Submitted By Taylor Boehm
I had no idea that the small boy I met in kindergarten would someday be my inspiration and guide to the person I am now. My dream ever since I was little was to learn Japanese and travel to the island nation of Japan. Why would I ever want to learn such a difficult language and venture to a foreign country half way across the world? All the answers lie in that small boy I met all those years ago.
Jeffrey Sims was his name. He walking into that classroom at Paris Elementary School with his mother’s dress firmly held in his hands. I remember his face as if I had just seen it in a dream. He was crying. At that moment I felt sorry for him because I too knew what it was like to walking into a place where I knew no one. We became friends almost instantly, and just like that my life changed forever.
The reason why Jeffrey was such an influence on me was because his father was American, but his mother was Japanese. As our kindergarten years passed, he would teach me Japanese words that his mother had taught him. He also would bring things from home that his mother had that were brought back from Japan. I don’t think that Japan itself interested me at the time, but just being able to see things from another part of the world was extremely amazing. I just couldn’t get over how people would travel so far from their homes just to be in another place they didn’t have much information about. There was a time where one summer between our first- and second-grade years when Jeffrey and his mother traveled to Japan to visit family. He brought me back a Hello Kitty compact that had a mirror and a small comb inside. To this day I still have that compact, and I look at it as a reminder as to why my goal is to go to Japan.
During the summer before our fourth-grade year, Jeffrey’s parents got a divorce, and him and his mother moved back to Japan. It was then that I made a promise to myself that I would study hard to learn Japanese, and even one day go there to find him, my best friend. As the years went by my friends would always ask me if I had talked to Jeffrey. I would always say no because I had no way of contacting someone half way across the world during that time. I just had to hope that he was thinking of me, just as I was thinking of him. During my eigth grade years my friends thought that it would be a funny prank to create a fake email address and pretend to be him. Of course I fell for it. Once I found out it wasn’t real I started to think about him a lot more, hoping, studying and even wondering if I would ever be able to go to Japan.
As I grew older I began to study not only the language but the Japanese culture as well by doing research online and watching Japanese animations called anime. The more I began to learn about Japan and its culture, the more I wanted to learn it because I wanted too and not because I had made a promise to myself many years before. Even during my senior year in high school my friends would still sometimes mention Jeffrey as if it was only yesterday that we all were in that small classroom together. Once I entered my sophomore year in college, I enrolled in the beginning Japanese course at Arkansas Tech University. This was a major stepping stone in achieving my dreams, and what I didn’t know was, in just two short years my childhood dream and goal would be realized.
My Japanese teacher Wyatt Tise came into class during the beginning of the spring 2014 semester with some interesting news. He explained that Tech was trying to plan an English summer camp that was to be located in a city called Rikuzentakata, Japan. Of course I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe that an opportunity was going to be available to the students taking Japanese at Tech. Once more information about the camp was clarified, I knew that this was my chance to make my dream of going to Japan a reality.
When Dr. John Watson, vice president of Academic Affairs, and Yasushi Onodera, director of International and Multicultural Student Services, conducted interviews with the students wishing to participate in the camp, I was extremely nervous as well as determined. I must have made an impression, because in just two short months I received an email stating that I had been selected.
I remember crying and screaming whenever I opened the email saying that I had been chosen to participate in the English summer camp. Once my mother found out that I would be going to Japan, she knew right away that she needed to help me get in contact with Jeffrey again. My mother works in mysterious ways because in just a few days of searching she found him on Facebook. His name had changed of course. Wataru Arima was the name he went by now. I couldn’t believe that after 12 long years, we finally talked. We were both extremely excited that we would be able to see each other after such a long time. So after talking about my travel plans, he made plans of his own to travel eight hours up north to Rikuzentakata to see me. We would only have less than a full day together, but anything was worth it. And before I knew it that day had finally come that I would be leaving for Japan.
Once I finally made my way to the city of Rikuzentakata, our guide for the camp had us all gather up and talk about our plans for the night. We would be going to another town called Ofunato to a fireworks festival. After our guide finished explaining the plans the team was dismissed to our lodging facility. It was then that I saw a car parked on the far side of the parking lot. It was Jeffrey. I ran over to the car, and he hugged me. I started to cry almost instantly. He still looked like the kid that walked into that kindergarten classroom all those years ago. I explained to him that we would be going to Ofunato, and after talking with Yasushi and our guide he was able to join us at the festival.
Once we finally arrived at the festival, the group split up and Jeffrey and I decided to walk around on our own. I was so glad that I got to experience my very first Japanese festival with him. As we walked he told me stories about what that particular festival meant and why people celebrated it. We probably spent a hour and a half just walking around the festival talking about the people we saw, how our lives were going and what we planned to do in the future. Even though he was standing right next to me I still couldn’t believe that my goal had been realized at only age 21.
Once it was time for the group to meet up to head back to our lodging facilities, Jeffrey and I walked out of the festival to meet up with everyone. After about a 30 minute car ride, we were finally back. Jeffrey said goodbye to the team members and everyone left us alone. Jeffrey and I stayed outside for probably two hours. We talked, listened to music, danced, sang and did all the things we did as kids. It was almost midnight before we decided to say our goodbyes. It was probably the hardest goodbye I’ve ever had to do. I remember that I was trying my best not to cry, and Jeffrey being the man that he is just laughed and smiled at me. I’ll always remember his last words to me that night.
“This isn’t goodbye. I’ll see you soon. OK?”