Last week, I completed my homestay adventure in Kawane, a small town of 6,000 in Shizuoka Prefecture. Looking back, I recognize how much I grew throughout the process, and the extent to which my feelings changed throughout my stay. The connections you can make with a family in as little as a month are shocking; the Yamadas went from names on paper to my second family in a matter of weeks.
When I first entered their home on July 5th, I was in shock. I believe most people would be, as the introduction of new sounds, sights, and language in such a short period of time typically causes a sort of culture shock. Despite the difficulty for me to adapt in the first week, growth never happens if there is no struggle, so I am grateful for the fear I faced in that first week.
As we entered into the second week, I started to become more comfortable. Despite the language barrier, the Yamadas and I began to understand each other more, both verbally and in routine. We learned about each other’s food preferences, likes and dislikes, and favorite Olympic sports. They went out of their way throughout my whole trip to make me feel at home, even buying specific foods because they knew I liked them. In the second week, we all drove to Shimada, a city about an hour away from Kawane. The Yamadas, knowing that I loved sushi, took me to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in the city. It was such a cute restaurant, and despite the thousands of similar chains dotting the country, I had only been to conveyor belt sushi a few times prior to this trip, so it was memorable as well.
Another time, while at a family dinner, I told Mrs. Yamada about my love of curry. Japanese curry is different from any other type as it typically has vegetables and small pieces of meat simmered in a savory sauce. The dish itself is so popular in Japan that there are whole aisles dedicated to it in supermarkets, and a form of the sauce is available at any convenience store. She offered to teach me how to make it, and the next morning, we worked together to make homemade curry. It was incredible to help my host mom in the kitchen, as well as to learn to make one of my favorite recipes from scratch.
As I settled into my third week, I noticed I was feeling more at home in Kawane, and this feeling only heightened in the final week. This change helped me expand my language skills, as I began to fall into a routine within our daily activities, and learn the vocabulary that came with every daily action. Being in a new environment always comes with a new cast of characters, and the friendly faces I would see every few days also helped me feel more comfortable.
The people of Kawane are some of the nicest I have ever met, and the community itself is so warm and caring. On my last day there I received visits from multiple families, all of whom had made a special effort to make me feel more welcome in my first week. It still amazes me how much care everyone has for their neighbors in Kawane. They welcome each other into their homes with so much love, and are always willing to take time out of their day to talk.
These preexisting values are one of the many reasons why Kawane became my second home in such a short amount of time. The Yamada family and everyone else in the town changed my perception of the world, and also helped me develop new skills, from managing my own room to cooking curry. Within 4 weeks, the town went from a name on a map to a place in my heart, and I can’t wait to return one day.