Last year I had to renew my passport. It was a sad day when I received my new, crisp and untouched little blue book. It’s not that I don’t like change — I’ve had my fair share of change in life so far — it’s just that my old passport was so well worn. It had visas. It had character. It had the dust of five different continents on it. I was so proud of my stamp collection, and the new one didn’t do justice to what I knew as my life so far.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have not only traveled out of the country, but to have come from an international family (as crazy as they are) and live abroad. In 2003, my family made our first big move to Tokyo, Japan. I was in seventh grade, and in my middle school prime — not the ideal time to move halfway across the world. But when my parents proposed the move, my sisters and I were surprisingly game for an enormous life change despite the fact that we never really had a strong interest in our Japanese heritage. I did have two Japanese names, I looked half-Japanese and my grandmother’s cooking was occasionally Japanese inspired, but otherwise, we were not well-acquainted with the culture and we definitely did not speak the language.
We moved in July 2003, and I spent the rest of the summer getting lost around our neighborhood, repeating “Irashaimase” (“Welcome to our store”) back to the understandably confused store attendants and participating in clubs my 8-year-old sister created in her spare time (knitting club, book club, video game club). Entertainment is difficult when you don’t know the language, have friends, the Internet or television. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait for school to start.
For the next five years, I attended the International School of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo, an all-girl’s international school. I only had approximately 40 girls in my grade each year, but I met so many interesting people from different backgrounds and cultures that it seemed like there were 200 people in my class. I made my first friend at orientation. She was a Palestinian girl named Dima, and she spoke almost no English. I spent the next two months communicating in gestures and sign language so our conversation was full of hand motions and awkward giggling, but we ended up becoming friends, playing basketball on the same team and graduating together five years later.
During my stay in Japan, I traveled all around the country for different sports tournaments, class excursions and family trips. I got to know the culture of Japan through the people, festivals, food and everyday life. I discovered one of my favorite food, natto, or fermented soybean. I was asked if my mother truly loved me because all I ever ate for lunch was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, instead of a freshly made bento box with seaweed cut into little trains. And I had the opportunity to really make a connection with an otherwise unfamiliar part of my heritage.
Life is full of change. Since living in Japan, I’ve come back to the U.S. to go to college and my family has moved to Hong Kong, Shanghai and now resides in New Delhi. After I graduate in December, I’m planning on joining them and diving into a new culture, a new experience and getting my next stamp in my little blue book.
When you move around as much as I have, with a mother who is constantly trying to get you to downsize and throw away non-essentials from your childhood, a passport means a lot more than just a form of legal documentation. For someone who isn’t so artistically inclined, a passport becomes a scrapbook of life’s memories. The stamps serve as souvenirs of the incredible opportunities I have been lucky enough to have and the empty pages pushing me toward future adventures.
— Monica Kusaka Herrero is an LSA senior