During the summer vacation, Yokohama Science Frontier High School (YSFH) kindly invited a Grade 12 student to experience life as a Japanese high school student. This was just one of the many events organized as part of the Saint Maur – YSFH collaboration. In the following article, the student reflects on this worthwhile experience.
Glancing over at my phone for what felt like the 20th time, I checked that I was on the right train. Today, June 24, was the first day of school. The first day at a Japanese high school. I’ve transferred schools multiple times but I felt more anxious than any of my past experiences combined. The main reason that I had absolutely no idea what to expect. For international schools, I had a general idea of what kind of environment I was going to be placed in: diverse, open-minded, and lots of people like myself, third culture kids. At international schools, going in, I already knew that I wouldn’t have to explain my unnaturally light brown hair that contrasted my naturally black brows. It wasn’t against the school rules to dye your hair, and people wouldn’t even bother to ask why your hair color didn’t quite match your brow color. As soon as I arrived at the Tsurumiono station though, the station located close to Yokohama Science Frontier High School, I instantly regretted two things: Not dying my hair back to black and wearing my bright red Saint Maur jumper. The red sweater was clearly visible from a distance in the sea of light blue collared shirts and my light brown hair stood out. I was Japanese, the same nationality as everyone else on the platform, however, I felt like an anomaly. A wave of panic surged through me, as thoughts swirled around my mind contemplating if I had made the right decision to come to this exchange. Before I could continue my internal conversation, a tap on my right shoulder snapped me out of my thoughts as a familiar face appeared in front of me. It was Takara, a girl that I had met in the science immersion program I had attended at their school a few years back. Instantaneously, I felt relieved as I saw a familiar face, and in no time we were both already in front of the school entrance.
The next few moments were a blur, most likely erased from my memory due to the overwhelming amount of anxiety I felt when I had to introduce myself to the whole faculty, in Japanese (not English like I was used to). I realized then that I was going to have to speak only my “mother tongue” for the whole week, and could not substitute the words I didn’t quite know how to say in Japanese for the English word. I zipped open my bag to make sure my electronic dictionary was in there. Arriving at the classroom, my guides for the week, Shu, Shota, and Ayami, greeted me with kindness. To say the least, I felt relieved. They all seemed like people I would be able to get along with. After brief introductions and a plethora of nervous laughs (mostly coming from myself), the navigation to the first class began, led by Shu. The very first class was “Classic Japanese Literature”, and the whole time walking to the class, I was so anxious that I would be called on to read a passage that I had never studied before.
About 20 minutes into the class, I realized that my expectations for this class, more so this experience, was extremely skewed towards the pessimistic side. Rather than constantly fearing the question “what if...” which stemmed from my preconceived notions of Japanese high schools, it came to my realization that the whole experience would be much more enjoyable if I discarded those pessimistic thoughts. I am glad I became aware of these thoughts, as soon after I found myself immersed in Classic Japanese Literature, and was fascinated by my own culture.
There were also moments of elation, for instance when I looked up to the board, I saw a diagram of the Hess’ Energy Cycle and I thought to myself “I’ve learnt this before!” I was intrigued by the fact that although I was an International school student in a Japanese school, I was still able to understand the concepts behind the chemistry that was presented in front of me. By the end of the lesson, I had a complete understanding on Hess’ Law, in two different languages, and felt ecstatic that I would be able to explain what I had learnt at school today to my parents without having to pull out my electronic dictionary or searching it up online. Such instances like these kept happening throughout the week, where I gained more knowledge in areas that I had already studied, in a different language. During Biology classes, Ayami and I would both connect on several aspects of genetics, and also jokingly share our hate for Punnet squares, due to the excessive number of times we had to draw it over the course of the genetics chapter.
Before attending this exchange, I doubted that I would be able to relate, especially regarding academics, with high schoolers which are in a completely different educational system as myself. However, this proved to be completely false as over the course of the week, the starting points of the conversations with my fellow classmates were about how we felt about the certain subject or topic. We were not quite so different after all, contrary to what I expected prior to visiting YSFH.
Glancing over at my phone for the first time that day, I briefly stared at the screen which read 7:30 June 28th. I stepped off the train where I was greeted with a waving gesture, and made my way towards the group of friends which I was going to walk to school, for the last time leading me to feel bittersweet.