Lost and Found in Japan

Sophomore Soleil Salgado reflects on her year abroad as an American exchange student.

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Soleil Salgado.

The shy, American student.

Now the traveler.

Deciding to spend a semester over 6,406 miles away is not a trip for the faint of heart to say the least, but Salgado knew her sophomore year had to be one for the books.  With the ideal destination in mind, she set out across the world to a place where no one knew her name or even spoke her language, yet somehow, Salgado knew she was where she belonged.

“I speak English and Spanish already and I wanted a language that was a challenge for me and my uncle had always loved Japan,” Salgado said. “It was a great fit.”

Wanting to step out of her comfort zone, Salgado took the steps to join an exchange program the summer before the 2018-2019 school year began. This was an chance to show her a new

perspective to herself and the world.

“I’m typically a shy person, I wanted to do something that gave me independence and I always wanted to experience another culture,” Salgado said.

Being the new kid is never easy, adding in a completely new culture to the mix is even harder. Salgado approached the new school with anxiety and new customs to learn, introducing a seemingly tall order for the first time exchange student.

“My first day, I was nervous and wearing the uniform was definitely a new weird thing, when I went to my class my Japanese was pretty bad, so I don’t think anyone knew I spoke a bit,” Salgado said. “I could tell they were nervous too but everyone was so welcoming.”

Salgado takes selfies with her friends in Japan.

The non-stop adventure of learning about life in another country didn’t end at the school doors, Salgado soon found herself at all the local hangouts with her new found friends.

“For fun after school even though it wasn’t allowed, me and my friends would go to karaoke bars and go to the Japanese photo booths,” Salgado said. “These Japanese photo booths are a huge thing for them.”

Giving Salgado a place to stay and introducing her to a second family while so far from home is one of many fond memories from Soleil’s journey abroad.

“Honestly the sweetest people I’ve ever met, they always made sure I was comfortable and healthy,” Salgado said. “I loved all four of my host siblings and there was never a dull moment in the house.”

While away from home, Salgado admits she wasn’t homesick and even plans on returning to Japan in 2020 after living and learning about the culture.

“I honestly didn’t miss much, the food was great and good for me,”Salgado said. “I guess I missed having guy friends the most. I couldn’t get close to a guy at school over there without them blushing – it was adorable to be honest.”

After returning to Texas, Salgado still remains in constant communication with the people she met along her journey and holds them dear to her heart and memory.

“I’m home now, but I still talk to my Japanese classmates on Instagram and the social media application called ‘Line’ all the time,” Salgado said. “Me and my host mother always send each other photos, I miss her a lot too.”

Salgado enjoying a meal with friends.

Reflecting on the lessons learned through experiencing life in a foreign country, Salgado has a new understanding for herself and sage advice for others considering joining a program as well.

“You cannot be shy,” she said. “because everyone else around you is even shyer, you need to go up to people and show that you want to be a part of everything.”