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            I met Sakiko many years ago when we were both cast in our summer camp’s production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (I was Veruca Salt and she was Mrs. Salt – it was meant to be). When we weren’t onstage pretending to be a golden-goose-obsessed spoiled tween and enabling parent respectively, we were swapping book recommendations, fangirling over Star Wars, and becoming fast friends. After several more summers of fun, we returned to camp as counselors-in-training. Only, that year, I received some sad news: this would be Sakiko’s last summer in the United States; she and her family were moving to Japan.

            Although I was disappointed to hear that my friend would be living so far away, I was determined to maintain our connection. My grandfather had always told me stories about Cynthia, a woman living in England with whom he became friends and stayed in touch for many years via snail mail. I wondered if I might learn from my grandpa’s experience and add a modern technological twist. So, Sakiko gave me her email address and we agreed to be email pals since international snail mail, texts, and calls can be expensive. Now, as of 2021, we have been writing back and forth to one another for five years. We’ve cheered each other on from afar as we each started high school, simultaneously went through a Hamilton craze, shared tips for AP classes, and celebrated when we each got into college. And I consider her to be a close friend despite the distance. 

            Beyond sharing life experiences and making musical playlists for one another, one of the most fruitful aspects of my friendship with Sakiko has been the chance to learn more about a country other than my own. As someone who has lived in both the United States and Japan, Sakiko can insightfully compare the two nations; she has taught me much about Japanese culture, explaining her family’s New Year’s traditions, Japanese society’s enhanced regard for the elderly, and the differences between the U.S. and Japanese transportation systems. When COVID-19 hit, Sakiko and I were able to note contrasts between our countries’ responses, and discuss the ways in which the role and effectiveness of our governments differed. 

            Since meeting Sakiko, I’ve had the privilege to get to know a handful of other people who live outside of the U.S. In every instance, my perspective has been broadened, my opinions challenged, and my interest in travel and exploration increased. Being able to take concepts and social trends I find fascinating such as gender roles, popular culture, and cuisine and juxtapose them across international lines is not only fascinating, but essential to becoming a more informed and worldly individual. 

If you ever get the chance to travel or to connect with someone who has lived elsewhere, I wholeheartedly encourage you to maintain that relationship and learn all you can from that person; you never know how your worldview might be changed.  

Alexis Bentz

Wash U '24

Alexis Bentz is a freshman at WashU planning to major in English with a concentration in creative writing.
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