People: Allison Edwards experiences the life of a Japanese high school student

November 10, 2003|EMILY BURTON

Allison Edwards circumnavigated the globe this summer to partake in the best sushi and Karaoke around, traveling to its source in the Land of the Rising Sun. But her trip was not just for the atmosphere. During her stay, she also received an authentic education in the ways of life as a Japanese high school student.

Edwards, of Lincoln County, traveled to Japan on a scholarship from Toyota, which covered the cost of the trip through the Youth For Understanding-USA program. YFU-USA is an exchange-student program that sends high school students around the world to build inter-cultural understanding and friendship.

From June 22 through Aug. 5, she lived in Niigata, a city by the Sea of Japan, with her host family.

"It was a little awkward at first because I didn't speak Japanese and they didn't know that much English. Then we went grocery shopping, and my host mom let me pick out dinner for that night. Over dinner, we talked some more, and I began to feel a lot more comfortable with them," said Edwards.


"I lived with a mother, father and little sister ... They were a wonderful host family. They were so interested in learning about America, and learning English, so we always had something to talk about."

Edwards' parents, Robert and Debby Edwards, said YFU-USA was a great experience for their daughter, who was able to keep in touch with them through e-mail and weekly phone calls.

"It was really quite interesting to hear what she had been doing, like what she was eating, going to Karaoke clubs," said Mrs. Edwards. "When you go to a regular restaurant, you bought your Pepsi or Coke by the glass. At Karaoke clubs, your drinks are included in the price (of admission)."

Edwards' favorite experiences was visiting Disneyland in Tokyo, even though she said it was odd hearing Mickey Mouse speak Japanese.

"Splash Mountain was also really odd because all the characters on the ride spoke Japanese with a very southern, Kentucky accent ... Roller coasters weren't very popular. Instead, they (adults) liked children's rides. It was really weird to see all these adults waiting in line for hours to ride the most popular ride, Winnie the Pooh's Adventures."

Jennifer Heusted, YFU-USA American overseas program manager, said welcoming unique experiences, like a Japanese Disneyland, is what makes some students well-suited for the program.

"We want a student who is willing to try new things. It's such a different culture, the student has to be open to new things, like trying new foods, possibly even going to a new school," said Heusted. "... We're not looking for a rocket scientist, they need a 3.0 GPA to be eligible."

"It was very much worth it. I have so many great memories and made so many friends in just the short time I was there," said Edwards.

Those friends include students at a Japanese all-girls Catholic school Edwards attended while in Niigata. Since she couldn't speak Japanese, she was placed in the freshman class, where she helped teach English classes and learned there is a difference between Japanese and Lincoln County teens.

"Instead of going out at night, they (Japanese students) stay home and do homework. It is partly because their parents are so strict and also because grades, even in middle school and early high school, are much more important when it comes to getting into a good university. They are also much more outgoing and creative. They talk to anyone and are not afraid of being themselves," said Edwards. "Their choice of fashion is incredible."

Last year, about 50 Kentucky students applied for eight to 10 scholarships, but Heusted said the number varies each year.

Edwards is glad she applied and encourages other students to go abroad, with or without a scholarship.

"I learned to be more accepting of other people's customs because Japanese people have such a different outlook on life. I learned to try anything at least once and to be open to new ways of thinking," said Edwards.

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