Today, when we pulled into the parking lot of the Sanriku Fukko National Park, I had expected this excursion to be something else I had to do, another opportunity for me to go through the motions of travelling with a group of strangers. But, when I stepped off the bus, I saw a view of a quaint bridge that had a backdrop of perfectly green and lush islands across the vast Pacific Ocean. As I walked across the bridge, glanced at the way the its red wood looked under my shoes and stood in awe of the beauty that surrounded me, I felt that this experience would be a bit different.
As the group settled into a set of benches and started our discussion, we were eventually given the assignment of interviewing a person that we hadn’t talked to before. After I scanned my options and found my partner for the activity, we walked up a small hill to get to another set of benches. We sat down and started talking about our experiences on the trip so far.
After talking and discovering that we had quite a bit in common, our conversation had stopped and we ended up staring at the view for the rest of our time together. While looking at the breathtaking ocean paired with a series of lusciously green islands, I finally had the opportunity to reflect on the past few days and how I got here, sitting on a bench with people I hardly knew at a national park in Japan. I first thought of where I was, who I was, and what was important to me this time last year. I was a high school senior, in Detroit, who was still shocked that I had been accepted into the University of Michigan and was wondering what I wanted to do with my time there. I was getting ready for prom, I was waiting until the last minute to study for finals, and I was ready to get the hell out of Detroit. If you were to tell that girl that in exactly one year she would find her passion in the city that she once so desperately wanted to escape, she would find out how to pursue her passion both in Detroit and abroad, and that she would be face-to-face with the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the world getting closer to being the person she wants to be every minute, I would have said that you were insane.
I suddenly feel a warm breeze run past my face, and it shifts my thoughts a little. I start to think about the people I have met and the places I have been. I soon realize that even though I may have thought that it was difficult to relate to people here, we all have something in common, no matter how strange. For example, me and my partner for the activity bonded over a love of SZA and Lauryn Hill. This feeling of camaraderie even occurs with the people of Ishinomaki. In my ITNAV group, especially, I realized that a drive to empower a community after a difficult time is a feeling that resonates no matter where you are in the world and no matter what language you speak. And it is a feeling that helped me feel so much closer to the people who worked in my group.
My train of thought is abruptly interrupted by someone telling us there is a swing/zipline combo on the other side of the parking lot. As I saw everyone in the program get up and swiftly move towards the swing, my thoughts were only confirmed. We all came from different places, have different experiences, and are accustomed to different things, but we all bonded over being a little too excited about that swing.