MATSUNOSUKE - Akiko Hirano's Pie & Cake

Akiko Hirano's Essay

Backnumbers American Cake form a Housewife who studied abroad

Essays from Akiko Hirano who studied in the U.S. at age 45.

Reproduced and translated with additions from the 2000 Sojusha Publishers' publication (sold out).

COVER: American Cake form a Housewife who studied abroad
housewife's dream

The dream of exchange to the U.S.

Invitation to Illinois

The illusory exchange

An 8 million yen investment in me!

The struggle with English begins

Inside a multi-cultural class

Japanese food in
an underground kitchen

My composition appears in a text book

If only I had read more books
when I was younger

The death of
a Chinese exchange student

American style stress relief

Finally, a real university student

Independent students in the states

Driving debut

Amazing silver power

Visiting New York City

Crossing North American Continent by car

The struggle with English begins

For American universities, August is the month for new admissions. However for those with less than native levels of English, they have to take ELS language classes to ensure they will be able to understand their university lectures. I began by enrolling in ELS. If you have the extra capacity you are able to take academic subjects and are given credit for that upon entrance into university.

I left Japan in the middle of January in preparation for the start of my ELS classes. Whenever I go on holiday I am always weighed down with luggage and this time was no different, yet looking at the amount of luggage I had it seemed like I was moving house! Only my daughter came to see me off and we parted with a simple “See you!”. The truth is my heart was full of uncertainty but I wouldn't let it show on my face.

I became a little misty-eyed when it dawned on me that I would be away from Japan for a while, but on the way to the Northwest boarding gate my spirits picked up and like an exuberant student on the way to school I let out an “I'm on my way!” In an effort to save money I decided to fly the long-way around, via Detroit where I transferred to a domestic flight to Hartford, the capital of Connecticut, eventually arriving at the small airport of Bradley International.

The university is located in Storrs, a place that isn't on the map and it goes without saying that I didn't know anyone there! As we neared the airport my head began to sink as I was overcome with uncertainty of life in a new country but soon forced myself to pick my head up and tried to be brave telling myself “It will all work out!

The flight was late and by the time I arrived at that little airport in the middle of nowhere it was already 11PM. I was feeling insecure. There were few people around which is probably normal for the middle of January. The town of Storrs is about 30-40 minutes away from the airport. On this day I had arranged for the university shuttle bus to pick me up. There wasn't anyone else around who looked like an exchange student and my heart thumped at the thought of being left behind and having to spend the night there, unable to speak English.

I took my luggage and sat in front of the airport and waited, I trusted someone would come and pick me up. After a while a young African-American man came my way holding a hand-written panel with the words “Horizon Shuttle” and he said something that sounded like my name. I said YES! But should I trust this man? (The older I get the more suspicious I become.) Ignoring my concerns he took my bags and began placing them on the bus. I had no choice but to trust him. And we began on our way. I didn't know what to do, everything I thought was suddenly negative. I saw headlines in Japanese newspapers that said “Middle-aged Japanese woman goes missing in America” (Japanese look younger than they really are so the article wouldn't have given away my true age!) I wondered what would happen if he sold me to the mafia as a slave… I wondered if I would ever see my children again … Afraid, I began to shiver and broke out in a cold sweat.

Just then he spoke up, “I have to pick someone else up, so we will be making a stop.” That, I understood! I felt the sweat abate and sat easier in my seat. Up till then I was overcome with nervousness and now for the first time I began to realize just how cold it was outside. A short while later we picked up another person, an exchange student. He was an Italian and when he got on extended his hand to shake mine, with a big grin. It might sound like a bit of an exaggeration but for me it was my first taste of international goodwill!

As we drove, it was dark and I couldn't see anything through the car's windows. I knew we were in the middle on nowhere! It was pitch-black and I thought it was a reflection on my life, and again began to give in to negativity. After about 30 minutes we arrived at the house of the Italian student. He had rented an apartment outside of the campus. He disappeared into the building with one hand raised waving to me “See you!”. Another 10 minutes later and we were finally on campus.

The 4 storey building was lit brightly and waiting to greet me was a student who worked part-time in administration. He helped me with my bags and showed me to my room in #302. I returned to the lobby, signed various papers, received 2 keys and went back to my room. It was about this time that I realized the temperature was below zero!

Luckily there was central heating in that 8-tatami mat sized room which was adorned with a bed and chest of drawer, but … there were no pillows or blankets! It was the middle of the night and there was nothing I could do. So I grabbed my bath towel from my Boston Bag and promptly made my bed!

I was overcome with exhaustion and couldn’t get to sleep. I didn't realize how lonely it would be without any noise around me. My body folded up into a ball and as I stared at the wall next to the bed words unexpectedly escaped my mouth: “I've come a long way…” It was 16 hours from Narita to here and now I was ending the first day as an international student yet about to start that very same day all over again in a new country.

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