Mackensi Green is small, sweet and a little bit shy – not someone you’d immediately suspect would want to travel from North Zulch to Japan all by herself and live with a host family that speaks little English.
But she did just that – and she loved it.
The 15-year-old returned Aug. 2 from a six-week stint in Yokohama, a small city just outside of Tokyo.
“I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like,” Green said. “I was nervous at first, then I got connected with my sister, and she was great. She spoke a little English.”
Green polished up her Japanese during the school day and also took a math class. She ate plenty of rice and got skilled with chopsticks.
“I loved my mom and dad’s cooking,” she said of her host family. “Now I always eat noodles with chopsticks instead of a fork.”
Green’s own father, back in Texas, was concerned about her taking the trip alone, but ultimately relented and signed the paperwork so she could go. When she returned from Japan, she was told that he’d died of a heart attack two days prior.
The teenager doesn’t appear to dwell on the loss and seems much more open to talking about the positive things that happened while she was in Japan.
“We went to Disneyland in Tokyo,” she said, looking through a photo album that her host family made for her and mailed. “The trains were really fun to ride. It was an incredible opportunity. I knew I had to make the best of it.”
While she won’t be able to go back next summer with the same program, she’s already decided she’d like to return. She applied for the Campus Ambassador Program, which would allow her to mentor others who are planning to do an exchange in a foreign country.
While the little brunette with her doe eyes and wide smile didn’t exactly blend into the landscape in Yokohama, there were plenty of visitors from overseas in Tokyo. She often walked by herself to a little family-owned restaurant in her neighborhood.
“I loved my neighborhood,” she said. “It was really quiet.”
It was an adjustment learning to convert her money - $1 equals 100 yen.
“I’d be standing there at the counter and trying to figure it out, and my friends would be like, ‘you need 500 more yen,’” she said with a laugh.
She kept a notebook with her and took lots of notes, and even sent regular blog entries to The Meteor.
“I gained independence,” Green said. “I’ve never been on my own before. Now I’m ready to do things on my own.”
She added that it was one of the most valuable experiences of her life.
“It was great,” she said. “I loved it and I really want to get back. I really miss my family there.”