Despite being born and raised in Los Angeles, I spend nearly 90% of my life speaking Japanese. I currently work for a Japanese staffing agency called PASONA and while I joined as an administrative assistant three years ago I have experience sales and human resource operations and currently working in the Accounting outsourcing department. I would have never dreamed to find myself in an environment like this, or I would have studied much more while attending Asahi Gakuen. I attended Asahi Gakuen Pasadena-kou from 1st to 7th grade, Industry Hills-kou in 8th grade and graduated the 9th grade from San Gabriel-kou.
Global Exchange at Age 7
Initially, I was disappointed that my parents had pulled me out of my Saturday ballet classes and there seemed to be a large gap between my Japanese proficiency and my peers. By the end of the first grade at Asahi, I had already begun to doubt the necessity of learning Japanese.
Immediately after I finished the second grade (at American school) my mother took me to visit Japan. Little did I know that I would be attending Shirahata-dai Elementary School as the "new girl" for the next month. Accompanied by my mother and grandfather, we made our way to my new class. My classmates were ecstatic to meet the new foreign student and I quickly became target to many "Say something in English" requests. I made new friends daily and one month just flew by. At the end of the month my classmates threw me a going-away party and gave me a shikishi signed by all of my new friends. Without even considering the price of plane tickets, I vowed to come back again the following summer.
When I returned to Asahi in the fall, I had a newfound appreciation for Asahi and desire to study Japanese. For the following five years, I kept my promise and returned to Shirahata-dai every summer. Kanji quizzes became more difficult, my grades fell, and I hated how I had to turn down my friends invitations to sleepovers "because I have school on Saturday." Despite all of this, I looked forward to returning to Japan every year and I knew that continuing my studies at Asahi would be the only way I would be able to keep up with them.
By middle school, Asahi became a larger burden. I had taken up more commitments which made it difficult to juggle American school and Asahi. Looking back, I am not quite sure how I passed some classes but as much as I wanted to quit, I never thought "I'm going to quit." By 8th grade, I was already determined to graduate; I had made it so far and I knew that I wanted to be an "Asahi graduate." My friends who had attended Asahi with me since the 1st grade made it much easier to come back every Saturday.
A World of Bilinguals
After graduating from high school, I attended the University of California, San Diego majoring in Political Science and Psychology. Shortly after, I realized that moving away from home and my parents had taken its toll on my Japanese. I enrolled in Japanese classes at UCSD but I realized that studying Japanese in a classroom was not enough, and I wanted to go back to Japan for an extended period. As soon as I learned about the UC Education Abroad Program, I enrolled immediately and was accepted into Keio University.
Several of my friends had participated in exchange programs to Japan and I had heard how much they enjoyed it. While I looked forward to living in Japan and making new friends, I was anxious about attending such a prestigious school. I had never graduated from high school nor studied for entrance exams. Unfortunately, my fears were realized and I was overwhelmed by how much I could not understand in my classes. Being an "Asahi graduate" I had confidence in my Japanese proficiency but I could not get through a single of day of instruction without using my pocket dictionary. I was even more shocked to find myself surrounded by other foreign students who seemed to understand lectures with ease. I studied harder in my one year at Keio more than I had ever studied in my life. I looked back to my younger days and regretted not studying more during my years at Asahi. Fortunately, my hard work paid off and I passed all of my classes at Keio. Prior to studying abroad, I had regarded graduating from Asahi as the largest accomplishment in my life but in hindsight, attending Asahi was a stepping stone in achieving bigger goals, and opening new opportunities for my future.
From Bilingual to Bicultural
After graduating from UCSD, I was determined to work in an environment where I could use my bilingual skills. A month before graduation, I attended a Japanese job fair where I was introduced to a recruiter from PASONA. I had little knowledge about the staffing industry and had only known about PASONA as a temp agency. I had actually been attending the job fair because I was considering a career in Japan but given my experience studying abroad, I decided to take my time in considering my options. I was ecstatic to receive an offer to work for PASONA since I knew the business was catered towards other Japanese companies. I knew that I would be guaranteed an environment where I could speak Japanese at least once a day. I never imagined I would find myself speaking Japanese all day, and English only once a couple of times a day.
Studying in Japan had given me a slice of the Japanese culture and yet I knew nothing about Japanese business culture. After joining PASONA, I had to learn the fundamentals, starting with keigo and business language. Being in the service industry, we are constantly scrutinized for the manner in which we present ourselves and even the way we answer a phone call. Through PASONA's business manner seminars as well as the on-the-job training, I am still learning everyday about the depth of Japanese culture and loving every moment of it.
Ambassador from Los Angeles
In the summer of 2007, I was chosen to be on the Nisei Week Court and participated in numerous events throughout the year. In October, the Court was invited to Nagoya, sister city to Los Angeles. We were hosted by the Mayor of Nagoya and met numerous elected officials during our visit where I found myself translating between our hosts and Court. I was more thankful than ever for the ability to understand both languages and believe that I was able to make a contribution in bridging our cultures. Given the opportunity, I know that I would love to be an ambassador to the two cultures that make me who I am.
When is your "Some Day?"
If you have attended Asahi, you have probably been told "you'll appreciate it some day," and if you are still attending Asahi, you' are wondering when that day is going to come. As an Asahi graduate, I promise you that the day will come. It could be the day that you find yourself translating English into Japanese for a dignitary visiting from Japan or landing the dream job because of your extra language skills.
From my experiences at Asahi, I take away life-long friends, the persistence to stick it up no matter how trying, and the confidence of being bilingual. I cannot be more grateful to my parents and the teachers for not allowing me to give up and continuing to push me.