The Salem-Ota Cultural Exchange is pleased to announce that Abigail Clark, a graduating senior at Salem Academy Charter School has been awarded this year’s Scholarship award, presented during the Virtual Salem Academy Awards Ceremony on June 10. She will be using this scholarship as she attends UMass Lowell this fall.
She, and the other applicants for the award, were asked to write an essay about their involvement with the exchange; how it affected their life; and how it will influence their future.
This is what she wrote about her experiences:
Ever since joining in 2015, I have met numerous lovely people while being involved with the Salem Ota Cultural Exchange, most of whom I am still close friends with today. Through hosting, my family and I met Yoko, Chisato, and Kaho from the student program and Mrs. Yoshie through the adult program. The summers that we spent chatting, playing video games, and playing basketball are held close to my heart. I also had the pleasure to visit Ota in 2016 and 2018, being welcomed into the homes of Yoko and Kaho’s families. Together we laughed and smiled while cooking, shopping, watching TV, and so much more. It is safe to say that my favorite memory would have to either be going to karaoke and singing songs with Yoko’s family and her father’s hilarious impressions or watching movies with Kaho and her younger sister Maya. But there are so many honorable mentions like making yakisoba with Yoko’s mom, going clothes shopping with Kaho and Maya at the mall, and watching the extravagant fireworks show at the end of the trip. There are just so many memories that I will never forget and that I value dearly. I will be forever grateful for Yoko and Kaho’s families for welcoming and accepting me into their homes and all the effort they put in to making me feel comfortable and to have a great time. In the past few years, I have also had the opportunity to attend the board meetings. I value this time as well because I now know how a program like this is run, how much effort it takes, and all of the pieces that need to come together for all of it to work, not to mention the dedicated people who make it happen.
This program has affected my life in insurmountable ways. Firstly, the experience of immersion should not be underestimated when learning a language. I have been trying to learn Japanese since the eighth grade, and the weeks I spent in Japan can take credit for the most I have learned thus far. It boosted my confidence to speak and led me to learn new words and phrases.
Secondly, the people I have met along the way are people I speak with regularly, I consider to be family, and are some of the closest people I know. Together we have made countless positive memories that will never be forgotten. If I am ever down, I can reminisce about painting with Yoko, playing soccer with Chisato, or FaceTiming Yoko and her family. And I know that if I or any of them need to talk with someone, we are there for each other, which is always something special. Over the years we have known each other, they have introduced me to different viewpoints and ways of living life that may be different from what I am used to. I highly value expanding one’s cultural understanding and world view. They have also helped me with my social anxiety, as the whole idea of hosting someone and staying with a different family to mine is something that used to make me nervous and was far out of my comfort zone. Of course, life would be so much different if my family had not hosted for the first time back in 2015. It is challenging to put into words how much I truly value the memories created and the family I now have because of the Salem Ota Cultural Exchange.
The experiences from the Salem Ota Cultural Exchange have not just impacted my past and present, but my future as well. Not only do I plan to travel back to Japan to spend time with my newfound families, but I am inspired to study international relations in college this fall at UMass Lowell. This winter I will also be taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which will benefit me professionally. I credit this program with providing me many opportunities to practice, learn, and inspiration while studying Japanese. I hope that this program continues strong in the years to come.