All I had in hand was a sheet of paper with pairs of sentences, one in English, one in Japanese.
Please show me how to buy a bullet train ticket to Kyoto. (Japanese translation)
Please show me how to buy a local train ticket to the Kyoto University neighborhood. (Japanese translation)
Please show me where I can call for a taxi. (Japanese translation)
It was my first time traveling alone. I had my suitcase, this paper, a map, and a small amount of trust in strangers. My parents dropped me off at the airport, and suddenly I was alone with my excitement, alone with my fears, alone with my issues. I had more baggage than just my suitcase. I slowly inched through the security line, passing the same faces as the line weaved, back and forth, back and forth. A large group of obviously close friends was traveling together, and I shamelessly eavesdropped on their conversation because what else is one to do in a line so long, so tedious? Well, my eavesdropping proved to be quite serendipitous as these turned out to be friends of friends, and beyond that, they were people that I had been hoping to meet for awhile because they were of wonderful reputation. And here was our most unexpected introduction. A long time to sit otherwise alone, now blessed with company. Twelve hours later, we parted at the bullet train station, my courage strengthened. With each remaining leg of the journey to Kyoto, I stopped any person wearing a hint of kindness and pointed at the appropriate sentence. There were nods and hand gestures and a lot of bowing, ‘arigato.’
By the time I stepped off a small local train near Kyoto University, I had been traveling for over 18 hours and it was near midnight in Japan. I was jet-lagged and exhausted. I still had to walk the remaining few blocks to the University itself with my suitcase, but it was summertime, and it was midnight. What would I do if the dorms were closed? I called the number on my wrinkled paper, and mercifully, a voice answered on the other line. I could not stop the trembling as I tried to explain, I am here for a summer school program, I just need to know if I can get in, I’m sorry it’s so late at night. It was obvious the person on the other line did not fully understand my English, but he understood my fear. “Ok…. ok.”
I arrived, both hopeful and resigned, at the door to the dormitory. I knocked, and I waited. A tentative face appeared at the window, and then slowly, the door opened.
It was a summer of strangers, new friends, a new culture, a summer of shedding the old me. A summer when a complicated relationship intensified and ultimately ended. A summer of getting to know myself, getting to know God’s voice in the thunderstorms that shook the earth, getting to know God’s humble friendship when I walked the streets, heavy with homesickness but known, so deeply known. I brought my paper, my suitcase, my excitement and my fears. I left with a heart that was full, known, broken, healed, loved.