Japanese exchange student adapts to American life

January 26, 2010 — by Alex Ju

Saki Kitagawa may seem at first like a regular individual at Saratoga High. She works hard in all her classes, has many friends and participates in a variety of activities, such as marching band. However, Kitagawa is much more than an ordinary student.

Junior Saki Kitagawa is an exchange student from the Saitama Prefecture in Japan, located in an area next to Tokyo.

Like many other exchange students, Kitagawa came here to further her education and garner new experiences. While it may seem like a stressful way for her to complete her junior year, Kitagawa felt the experience would be beneficial for her in the long run.

“I wanted to study English and know more about American culture,” Kitagawa said.

Naturally, she has had to adapt to suit her new surroundings due to the many differences between Japanese and American culture. Kitagawa finds the most predominant contrast, however, is between the two countries’ foods.

“The food in Japan is very healthy," Kitagawa said. "But I like American food too.”

She has tried a variety of American activities as well. For instance, Kitagawa participated in the marching band this past season. While common in the United States, marching band is an activity that does not exist in Japan. She played a variety of instruments, including the base drum, gong, tamtam and cymbals, as a member of the pit percussion.

"I had a very good time. It was my first time to play an instrument," Kitagawa said.

Meanwhile, she has also had to adjust to the rigorous schoolwork.

"I've been academically challenged," said Kitagawa. "[Saratoga High] is very different from Japanese schools."

However, her teachers have been very understanding.

"English and History are still hard for me, but if I have hard homework, my teacher tells me to just do my best," Kitagawa said.

She still keeps in close contact with her family back at home as well. Both her mother and sister were exchange students in the past, her sister having attended a school in Wisconsin four years ago.

"I've wanted to come here for five years. When my sister came back to Japan from America, I was so surprised! She spoke English fluently and told me about her exchange student life. And then I wanted to be a exchange student," Kitagawa said.

She communicates with her family through e-mails and letters, obtaining advice from her mom and sister from their past exchange experiences.

"Before I came here, my family was worried about me because I couldn't speak English at all," Kitagawa said.

Kitagawa has been learning English in the ELD class, taught by Sara Tseng.

"The class is really helpful. Mrs Tseng teaches us a lot of things," Kitagawa said. "I love the class very much."

Before coming to America five months ago, she attended a three-week language camp in Canada to work on her English. This was all arranged by the American Scandinavian Student Exchange (ASSE), an exchange program that Kitagawa signed up for.

"I had to write a biography of what I wanted to learn in America, in which I included my likes, hobbies, interests and information about my family. The ASSE coordinator then arranged for my letter to be forwarded to the Allen Family. The Allen Family then wrote me to ask if I wanted to be a member of their family and to attend Saratoga High School," Kitagawa said.

She and her family meet the Allens in Tokyo over the summer.

"My family loves my host family very much," Kitagawa said.

In familiarizing herself with America, Kitagawa’s host family plays an important role. They help her immensely in improving her English, and often introduce her to new, unique experiences.

“They are very nice," Kitagawa said of her host family. "They take me on trips to places like Los Angeles and Hawaii.”

Her host family consists of the Allens, who have two children currently at Saratoga High; Marianna, a sophomore, and Matthew, a freshman. Both help her with her homework and English.

She has also made many friends in her time at Saratoga.

"I was very nervous when I first went to SHS, but students came to me, and I made lots of friends," said Kitagawa.

Kitagawa feels that her English is gradually improving and that she is adapting well to American culture.

“I love America,” said Kitagawa.

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