On the morning of my arrival in Japan, I earnestly joined the first group of students disembarking the ship bound for the Kobe home stay program.  It was my third adventure doing a home stay with a foreign family on the voyage, but my past experiences had not done much to abate the feeling of anxiety I felt in the hours leading up to meeting my new family.  A million questions ran through my head.  Would they like me?  Could they speak English?  Should I bow when I meet them?  They were all seemingly trivial questions, but important to me nonetheless.

I met my family in the building that houses the port of Kobe.  I walked into a room filled with Japanese women and their children holding up colorfully decorated signs with the name of their Semester at Sea student displayed.  I wandered around the room seeking out my family before I finally found a pretty young women holding up a sign with my name.  I was matched up with the Abe family.  The mother was 35 and named Yukiko, the father was 37 and named Takahiro, and their son was a cute 5-year-old kid named Kosuke.

Takahiro was at work when I met the family, so I went with Yukiko, Kosuke, and another women and her two host students from Semester at Sea to get lunch.  We had delicious udon noodles that were made from scratch.  Afterwards, we picked up the other woman’s children from school and went to the museum of Sakai City, the city where they lived.  We also went to the top of the tallest building in Osaka and saw a panoramic view of the entire city.  The whole experience was a chance to get a better understanding of the history and local heritage associated with the family I was staying with.

Later that night we arrived at their home to spend the rest of the evening.  The Abes live in a small flat in an apartment building equipped with only a small kitchen, living room, bathroom, and one bedroom.  I spent the hour before dinner playing with Kosuke.  He was shy and didn’t speak a whole lot of English, but we passed the time playing with his battling tops game and Pokémon set.  For dinner Yukiko made some of the best soup I have ever had.  It was stuffed with noodles, chicken, carrots, vegetables, tofu, and some other ingredients I can’t recall.  The savory taste and mix of textures kept me coming back for seconds and thirds.

After dinner, Takahiro and Yukiko’s mother came to the house.  We all sat and tried to converse as much as we could with the language barrier.  Yukiko’s mother surprised us all by showing us her new hobby.  She has been practicing a show that combines ventriloquism and magic.  It was funny and lighthearted as we all sat around the living room listening to her performance.  Kosuke was giggling the whole time.  I joined in with the laughter on quite a few occasions as she mixed English phrases with Japanese to try and include me in the show.  It was a very charming evening and I felt blessed to be halfway across the world, but still embraced as a family member for the night by a Japanese family I had just met that day.  It is on occasions such as this that I reflect on the violent, tumultuous world we hear about so often in the news and wonder if it is all an overreaction or a misrepresentation.

The next day I went with Takahiro, Yukiko, and Kosuke to Osaka Castle, a castle surrounded by a public park, and saw some of the relics of the area’s history.  We went to see the castle on a beautiful fall afternoon where the leaves had changed from the greens of summer to the crimson reds and oranges of fall.  The day reminded me of an autumn day in Pennsylvania with the only difference being the people who surrounded me.  After visiting the castle, we had lunch at a restaurant near a busy market area in Osaka.  We ate different fried meats on a stick, including octopus, calamari, chicken, and fish, all of which are famous in the area.  I also had my first sushi, which to my surprise was actually very delicious.  To my delight I discovered raw salmon tastes better than cooked salmon, and the texture is very delicate and savory.  I’ll have to eat it more in the future.

After lunch it was time to say goodbye to the family I had spent the last 36 hours with.  As we drove to the train station that would take me back to the ship, I said goodbye to Kosuke, Yukiko, and Takahiro.  It’s always bittersweet saying goodbye so soon to a family I am just getting to know and feel comfortable with.  The homestay program has provided me with some of the most authentic and memorable experiences on my journey.  I am now privileged to say that I have four places where I can now be at home, all located on different corners of the globe, when I am with my families from Ghana, India, Japan, and in the United States.

– Garrett J. Kubacki

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