Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One Student's Tale of Growing Up Different

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One Student's Tale of Growing Up Different

Article excerpt

Alex Sayle is perhaps the ultimate foreign student.

The child of British and Australian parents, Alex was born and raised in Hanbara, a small village in Kanagawa prefecture, and left only two years ago to begin college in Australia. He attended public schools in the area and took part in his local toko han, an organized group of children who walk to school together.

His immersion was total, and that experience has given him a unique perspective on the pitfalls and advantages of being a foreign student in one of the world's most homogeneous countries. While some aspects of his experience are peculiar to Japan, much of it speaks to the challenges all expatriate children and their parents face when they eschew international schools and go the local route. Alex's world has always been balanced between two languages. At home, he spoke English with his mother - who taught English in local schools - and his father, a writer. Japanese was the language of the outside world, and he has been speaking it for as long as he can remember. His bilingualism isn't just linguistic, it's cultural. He understands the way things work in Japan even as he can stand back and analyze it. "I have a wider view of things," he says. "I can understand both sides of what's going on." Alex carries himself with the composure of a much older person. He's just finished his first year of a computer-science degree, but he feels secure that between his studies and his language skills, his future is assured. "I won't be out of work at any stage," he says. It wasn't easy, though. Elementary school was hard because he ran into the perennial problem of Japanese education, bullying. This often happens to students who do exceptionally well, or are different in any way. Pale and lanky, with blond hair and cornflower blue eyes, Alex was definitely different. …

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