It was Olivia’s dream since seventh grade to study in Japan. Looking back in her journal, she realized how much of the past five years were spent studying the language and saving up for a trip. Luckily, support from AFS-USA’s Jack Forté Endowed Scholarship enabled Olivia to achieve a long-held goal, giving her the opportunity to participate in AFS-USA’s 2020 Year Program to Japan.

“As I’m sure everyone is well aware, the trip that I ended up going on was under special circumstances, what with a global pandemic and all,” she wrote. “While I know there were downsides, such as not being able to do much traveling, there was also the fact that thanks to quarantine, I not only made Japanese friends but I became very close with AFSers from all over the world. I can’t help but feel that the 2020 group is a very special one, and I feel lucky to be a part of it. I honestly feel as if I’ve made some of the best friends of my life in that group.”

Olivia’s host family treated her as their own daughter/sister and became like real family to her. Some of the most unforgettable moments of her experience were spending time around the table after dinnertime and laughing and teasing despite the language barrier.

School was a challenge for Olivia. It was hard at first to understand how classes functioned and even to make friends, even more so due to COVID’s impact on curtailing clubs and other activities. But her language skills quickly improved. “I picked up quickly on Hiroshima dialect,” she said, “which my host family found very amusing.” Understanding people through masks was an added challenge. “But I cried saying goodbye on my last day of school because the students gave me a book full of all the photos we took together over the months and all wrote sweet messages,” recalls Olivia. “I was really touched.”

“I also picked up a few recipes that I’ve taught to my family and friends back home like nabe, somen, and takoyaki!, she recalls fondly. “It makes me nostalgic already to have them again.”