Travel and Tribulations


Charlie Clark

Clark and her siblings were rewarded with a trip to Tokyo Disney Sea after finishing their first Japanese language textbook. Japanese has three written languages: Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. They worked on reading, writing and speaking while in the country.

City sunlight streams in through the window and warms a small pink and blue blanket. A young girl with a bad case of bedhead drearily searches for her earbuds that fell somewhere during the night. She can hear her siblings milling about the tiny apartment as her dad gets the flashcards and textbooks ready for a quick Japanese lesson before he heads to work. The girl mutters something about going back to sleep, before grabbing a mechanical pencil and opening the half-filled manila pages.

My day begins.

It has been nearly five years since my family vacuum-packed our belongings into suitcases and moved to Tokyo for half a year. My dad was working there for a bit, and although six months does not seem that long, it felt like an entire lifetime to me. It was almost like a parallel universe, like the free play option in a video game. I had become disconnected from the plot, the ever-growing monotony of the student experience. Get up, go to school, homework, dinner, repeat. 

Clark has lived in Japan and Poland and currently lives in the U.S. She also visited Thailand in 2016 and China in the summer of 2019.

My favorite memories from Japan were ones where I was not doing anything exciting. I had a lot more freedom in Tokyo than I did back home in the U.S. The city is incredibly safe, so I was allowed to go pretty much anywhere within a few miles of our apartment.  My little brother and I would frequently get soft drinks, sometimes snacks too, and hang out in the courtyard or the stairs of our apartment building. Japan has a lot of vending machines, and I remember I had every machine with my favorite drinks in it memorized. To this day, I could tell you which had the cheapest soda and exactly how to get to it. 

My siblings and I were homeschooled for what was left of the school year, and the only semblance of a regular routine was my father’s morning Japanese lessons. My parents frequently took us to see things in and outside the city. We saw everything from castles, to shrines, to skyscrapers. I am very thankful my parents went through all that trouble, especially the times I did not want to do what they had planned for the day. I think they knew there was a very high chance we would never be able to see many of those things again. 

One might think that living in a country where you barely speak the language would be lonely, but for me it was comforting. I am generally pretty introverted, so not spending my energy talking to people I did not know made life easier for me. I felt the same way when I took a trip to China in the summer of 2019. I did not have to do the talking, so as the trip progressed, I just got quieter and quieter. 

Clark visited several different cities while in China and got to see attractions such as The Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors and the Forbidden City. (Charlie Clark)

Japan was not the only country outside of America I have lived in. When I was three my family moved to Poland for around a year. I do not remember much from that time because I was so young. However, I do remember that I refused to speak Polish to anyone. It got to the point where my mother thought I had never picked up the language. That is until we got back to America and she walked in on my brother and me having a fluent conversation in it. 

Unfortunately, I lost nearly all of my Polish over the course of elementary school, and what little Japanese I had learned faded almost immediately after coming back to the states. According to my parents, it would be very easy for me to learn either of the languages again, as it would be more like pulling old words from the back of my memory, and less like learning completely new ones. 

When I was a kid, I did not quite grasp that going to other countries, let alone living there, was not something everyone got to do. I thought it was normal, and it never occurred to me that going back might not be an option in my future. If I could go back in time and drill the opposite into my little head, I would. But for now, all I can do is bring those experiences with me and try to think back on them the next time I go abroad. 

I am grateful I was able to experience many different cultures when I was so young. It helped me become more open to new experiences and ideas. It led me to understand that the small and seemingly mundane things, such as a soda or a snack, are just as rewarding as the biggest of them.