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[YRP Students' Essays] Learning How to Be Mature

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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I have never been well-known for being a typical, bright Japanese girl. In fact, I could well say that I have been the opposite. I do not remember the days when I was little, probably because of my indifference towards others and because of the chaotic state of my mind at the time. What little memory I have of myself is either bad, or else it is likely a product of my imagination based on what my mother has told me. Overall, I am pleased to say that I have changed slowly over the years from a stupid little crybaby who did not have the courage to talk to anyone, to a person who is quiet, still a little shy, but most importantly, one who can have faith in herself. To me, this was a great achievement, and a drastic change in my personality. In fact, I believe myself now to be totally different from the child I was in kindergarten. What happened in those ten years, then? What has affected me so drastically that it changed my personality so completely? To have the answer, I have to go back ten years, to when I was about to go to America.

One day, after school was over, my mother came to me and said, "Yukko, we've decided to go to America because of your father's work."
      "Huh? What do you mean?" I asked.
      "I mean, we're going to America. I have a lot of things to do now, so don't ask so many questions." my mother answered, and left me confused.

Now, America to me, at seven years old, was a completely different world from the one I knew. There was no way for me to prepare emotionally for the trip, for example, to learn how students have classes in America. The problem was that unlike Japan, where people have the same schools and the same schedules everywhere, American schools had different classes, cafeterias, lunch menus, etc., depending on the place. Each city was different, the people were different, and I was to be informed of nothing about it. I was a shy girl at seven, shyer than any Japanese girl I knew. Could I make it in America?

One day, my mother came up to me and handed me a book. "Yukko, I've borrowed a book about American schools for you. You should read it." said my mother.
      "Why?" I asked.
      "Because you're the type of girl that has to be prepared for everything in order to make it right." my mother answered, ruthlessly.

The answer to the question of whether I could make it in America was "no". It was true; I had more chance of crying than doing everything perfect the first time. She did not have to put it that way, though. That was mean. I did not have time to think, though. Before I could actually realize that what was happening to me was real and not a nightmare, my father moved to Colorado, leaving us in despair. Leaving me in despair more accurately, as I was getting cranky that my father was not near by, and my mother was tired of my continual whining. That was in 1997.
      "Where's Dad?" I asked one day.
      My mother replied, "In Colorado, dear."

I did not understand. I must have repeatedly asked the same question a million times until my mother became exasperated. When I at last arrived at the airport after a few incidents (leaving my coat at the hotel, almost forgetting my sweet little cuddly toy at the airport in Japan...), I was so happy that my father was there, I hopped up and down in delight. The fact that I was scolded by my mother did not distress me at all, and I completely forgot my distress about going to a totally different place. When I got used to my American school, it was a good place for me. While I still could not speak to strangers in Japanese, I learned that talking to people I do not know is nothing to be afraid of because the other person is more likely to answer you happily. The American way of studying, like group work, essays, lots of explanation, and how the teachers evaluate you based on effort and not only your test scores, fit me well. The biggest achievement I had in America was that I learned to be self-confident. Although I may not have been very smart when I was little, I could be smart, and I learned how to do my work with a lot of effort. I could not help noticing that there was a gap between normal American girls and me, though. Perhaps it was because, like it said in the book about Americans, they believed that Americans were the best, and they did not care about other cultures.

One day, my teacher said, "World War II ended with the Americans dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It killed lots of people there, but the bomb was necessary because if it had not been dropped, the Japanese would have killed millions of American soldiers."

I was baffled. I was taught that the bomb killed millions of innocent people, and that America dropped the bomb on Hiroshima even though they knew that Japan had no more power to continue the war. The bomb was "dropped" in order to make the leadership of America clear to Russia, or so I was taught. I had also read a book about how Theodore Roosevelt was at fault for the war between America and Japan during World War II. My stay in America brought me confidence, and you could almost say that it formed my personality. However, it also ironically brought about my awareness of myself as a Japanese, and made me notice the importance of the 'Ten-oh', or the Japanese Emperor, instead of my passion for freedom and liberty.

My life in Japan after I came back from America and started to go to a normal Japanese school was, simply put, weird. The first day was a string of continuous surprises for me. When I tried to take my friends the Godiva chocolate that was my souvenir for them, my mother said, "In Japan, you can't take things to school that are unrelated to your class work or activities." As if I actually remembered the difference of the school systems of Japan and America after living seven years abroad!

That first day, after I introduced myself in the teacher's room, I was brought to my class by a teacher.
      "Hi, my name is Yukiko Yamauchi. I lived in America, or Boston, for seven years. Nice to meet you!" I was forced to introduce myself in front of class by the teacher standing next to me, although I prayed to God not to make me do that. An introduction in front of the class is something that is not done in America, at least where I lived, but the noise people made the minute I had told them that I came back from America was clearly unusual. I could not understand why America or some other country was so special because, at least in my school in Boston, a new student was not special at all. People moved around all the time, and Americans knew how to handle newcomers entering their society. I was more surprised when I talked to a girl near me who did not answer immediately and seemed startled. She hesitated for a moment before answering my question. When I look back on it now, it was probably because "America" in her mind was a distant place. I did not make friends during my year at that Japanese school, and I could not understand the "Japanese way" of life, especially in the countryside which has more conservative values.

I am now in the dormitory of Doshisha International High School. Although I am used to moving, since I have already moved for about five times in my life of sixteen years, I have hardly ever lived apart from my parents. I could not imagine my life away from them, and like I thought, I cried on my first day in the dormitory. The people who entered the dormitory with me seemed quite the opposite of who I was in personality and in custom. When I first heard them talk about boys and makeup, I could not understand what they were talking about because it was so different from what my friends talked about. My mother, to tell the truth, had been a big factor in my life, and my father was too, in spite of the fact that he was busy with work and came home at midnight on weekdays. I could not make friends easily -- and I lost them easily, too, as a result of moving too much -- but my mother was someone I could always go for help, to complain to, and depend on. My father could always find something fun to do. A situation in which I could not depend on my parents was new for me, and I am sure that changed me in the past few years from a shy girl to a person who could enjoy conversations with friends. I love Doshisha International High School because this is where I have made my best friends, and where I have learned to live by myself. There is no doubt that Doshisha is a special place for me, but no matter how much I hate the dormitory because of the strangers living side by side here, and because of its lack of privacy, I cannot deny that the dormitory is what makes life here so special. Without it, this school would have been another plain school, and I would still be a crybaby.

If I pull it all together, though, what affected me the most? The answer is that my life, which I lived as Yukiko Yamauchi and also as Yamauchi Yukiko made me what I am now. I have always thought that my life was "special" and that it is "not something everyone has experienced", but it is not so. My life is "normal", just as I am "normal". I am what I feel, think, taste, smell, and see, and that is my final answer.

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

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