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Saints on the Hill: An Unforgettable Cultural Exchange

Saints on the Hill: An Unforgettable Cultural Exchange

For her Saints on the Hill presentation, Eva ’24 shared an enlightening experience far off the hill. Standing before the Canterbury community at School Meeting, Eva spoke of her Japanese study abroad program in Tokyo this summer and what she learned from it.

“I am from Moscow, Russia, and live between there and Florida. Experiencing the world through travel is an essential part of who I am,” she said. “My dad spent over a decade wrestling in Japan, so the country has always intrigued me. I had yet to experience it, so I applied to the program. While in Japan, I became immersed in their way of living, taking part in many of their norms and traditions.”

Eva spent the first two weeks of her trip taking language classes for three hours every morning and visiting some of the country’s most notable cultural and religious sites. She also participated in activities such as an enactment of a traditional Oiran Dochu—or Geisha—procession; a class in Taiko, the Japanese drums; and the preparation of a matcha tea ceremony. 

But it was the second phase of the program when Eva really became immersed in the country’s traditions—she lived for two weeks with a host family in the Chiba Prefecture of Japan. “I wouldn’t have learned the intricacies of Japanese culture without these two weeks with my host family,” she recalled. “I learned many Japanese phrases to join their culture’s value of respecting others. I also noticed that Japanese families spend a great deal of time together.” 

And she was able to see other parts of the country from their perspective. “They took me to many cultural landmarks, including a traditional festival in their town. There were lanterns, dancers, and drummers. They gifted me a yukata to wear to the festival, which is slightly different from a kimono. The grandmother of the family came to help us put the yukatas on since there are specific ways to tie the belt and style your hair.” 

At the end of the trip, while sitting on the plane ready to depart Japan for home, Eva received a message from her host family that made her realize the true value of cultural exchange. A part of it said, “Our impression of your country Russia has changed a lot. In recent years, there has been no good coverage in Japan (about Russia). But we want to love your country too, because you are proud of it.”

“That was really the seal of my trip to Tokyo,” she said. “If I had never gotten to know this Japanese family, I wouldn’t have been able to understand their culture as fully as I do now. And although I was there to experience their culture, I had managed to leave my own mark and refine their view on Russia.” 

And that was the overriding message Eva wanted to convey to her peers at Canterbury. “This goes to show that we are meant to share our culture with others and experience different communities, talk to people of different backgrounds, try new foods, or even just read about other countries,” she told them. “I urge you all to go out and seek experiences where you leave your comfort zone and see the beauty the world has to offer.”