Shimane, Japan
My name is Melissa and I am a 22 year old American living in rural Japan. I graduated with a degree in International Studies and Japanese Language and now work as an ALT (assistant language teacher) through the JET Program.
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The Story

Dir en Grey as I first saw them.
It all started December of 2005, at least the Japanese part of this adventure I am on. One night at a friend’s house, my sophomore year of high school, I heard my first Japanese song, “Yurameki” by Dir en Grey. Strange, I know for those of you familiar with that band (visual Japanese rock), but for a self conscious and reserved teenage girl it was like nothing I had ever heard/seen before and I was instantly hooked. I wanted to listen to more and learn more about this language and culture I had been oblivious to. In hind sight, it kind of just happened to be Japanese really. At the time I barely knew the difference between Asian countries, in fact, I didn’t actually know where Japan was located. I was a band geek and my main obsession classical music and Josh Groban. However, due to being a navy child I lived in Italy for 3 years which sparked a fascination with languages and foreign music. Unfortunately, a slight learning disability made English difficult in my Elementary school years and even after it was no longer a problem, I shied away from foreign language. But something happened when I heard that song, it was like a flame had been rekindled inside me and I latch on to it as my language of choice.

Summer 2006
HSD - Summer 2007
In high school I went through my bout of “fan-girling”. I practically followed Dir en Grey up the east-coast when they first came to America. My hair went through a few color changes too and for a short while I think my parents were seriously concerned for my well being as I obsessed over Japanese Visual Kei bands/fashion/culture. Fortunately, I was serious/obsessed enough to start studying Japanese. I know many people share this same story, “I started because of anime, J-pop, manga etc..”, but I am not ashamed of it. Without Japanese music I would have never discovered the one thing I truly enjoy and that has taught me so much. When it came to studying Japanese I was basically really lucky. In high school I had the most amazing/inspirational teacher anyone could ask for, which I think made all the difference. She introduced me to a program called High School Diplomats and the rest is history really. Through that program I realized the depth and beauty of the Japanese culture. In one summer I essentially grew up and matured out of my “fan-girl phase” (however, I still love Japanese music and I will always be a "fangirl" at heart). From that point on Japanese became my sole educational focus. When I returned for my senior year all eyes were on college, study abroad and majoring in Japanese or something close. I am pretty sure my parents were relieved to see this turn of events and finally took my “Japanese thing” seriously. 

USHSD - Miyajima, Japan Summer 2008
In my college research I stumbled upon Kansai Gaidai University and after looking at the pictures I pretty much instantly fell in love. So, I found a school with a direct exchange program with Kansai Gaidai, applied early to that school (ODU), got in and I was full steam ahead on my pursuit of studying Japanese and experiencing it abroad! And my pursuit never stopped because here I am two years later. The time has gone by so fast. I spent all of it with this one year in mind, working my butt off to keep my grades up because most years students are competing for the 2-4 spots allotted to ODU by Kansai Gaidai.  This year, however, I was the only one who applied >_< but that’s okay it doesn’t hurt to have good grades! Now I can’t believe it is actually here and that I am actually going! I was able to go to Japan the summer before college through the second phase of High School Diplomats called United States High School Diplomats, but this time I am going completely on my own. It hasn’t actually hit me yet, but I know it will be worth all the hard work and dedication. Japanese has already expanded my world in ways that can’t be measured! I can’t wait to see what else the land of the rising sun has in store for me!