A little more than a decade after receiving the souvenirs from her grandmother, Carly noticed a poster in her high school that advertised a Princeton University program for American and Japanese high school students to learn about each other’s lives and cultures. This program, she knew, was meant for her.
Her family hosted Satomi, a Japanese teenager who, as Carly describes, could not have been more like her. She was bubbly, curious, and came from a traditional town where she felt like a misfit. Carly instantly felt a strong friendship between her and Satomi.
As her family introduced Satomi to their hometown of Richmond, Virginia, Carly was able to see her community with a fresh perspective. One of their favorite memories together, a familiar activity to Carly but a foreign one to Satomi, was a cookout that Carly’s older brother organized, followed by a ride in the back of a pickup truck down country roads to get Slurpees.
Thanks to Satomi, Carly realized that culture and identity can be cause for celebration or frustration regardless of geography. She would make it to Japan one day, she was sure of it, but it would no longer be an escape.