Year in Review: The Life of a Traveler

2014 - the year of questions and polaroid pictures. Soon after the new year I barely caught my flight to Japan with David due to a roaring snowstorm throughout the Midwest. Luckily we landed safe and sound in Nippon just hours later. As we got off the plane, we stumbled towards immigration where by chance we met up Paul and together we worked our way through the airport and into the open air of our new home. I say "home" because of the way I felt by the end of the term, but that first week I was going through major culture shock. The language barrier was noticeable enough, so at times it was even difficult to ask "what is that?", "how do you eat this?", "where do I go now?" Over the term I gathered a notebook full of key words to ask these questions, as well as memories and maps.

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Over my six months in Japan I did get most of these questions answered, as well as had been given answers to questions I hadn't asked at all but probably should've. I discovered green tea at the tea ceremonies is best taken with a sweet biscuit, miso soup might have surprising fish heads in it, and most boys at school dislike Bento Boxes while most girls prefer them. I figured out the hard way that if the train says it will leave at 12:02 it really does and if you just can't do a summersault, you probably shouldn't be in Aikido. The crosswalk that says "do not walk" really means "do not," the little playground at school is actually for all ages, and CoCo has everything you could ever want or need.

 

 

IMG_4157A few of my questions were more difficult, can't be answered with a single yes or no. Embarrassingly, I did not know much about the conflict between Japan and the US in World War II upon arrival. I knew Japan hit Pearl Harbour and then the US hit Japan. Although my ignorance bothered me greatly at the time, I am thankful I was able to learn about the reasoning and details in Hiroshima. With museum visits, helpful teachers and friends, and history.com I discovered more about the war. About the Island Hopping and the motives of Japan, from an American and a Japanese perspective. About the decision to drop the Atomic Bomb and about how it changed the world forever. These questions originally arose as we wandered through the Peace Park that first day and I realized just how much one weapon can impact a community. Throughout my months in Japan I walked through the Peace Park hundreds of times. Each time a little battle would play in my head between myself and I trying to figure out why this tragedy had happened on both sides. Was it necessary to take such actions on the US half? What would have the Japanese done next if the US hadn't? Some questions cannot be answered, but all history can be learned from. Read more about the Atomic Bombs in Japan and the resources about them in the Hiroshima Peace Park here

75sptJapan sparked a lot of internal debate, from topics in history text books to the more teenage topics of what is going on with my social life, and I spent a lot of time running along the rivers clearing my mind or grabbing my notebook and finding a quiet place to reflect. That was about 10% of my free time. The other 90% was running up and down the streets of Hiroshima with Grant, Paul, and Joe or spending a Girl's Night with Cami, Fatima, and Kiana. Japan has a heavy story beneath it's surface, but on top it is fun, exciting, and full of life. We spent Fridays wandering for miles, croissants and milk coffee from CoCo fueling us. We spent Saturdays on Hondori playing pool at Round One or singing karaoke. Hiroshima is where I made (almost) 1000 paper cranes, where I learned how to make sushi, and where I sat under the cherry blossoms in the spring. Japan also brought travels to Kyoto, where we had the most epic snowball fight and where Paul, Grant, Cam, Joe, and I found an amazing stone bridge across a river. In Naoshima (Art Island), Tiana and I hopped on our bikes and wandered from cat cafes to Monet's. I had never laughed so hard or fallen in love with a painted before that day. Waking up in our little huts to walk along the beach and look at the orange spotted pumpkin plopped under the silver sky was although apart of a dream-like state.

And just towards the end of our stay, in a blue dress with 1984 by George Orwell in my bag, we went to the first TGS graduation. I had known these people for 2 years now and as each of them walked to receive their diploma - my mind flashed back to my favorite memory with each person. Thank you class of 2014 for being the great role models that you are and congratulations.

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In June I left Japan in my big white sweater, my notebook literally overflowing, with a couple packs of Pocky in my orange backpack. I was about to begin a new adventure; one with relaxing days in the sun and late nights with friends, Summer Vacation. It was hot in the summer months. The sun beat down over the backyard where I read and the pool we spent the afternoons at. Armored with sunglasses and iced lemonades we celebrated almost-fourth-of-July in Forest Park with Capital Cities and The Neighbourhood, and finished celebrating the next day down the block with a wagon full of fireworks.

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For a good bit of the summer we stayed in Peoria with family and friends, where a celebrated a wedding and took a road trip up to Chicago. First I must mention the Color Run: 5K with paint being thrown at you most the way. David, Sofia, and I had on our white tees and took off through the city. Running next to buildings and rivers, trying to get as colorful as possible. About a week later I met up with David again and we went to Lollapalooza with Liam and Emma. From The Kooks to Eminem to the Arctic Monkeys -- I can't choose a favorite! I love the feeling of concerts; focusing so much on the music that everything else seems less important. We left around 10pm, my eyes still wide and a slight ringing in my ears. Really, not many more words can explain the night, but I can say I'm already planning next year's trip down to the Windy City.

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September brought on a new adventure and a new battle: traveling to Auckland, NZ and starting the IB. I was ecstatic to see my friends again and within the first days, jet lag and all, we started exploring. I turned 17 soon after arrival and spent the day with Southland, walking around with Paul, and a few surprises here and there.

Auckland also brought a new lot of responsibilities. I began the IB program (a rigorous curriculum), began cooking and buying groceries for myself, as well as taking on new roles in the school community. The combination is a challenge, but a welcomed one. On another note, Auckland was sweet as. The school days were long, but Flat Whites kept me lively and there wasn't much a walk down Queen Street couldn't help. To say the least, I spent a lot of time in the library channeling my inner Hermione Granger.

Most Sundays we ventured down La Cigale, the French Market, and on Friday afternoons we kayaked and SUP boarded in the harbour. Mission Bay held some great memories, especially when Paul and I just hopped on a bus one afternoon in the grey weather of Auckland and went to the beach. Honestly, not a very beach-like day, but with rolled up jeans it couldn't have been better. I also can't not mention Hobbiton - a Lord of the Rings nerd's dream come true. The hobbit holes were just as I imagined them, comfortable and welcoming. We grabbed a Ginger Beer at the Green Dragon and a few months later we watched the last hobbit movie in the cinema.

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Then New Year's Eve comes around the corner and I go through the experiences of the year. I lived in three countries, spent days at concerts and libraries, walked countless miles with friends from the streets of Japan to the city of Auckland, I saw the first TGS graduation and began the journey towards my own, the conversations are countless, the memories made - unbelievable.

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