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Birthday Celebrations Abroad

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Guest post from YFU Alumna and Campus Ambassador, Hollie Nusbaum

This summer, I had three birthdays.

When I realized that I would turn 17 during my six week exchange to Japan, I was thrilled. Having a summer birthday, I was used to my birthday being forgotten and overlooked, so I loved the idea of my birthday getting to be part of a special time. However, I didn’t realize that I’d be celebrating so many times.

My first birthday was at home in the United States. The day before I left, I threw a small going-away party with some of my friends, expecting just a few sad goodbyes. To my shock, they turned it into a fake birthday party, surprising me with gifts and singing me a happy birthday. Even before I left, exchange was showing me just how much my friends at home mattered.

My second birthday was at my host school in Japan. My actual birthday fell during the school’s summer break, so I figured it would go unnoticed by the kids at school. It was my last day of class in Japan, and I was feeling down the entire day knowing that I wouldn’t see my new friends again. As I was saying my final goodbyes and getting ready to leave, one of my friends came running over and was urgently trying to get me to come back to our homeroom. I walked in to find the whole class gathered to surprise me, everybody singing happy birthday at the top of their lungs. They gave me a picture of characters from my favorite movie, Princess Mononoke, and everybody had written me notes. I said goodbye to my class holding back tears, amazed that I was so loved and changed by these people in such a short time.

My third birthday was with my host family. I woke up homesick, not having realized how hard it would be to be away from my family on a day that I usually spent with them. I went downstairs and was immediately greeted by party poppers (scaring the life out of me)! My host dad and sister greeted me with early morning smiles and gifts. We drove to my host grandparents’ home in Kyoto and spent the day feasting at a nearby restaurant. When my host dad brought out a cake with a blazing candle and I heard the birthday song for the third time, I felt truly loved. Birthdays in Japan are usually not as celebrated as they are in the states, so it was touching that so many people had gone out of their way for me.

Birthdays are a way to show who is important in your life. Having so many birthdays this year, even if some of them weren’t the ‘real thing’, showed me how people are making my life better every day. Turning 17 in Japan was one of the best experiences of my life.

Visit yfuusa.org/study to learn more about studying abroad for the summer, semester or even an entire year!