Zip lining above a treacherous ravine. Playing soccer on a rustic ranch. Horseback riding through chilled rivers. Waiting in line at a Burger King at five in the morning. In all of their exciting and exhausting and excellent thrill, I, along with nine other high school students, experienced these activities and more in Argentina. Except for waiting to order a Double Whopper in a line that almost extended out the door on a sub-forty degree night, this Argentinian trip was an experience so full and engaging and just pure fun that few of us ever complained.
During my junior year in high school, I was part of an intercambio program with my high school, in which a group of students from a high school in Buenos Aires lived with us in our homes for one month. The following summer, we were hosted by them in their city. At this point in my life, I had studied Spanish for five years, and I was thrilled by the opportunity to use the language in one of its native lands. We had many great memories when they visited us in Massachusetts, including snowboarding, Patriots games, and small house parties. To say I was ready to hop on the plane already is a tremendous understatement.
Hot, dry, and sunny – the seasons in Los Angeles have little difference, but the summer in my hometown of Houston, Texas is its own unique spectacle. Summer storms create steamy days with both the temperature and humidity cranked up to one hundred percent. The climate serves as a perfect breeding ground for the mosquitoes who come out to feed during the cool evenings. However, despite the oppressive climate and having to bring two shirts with me everywhere I go, the heat allowed me to forge great memories during my summers in Houston.
I can remember when I was little, walking to my neighbors’ house to pick the figs off of their backyard tree in early June. Years of growth and care had caused the tree to expand across the back corner of our neighbor’s backyard, and this yearly ritual provided my sister and I with enough fruit to last us until the next summer. We were always greeted with a warm smile and a hug as we scurried, buckets in hand, towards our fruity symbol of summer. Throughout the rest of the summer the figs would make their way into salads, preservatives, desserts, and ultimately, our stomachs, and over time summer simply wasn’t summer without the ripe fruit on the dinner table.
As I grew older, the summer brought with it music festivals, exciting vacations, and road trips with friends but, with age, came hard work. The summer after my junior year of high school my dad insisted I spend some time working at the family business. Since my great-grandfather opened Carl Poe Company, my family has been repairing gas meters and selling their parts for over fifty-five years. So, instead of having a nice office job or internship like some of my friends, I labored in the oven-like workshop disassembling gas meters for repair. It wasn’t lazy days spent by the pool or the thrilling vacation I’d desired, but it was a much needed lesson, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. Those sweaty hours of swinging a hammer and dismantling meters with my pneumatic screwdriver taught me the importance of preparing for the future. Though I arrived begrudgingly everyday at eight o’clock at the forceful request of my father, the job provided me with experience I’d need when applying to future jobs, not to mention a little extra cash.
Last summer, I had the pleasure of participating in the Global East Asia Program, hosted by the East Asian Area Studies Department. It is a four week summer class that takes place in both USC and a country abroad, in this case: Japan. In this blog post however I want to share with you the great things we did before we went abroad because not only did we get to study and research in Japan, but we also got to learn a lot about Los Angeles and research right in Downtown LA as well!
After our daily lesson on campus, we went to Dodger Stadium and took a tour of the historic ball park. It was a really special thing to do, as they only offer two public tours a day! On this tour, we learned about the history of the Dodgers team and gained insight on how this traditionally American game opened up and accepted Japanese players. I learned that the Japanese actually share the same reverence to the sport as do Americans and this commonality allowed the two cultures to have a mutual respect for one another. I had never been to Dodger stadium before so this was certainly an eye-opening experience. With the stadium tour complete, we then went to speak with Mr. Okasaki, a Japanese American who merged his heritage with his passion for baseball, and went to live in Japan to gain experience on a Japanese baseball field. He then returned to the US and earned a job with the Dodgers. He told us about how rewarding it was to sign two Japanese players to the Dodgers as well as shared a couple frustrating stories about the difficulty of translation and cultural difference. It was really inspiring to hear about how he created his own career path by following his heart.
The Japanese American National Museum was next on our list. We went to the Hello Kitty exhibit and saw how a tiny coin purse turned into an international icon for cuteness. Seeing how Japanese Hello Kitty or “Kitty-chan” was able to warm the hearts of people around the world was thought-provoking because it showed how Japanese cute culture is accessible and attractive to people all around the world. Other than the Hello Kitty exhibit, there was the permanent installment of the history of Japanese Americans. This museum is important because it shows what kind of struggles racial minorities face in America and acts as a home to the important history of the hybrid culture of Asian Americans, specifically Japanese Americans. Going to this museum was such a rewarding experience; you can learn so much from the pieces and the people presented in it. If you’re ever in the Downtown area, you should definitely check out the museum and the area called Little Tokyo that surrounds it!