[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y very first memory from childhood is of seeing the Statue of Liberty from a ferry, glorious and divine. I was three years old. My family and I had just moved from Japan to a small suburban town in Connecticut accompanying my father’s job transfer. I suppose we had visited New York City over the weekend. The next four years are full of warm and radiant memories of my friends and their moms, my ESL teachers, our neighbors, of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We were taught bits and pieces of American history at school; of its independence and the gradual assimilation of its immigrants. My family and I encountered charitable considerations at every turn. Within four years, I had perceived U.S. as a country of equality, liberty and hope, exactly what the Statue of Liberty seemed to symbolize. My family and I stayed in the U.S. once again when I was 11 to 13, this time in the suburbs of Chicago. The population was even more diverse, in terms of religion, ethnicity and social class. Sure, there were conflicts and tensions, but there was a place and also hope for everyone.
I always felt an obligation to give something back to society in return for all the welcome that I had received in the U.S. Upon returning to Japan, I noticed that Japanese society was an extremely difficult place for foreign residents to acculturate to. More than anything, it is an extremely homogeneous society (foreign residents only constitute 1.6% of the population). Partially because of this, English education in Japanese schools is extremely bleak and does not enhance fluency, making the society practically monolingual. In addition, traditionally, everyone is expected to think and act the same way, therefore there are many unspoken and unwritten customs. Despite the fact that Japan is a rapidly aging society and desperately in need of younger and talented personnel from outside the country to boost its global presence, the society as a whole does not offer the necessary services and systems to overcome all these difficulties and accommodate foreign residents. I wanted to help develop cross cultural understanding in Japan and construct a support system for foreign residents. Once I entered University, I participated in non-profit activities to support foreign students adjust to Japan during their short-term stays. However, as the years went by, I got caught up in all the trivial but urgent matters that needed tending in order to secure my everyday life and career path in a corporation. During these years of confusion and hectivity, the vision I had once embraced seemed almost unreachable, and had all but diminished.
After 15 years, I was back in the U.S., this time tagging behind my husband. Berkeley was a country of its own. Once again, I was a stranger struggling in a new place, this time with no occupation other than “a housewife”, experiencing cultural and transitional shock. Taking Yvonne’s classes not only steered me towards recovery, but also helped me rediscover my goals and reset my life. Everything is finally beginning to make sense. I realize now that I still want to achieve my long-term goal of building a more foreign resident friendly community in my home country, especially for women and children who have less contact with the society. In the short-term I am preparing myself to become slightly marketable in the intercultural communication field in Japan, by taking training courses for teaching ESL to adults and also for translating. I am also participating in a volunteer consulting project (“pro bono”) for a local non-profit organization, in the hopes of applying my business skills effectively to management of non-profit/social sector programs. And of course, there is much to gain from meeting people from all over the world and hearing wonder things about their cultures. Berkeley is just about the best place to be to meet people with different backgrounds and values!
Finally, I am forever grateful to my friends, mentors, and teachers, both present and past, who have motivated me to create a fulfilling life in America thus far, and I truly hope that someday soon I will see more creations of fulfilling lives across the ocean in my own country.