At CDNIS, I was able to change from a shy, self-conscious girl into a curious challenger and made unforgettable memories with my friends. My experiences there greatly influenced my interest and expertise, and I hope I can somehow connect this to my future. Life in Japan is still like going through an obstacle course, but as I pass each stage, I grow stronger. I wasn't able to realize the importance of my family and old friends if I hadn't come to Japan. I am not alone. I now picture myself as a young bird that just left its nest. Sometimes I get lost in the clouds and sometimes I crash into buildings. However, I know the sky is limitless, so all I have to do is keep flying; and when I need to rest my wings, I'll always have a warm nest to go back to.

Child Research Net would like to thank the Doshisha International Junior/Senior High School and Emi Kitagawa, student and author, for permitting reproduction of this article on the CRN web site.

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