Recently returned YFU alumnus Gus Ruppert spoke at YFU's 2015 fundraising gala, expressing his gratitude in being selected as a scholarship recipient and how his exchange to Japan has inspired him to explore new paths he previously didn't know existed.
Good evening, my name is Gus Ruppert. I am seventeen years old, and have recently returned from a summer program with YFU and JAFS in Japan. I live in the suburbs of northwest Baltimore. I am the oldest of six children. Because of the size of my family and the financial priorities my parents have set, we don’t do a lot of traveling. As a child, I became fascinated by the Japanese language and culture through Japanese animation and games. My parents encouraged my pursuit and found me a great tutor, whom I paid with my earnings from mowing lawns and lifeguarding. I was determined to go to Japan for a cultural immersion experience, but after three years of saving, I only had $3,000. My mother searched the internet for exchange programs, and was attracted by YFU’s humanitarian approach. She read that YFU formed to heal international relations after World War II by bringing German students to the U.S. for a year. This left a deep impression of YFU on my family, and I sent in an application in hopes of getting a scholarship. I was overjoyed to become the recipient of the Japan-America Friendship Scholarship, which miraculously paid for all but the $3,000 I already had saved. I would be living with a host family in Ehime, Japan for six weeks.
This summer, on June 19th, I arrived in San Francisco for pre-departure orientation. My assigned group, or “kumi”, became a tight-knit family that I still contact to this day. After orientation, we flew to Japan and parted ways on the trip to each of our hometowns. I met my host parents at Matsuyama airport, and they took me on a tour of the rural city of Saijo. I saw the bathhouse, which inspired the scenery of the renowned movie Spirited Away, strolled through an open air market filled with distinctly Japanese wares, and soaked in a foot-only hot spring. I got to test my conversation skills on the car ride, and came to know my host mother Chizuru as “Okaasan,” and my host father Hiroki as “Otoosan.” After passing through the gorgeous countryside, we arrived at the cozy little house that I now could call home. I walked in and met my host sister for the first time, both of us excited to get to know each other.
The next day began my attendance at Saijo High School, which was one of the most enjoyable yet challenging things that I had ever experienced. Each student and teacher welcomed me with open arms, and I was showered with more attention than I could have anticipated. The lessons and assignments were difficult to follow, but I had a wonderful time interacting with the other students and improving my Japanese. There were certain expectations that I had to get accustomed to as well; for example, certain rooms required leaving your shoes outside and changing into slippers, and sometimes I would absentmindedly wander in without doing so, or exit with the slippers still on. I joined the school’s are club, and found myself surrounded by dedicated and self-motivated artists whose skills far surpassed my own. I learned from each of their examples, and by the end of my trip, my own artwork took great strides in quality.
Along with my town and school, I could not have asked for a better host family. My enthusiastic host father made it his mission for me to experience the sights and sounds of Ehime, taking me to numerous temples and castles, each more glorious than the last. One of my favorite trips was to Okunomi-jima, and island populated by thousands upon thousands of rabbits that would flock over to me as I held out pellets and carrots. My host father also kept my mother back at home updated on my trip and emailed her hundreds of pictures. My host mother was sweeter than imaginable and a top-notch chef, and her social nature helped me communicate when my Japanese failed. My sister Ayaka took time out of her intense studies for a government job to help me around school and meet new people. We became close friends, and in return for her help I would bring her snacks while she studied. The family had conversations with me after dinner, and during one of those conversations was when I realized I had truly become part of the family. My host parents brought up my going to college, and asked how I planned to pay off student loans. I said that among other things, I would consider military service. The conversation continued, but I soon noticed my host mother hiding her tears. My host father’s eyes welled up as well, and he said that while enlisting would help cover the cost of education and serve my country, they couldn’t stand for me to be in danger... I then realized that I was not a guest in their house. I was their son.
Since arriving home, I have kept in close touch with my friends and family in Japan by writing letters and using the Japanese social network “Line.” I told them about my opportunity to speak with you tonight and they share in my excitement. YFU has given me more than a family in Japan (which is my greatest treasure). It has given me inspiration to explore new paths and a sense of direction in my life. As a high school senior this year, I am exploring International Business as a major in college, and possibly paying for college through the military’s linguistics field. I am also considering becoming a Japanese tutor in my hometown, and am looking into the JET program for teaching English in Japan. I am so grateful for the Japan-American Friends Scholarship beneficiaries who have made my experience possible, and have shown me the many paths I did not realize were available to me. Their generosity has reached over oceans and touched many lives. With your support, many more young people could be given the same opportunity through YFU that I had and the course of their lives could be forever altered for the better with the new understanding they will gain and the many doors that will open for them.
Thank you. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.
David Claypool / Kalorama Photography