Today I met with a friend of mine who I haven’t seen in 7 years. Back in 2005, I was an exchange student in Shizuoka, Japan through the American Field Service. I was a high school senior, and having won a 6 week study abroad to Japan the previous summer, my parents decided it was a good investment to send me for a gap year. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life yet (what to study, where to go to university, etc), so a gap year seemed appropriate. I would have to say that both my stays in Atsugi and Shizuoka were major milestones in my life. I know a gap year is common in Europe, but it really isn’t in the States. I think it gives young people a chance to really grow (living in a completely different culture doesn’t necessarily come easy) and to figure out what the next major decision might be.
I went to Shizuoka Johoku High School, which was originally a “Joshiko” or “All girls school.” When I was an exchange student there they were transitioning to co-ed, which was most likely due to a decline in popularity of same-sex schools. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about attending a same-sex school, but as time went on I realized it was actually a really good thing (and it makes a lot of sense in Japan, where young men and young women rarely even eat lunch together in the same group; it’s much more gender-segregated here). I have spent time in two universities; one all-female, the other predominantly male. While my second university was larger, more prestigious, and landed me my current job, my first year at the all-female university had its own positives. Women feel more comfortable engaging in dialogue with teachers and asking questions in all or predominantly female classes.
Columbia University points out some key issues in co-ed classes–> HERE.
Anyway, my friend S and I talked about our lives, where we’ve gone and what has happened to us in the years that have passed. It’s funny, I don’t feel like we’ve aged, except now our hair and clothes are styled much, much better and we’ve outgrown that certain teenage-awkwardness. We both discussed careers, relationships, family, travel, mutual friends. It was wonderful and I go back and think how lucky I was to have been able to study abroad and to have made friends with people who I can still talk to today from that experience. When all comfortable barriers are taken away and suddenly you find yourself at a loss both linguistically and culturally, I think you are presented with the opportunity to truly see yourself–and to have others see you–without the rose-colored glasses of your own culture.
With S, 2013