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Japanese Exchange Student A Perfect Portland Fit


japanese exchange student


What’s better than traveling to new places and meeting the locals? Being the locals and meeting travelers. A Japanese exchange student proved the rule this summer.


With kids out of high school and college you’d think a couple of empty nest boomers would enjoy themselves with the usual things baby boomers get slammed with: over consumption, over explaining, self absorption.


Or they’d host a college Japanese exchange student. It turns out you’re on the list if you’ve done it once. The program people at Andeo International gave a call when other families dropped out. Either that or they call hosts with good ratings.


I need to check which is which.

Our student came in with the best possible resume. He’d traveled internationally, lived on his own, and had the travel bug to see more. He’d been to New York City, Spain, and Canada.


Kazuma knew his way around.


Even better, he was a happy guy ready to find his place in a bigger world. He filled an empty nest with great energy, and revealed things that surprised me.


For example, it’s been a while since we’ve had someone to ‘do for’ in the house. Apparently my wife had a back load of good will and it arrived in brilliant colors. Her caring and nurturing reminded me why I married her in the first place.


She surprised me with how intuitive and outgoing she was. Once a Mom always a Mom, and she broke out the mom cards, a full deck. The great thing was seeing how well her interest in being supportive meshed with someone from the other side of the world.


I couldn’t help thinking she was the rainbow of happiness you hope to find in a rain storm. Not that she keeps her good will hidden away, but hosting a Japanese exchange student brought it out front and center. Watching their interaction made me proud. I wanted to be a part so I brought out some personal history to share.


With the language barrier between us, which wasn’t very big since he spoke and understood English so well, I hope he didn’t connect all of my petty complaints.


It started with my high school sports letters.


I was a three year varsity football letterman but only got credit for two. Why? Because I was injured halfway through a season after collecting enough playing time for a letter, which was a big deal.


I know the rule here: Get Over It You Small Minded Jerk. And I have, sort of.


My class went from a coach who didn’t give a hoot and lost game after game after game, a man who couldn’t motivate his way out of a parking lot, to one of the great coaches in Oregon high school football history.


The problem with moving from a loser coach to a winner was the taint. My class had a loser taint junior and senior year, with the incoming sophomores as golden saviors. And they were.


After I pulled a shoulder in football I started thinking about my sports future and visited the wrestling room for the first time. While I healed up I didn’t turn into a student manager carrying stuff for the coaches. I didn’t hang around after practice. For that I didn’t get my three year letterman stripe.


Explaining this to my Japanese exchange student made me feel small and petty, but I embraced the feeling and compared it to my wife’s joy. It’s all about learning, and I was getting a hard lesson to choke down, a small petty pill.


When I showed him my Oregon greco-roman state champion gold medal and podium picture it got worse. I’d capped my high school sports career the summer after graduation with all-America status for placing third in the biggest wrestling national tournament of the year.
Oregon wrestling cultural exchange sent teams to New Zealand, South Africa, and my senior year they went to Japan. I was on the ‘other’ cultural exchange team.


We went to Iowa.


As I explained my third place status to Kazuma I went off the rails against the referee who cheated me out of a national title. I pinned my opponent three times in the final, throwing him to his back each time. An experienced ref goes to the mat with the throw and calls the touch pin. Not this guy.


He’d been the ref for another match and didn’t like my style. I worked the rules a little. If one wrestler initiates a move and the opponent ends up on top, it’s no points. My plan to win it all was throw early before getting all slippery with sweat, then stall the rest of the match with fake throws and fall to the mat.


If I didn’t get turned I didn’t lose points and the clock kept ticking. The ref figured me out and started giving stalling warnings in the early match. Then he gave the other guy points for my antics. My opponents complained and I didn’t blame them. Just following the rules here. And kept winning.


During the final match to decide my place on the podium, the same ref held a grudge. He wouldn’t call the fall off the throws. I ended up losing by one point and dropped to third place because of the round robin finals set up.


Explaining this to my Japanese exchange student was a painful reminder of the time, and a painful reminder of the present. I hoped it would be the last time I whined about the great injustice I suffered.


Three of us sat around a big table looking at sports history. Kazuma seemed intrigued by my past. My wife shook her head, probably hoping not to hear it again. Me? I looked for more scrap book archives.


It’s all about the learning.
About David Gillaspie
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