Yokohama International School: It was like coming up for air

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / Jan 16, 2015 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Jun Sekiya is a freshman currently studying Film at New York University. He is half-Japanese half Cuban-American, and was raised in Tokyo through a mix of Japanese kindergarten, international schools, and multiple read throughs of the Harry Potter series. He moved to the United States for his first year of junior high, before returning to live out the rest of his teenage life in Yokohama, Japan, at his alma mater Yokohama International School. He has written two books, one about goblins, the other about teenage girls, and believes the key to success lies somewhere in between.

 

Note from Jun: Below are my takeaways from international school, the really great stuff, and the hard things about it that I feel get overlooked. I don't claim to represent everyone's experiences, but here's my lowdown on what I got from my time at international school. I hope it's insightful and bridges some understanding of what the experience is like.

 

Jun Sekiya

 

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

For me, it was a decision of returning to international school in Japan, after spending my sixth grade year in Bellevue, Washington. Public school was such a huge shock for me after being used to the small classes of international schools, which were typically 40-50 people, and where everyone knew your name. I made a go of the US, but I think it was then I realized that even though I spoke English better than Japanese and had family in America, I was distinctly not American. Not that I was distinctly anything else, though I did feel this reactionary identity with Japan while in the US. It sort of flip flops depending on which of the two countries I'm in. Anyway, I just missed my friends in Japan, but all of them had left the respective international schools I'd gone to, so it was like when I wasn't looking, my roots had disappeared. One of our family friends had gone to YIS (Yokohama International School) and really loved his time there, so I figured I'd make a fresh start in my old country.

 

Jun Sekiya

 

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?

It was like coming up for air, after seeing what junior high could be like. I didn't take any of the friendliness and open-mindedness in YIS for granted. I guess I was just used to the community of an international school, and YIS exemplified that tightness probably more than any other school I've been to. It creates this delicate balance in people that you recognize as similar to yourself, and it's just way easy to make friends and be accepted into a group. My favorite memory is probably the annual retreats our grade went on during Fall break, we'd go hiking up in the mountains for five days and you'd be with your best friends eating good food in beautiful places. Factory of nostalgia, those retreats.

Some of the challenges I observed weren't necessarily in the international school themselves, but what happened after you left that tight-knit community. I think it's a bit of a shock leaving any bubble of like-minded people, and international school is no different. You go from an environment where traveling the world is a given, to a place where most people haven't left their hometown, and there's definitely a divide between the way you and the local people think. You realize, oh, damn, I've seen such vast, different alien worlds, and when your sensibilities come up against this wall between you two, it's easy to feel defensively superior like, "you have no idea, do you." But they know things you don't. It kind of made me sad, that I'd never experience everything that can be experienced as a child. Anyway, the flip side to being an international school kid is you can relate to other kids who've also gone to international school, regardless of where you're from. You're talking to someone and their English is perfect, but something about them is just not quite at home. You ask, "did you go to international school?", and usually, you're correct and you make this mini-group immediately, I guess because you're both feeling a little isolated. So I'd say it's a challenge getting over that and meeting different people.

 

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? If so, how & why?

I can only speak for myself, but I'd say the one skill I've developed from going to international school is viscerally feeling that other perspectives exist, not just on paper, but really feeling it in the gut. I don't think this developed isolated in international school, it was more a byproduct of coming into contact with people who aren't part of your small community. They see the world in a fundamentally different way, so if you want to make any meaningful connection with them, you have to vault over that incongruence by pushing your limits of empathy. I think it becomes easier to constructively argue things with people when you realize that the view the other person has is a real, emotional thing, just like your own view. Again, it's a bit difficult to attribute this to international school, I think it's more to do with meeting people who have fundamentally different views. A lot of people say international schools are these arenas, but in my experience, international schools have a relatively homogeneous community, and it's only when you get out of that accommodating environment that's open minded to being open minded that you really face the challenge of empathy.

 

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? If so, how?

Well, it gave me a lot of material to write about, haha... when you have friends all over the world with all sorts of stories, plagiarizing their lives is probably the single greatest source of inspiration. I don't want to make any self-aggrandizing claims, because I'm still a scrappy kid in his first year of film school, but I'd say that I made really great friends at international school, and that happiness and support translated into being motivated and pumped to do projects that helped me get into college.

 

Jun Sekiya in Paris

 

What advice (on finances, the experience, etc) would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

I went on a Euro trip this summer, which I'm not sure qualifies me as an expert on this, but I'd say my three takeaways were eat lots of the native food, don't be ashamed to do the tourist things, and send a postcard to your mom.

 

Please finish this Tweet:

#StudyAbroadBecause ... New Food Is Waiting

 

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

Nothing, but my best wishes and my Vimeo Channel! https://vimeo.com/junsekiya

Find Jun (and his music) also online at:
http://www.vibecrunch.com/

 

 

 

This is part of a series on international education, as part of our commitment to #GenerationStudyAbroad and our commitment to the White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. You'll find many more inspiring stories here on Wandering Educators!

 

 

Photos courtesy and copyright Hiyori Takashima, Adam Davidson, and Maria Sekiya