(Story originally published in the Delphos (Ohio) Herald on Nov. 29, 2017).
FORT JENNINGS — Kaylynn Noriega, a 2014 Fort Jennings graduate and daughter of K-12 Art Instructor Joy Noriega, visited Fort Jennings High School this past October to speak to the school’s art classes. She came to offer Fort Jennings’ students her perspective following a year-long stay in Japan.
While visiting with the students, Kaylynn taught them to write words in Japanese. She explained how she was interested in Japanese culture since her elementary years and how she realized during high school that studying abroad in Japan was possible but that she would have to work hard to achieve her dream. Kaylynn discussed how that dream then became a reality.
In the early hours of a September 2016 morning, Kaylynn Noriega, then a 20 year-old college student, left the Bryan, Ohio, Amtrak train station to begin her 28-hour journey to Fukui, Japan. She would spend her junior year of college studying the Japanese language and culture through the study abroad program at the University of Findlay.
In Fukui, Kaylynn soon became accustomed to her new life. She had a third-floor, tiny-but-cozy apartment with a small balcony that had a view of mountains and the city. During her walks to and from school, she studied Japanese writings on signs. She enjoyed seeing the people moving about and quickly learned new customs. For further travel, Kaylynn would borrow a bike or take trains. It was a much different life compared to the all-American small-town life she had in Fort Jennings.
During Kaylynn’s spring break this past March, her mother, Joy, and 15-year-old brother, Adam, visited for a week. From the beginning, their journey felt like an episode of the television show “Amazing Race.” Twenty-eight hours of travel included two planes, three trains and two jet-lagged non-Japanese speaking Americans with phones that wouldn’t connect with wifi. This meant they would not make contact with Kaylynn until they physically met at the third train station in Fukui.
Due to a delay, a connecting train was almost missed and once they were on and moving, it was thought to be the wrong train. However, Joy and Adam showed another passenger their tickets and received a nod. They hoped it was universal for “all is fine” and it was.
Once united with Kaylynn, the “Amazing Race” continued. A couple days were spent in Fukui and then the trio traveled by train to a new city almost every day. They would literally run with their backpacks to catch trains, only missing one during this time.
It was so intriguing to hear Kaylynn speak Japanese to ask questions and buy train passes. Her map app was used to walk residential alleyways to a rental in Kyoto at 10 o’clock at night. The Tōdai-ji temple in Nara was breathtaking. Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing was intriguing. Hiroshima was humbling. They enjoyed the view of Mount Fuji in Hakone. In most towns, they stayed in traditional Japanese housing with tatami floors and futon bedding.
They engaged in Japanese traditions, learned how to create Japanese pottery, visited many shrines and tried foods that had been seen on the Travel Channel.
Before going on the trip, Joy taught a Japanese arts and culture lesson to her junior high art classes, which included the making of paper cranes for the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima. The students learned that people from all over the world bring paper origami cranes to this monument as a symbol of world peace and in memory of the children who were victims of the atomic bomb. The paper cranes made by the Fort Jennings junior high art students were left at the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima.
Mid-August of this year, Kaylynn’s year-long stay in Japan came to end. She made so many good friends from Japan and with other international students. Her multiple Japanese employments of teaching English as well as American culture and participating in student council helped pay for her stay but more importantly were essential work experiences. She returned home with a better understanding of life, of others and of herself.
Kaylynn will be graduating from the University of Findlay this May with a bachelor’s degree in Japanese linguistics and a minor in gender studies. She plans to work as a Japanese translator after graduation.