In the summer of 2003, I started a new life in South Beloit, Wisconsin. Wisconsin probably has less tourism than other states. People often asked me, “Why Wisconsin?” Even Americans asked me that. The reason was simple. It was because I did not want to choose a place where I would be tempted to act as though I was on vacation.
My school, Beloit College, is fairly small. There are only 1000 students, but most of them come from all over the states and all over the country. This was an aspect of Beloit I really appreciated. You might be surprised to hear that I became a good cook in America, especially focusing on Japanese cuisine. It is not because I had to cook for myself everyday, I shared meals with other students, but because cooking was my best tool to communicate with people. I prepared many traditional Japanese dishes.
Exchange students in Beloit have many opportunities to present their own culture on campus. We had international parties three times a year and were also able to hold parties by planning some independently. My friends and I often had Japanese dinner parties at a café on campus and joined the Japanese club to teach others how to make sushi.
Every party was so popular that the food was gone in 30 minutes! I often cooked with my international friends and shared many meals that we prepared on weekends. It was a good chance to socialize with many people. Food gave us a way to talk about our different cultures and habits. We discussed which restaurants we liked and made plans to eat out together.
I thought that I had to act like an American before going to the U.S. In Beloit, this was not important. Every exchange student was encouraged to be proud of his or her own style. Sometimes different cultural behavior is hard to understand. At Beloit everyone loved explaining why they did something a certain way and how it reflected the culture they were brought up in. Looking back on my time as an exchange student, I kept challenging many things by saying I am Japanese, such as writing a paper about the comparison with Japanese society in a sociology class and being a TA in Japanese classes. I made many friends who were studying Japanese!
I believe that what I do in English is more important than speaking perfect English. I am still seeking opportunities to use my English. I really enjoy speaking and writing English and hope to find situations where I can use these skills regularly in the future.