The Salem-Ota Cultural Exchange is pleased to announce that Deya Arnold, a graduating senior at Salem High School has been awarded this year’s Scholarship award. She will be using this scholarship as she attends Northeastern University (Honors Program) 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:
My experience with the Salem Ota Cultural Exchange began when I hosted my first student in the summer of 2013. Midori Yamamoto opened my door to the rich and beautiful culture of Japan, and to the wonders of global friendship. After Midori, my family hosted Nanami, Kanade, Runa, Moeka, and Asumi. Each of these incredible girls shared such unique experiences and created lasting memories with me and my family. To this day, I still exchange birthday and Christmas gifts with every single one of my former students and their families. Though we do not see each other often, I know there are people across the world thinking of me every day just as I think of them. Despite the continents dividing us, we have grown up together, and I know that I have made lifelong friends through the Salem Ota Cultural Exchange.
Though I love all of my sisters dearly, Runa Funayama holds a special place in my heart. On my 15th birthday I boarded an airplane to Tokyo and soon was reunited with Runa. After hosting her in 2016, her family offered to return the favor when it was my time to go to Japan. I was thrilled. It was finally my chance to be the host student and immerse myself in a foreign culture. Runa and her family were so welcoming to me and I could not feel luckier to have been embraced into their home. They even made me a birthday cake upon my arrival, and to date it was one of the best celebrations I have ever been a part of.
Aside from the countless things I learned about Japan and about Runa’s family, I also learned so much about myself during my stay. When I left for Japan, it was the first time I had ever traveled without my family and the farthest I had ever been from home. Because of this I quickly learned to be comfortable outside of my comfort zone. With language barriers, unfamiliar foods, and the distance from my family, I had to push myself to be confident and adventurous. With any opportunity to try something new, my answer was yes. This ranged from giving a speech in Japanese at Ota’s city hall to crunching on fish bones just so that I could say I had done it. My fellow exchange students were, like me, intimidated by the unfamiliar. But I refused to let my intimidation interfere with my once in a lifetime experience. I found my confidence in encouraging them to step out of their comfort zones. Because of my eagerness to embrace the culture, I was able to get the most out of my stay.
That trip reinforced to me that we grow most when we challenge ourselves, and we can give most when we challenge others. I traveled to Ota the summer after my freshman year, which is over two years ago now, but the impact will stay with me for a lifetime. For everything else I have done since my experiences both as an exchange student and as a host family, I made sure to always challenge myself and those around me to be adventurous and compassionate. The Salem Ota Cultural Exchange has truly shaped who I am, and for that I could not be more grateful.