Ever since I was young, my family have moved around because of my fathers work. Because of this, we also travel to multiple nearby countries to where we live, and I have gotten to experience multiple different cultures. In this post, I will be looking at the power and privilege through the environment and political aspect in Sweden and Japan.
To start, I will look at the environmental differences between Sweden and Japan. Since both countries are well off economically, they have the ability to change their environments, however, as there are multiple differences in aspects such as geographical location and culture, the environments differ greatly. In Sweden, there are big cities, however, the majority of the country is vastly surrounded by nature, such as rivers, forests, and farmland. However, where I live in Japan, it is a concrete jungle of big cities and shopping experiences. As Japan is heavily influenced by American culture, there are many shopping opportunities, and unfortunately, not much nature, as I am used to, being from Europe. Of course, having a good tourist destination is also useful as it makes countries well off economically, so since Japanese culture differs greatly from European culture, many people choose Japan as a vacation destination in order to experience the country. Due to this, it makes Japan well off economically as tourism brings in a lot of money. This is also the case for Sweden, big cities, such as Stockholm, get a lot of tourists as the city is widely known. Sweden also gets a lot of visitors due to natural phenomenon in the environment. One instance of this is the northern lights that can be seen up in the north. So, even though the two countries have great differences in environment, both are well off economically in term of tourism, but for different reasons. In Sweden, there is high importance on protecting the environment (image 2).
The second point that can be made is regarding politics. In the past few years, the number of refugees in Sweden has rapidly increased, for example, as of 2016, there 116,384 citizens of Syria (70,060 men, 46,324 women). My family always travel home during the Summer, and in the summer of 2018, I traveled to visit my grandfather in Båstad on my own. Båstad is a very common town for refugees as it is very small and safe. Because it is a small town, the majority of the people in the town know each other personally and it is the norm to talk to people, even strangers because it is a very social place. So while I was there, my family wasn’t there, and neither were my friends, so when I would be out I would be introduced to new people and I would talk to new people on the bus on my way to my driving lessons. It was really interesting to hear about their stories and journeys in being refugees and coming into a new country having nothing and having had to leave everything behind. In some cases, people are also not really free to practice their own religion openly and are not fully accepted due to the circumstances in which they came to the country. As a psychology student, I found myself thinking about how such trauma would have had an effect on them. I knew that the quality of life for refugees is not always the best, but I had no idea to what extent it affected people. Because of this, I realized how privileged I am and how I, and other people who live a similar lifestyle to me, sometimes take this privilege for granted.
Ever since January of 2016, my first year of High School, I have consistently been volunteering at the animal shelter ARK (Animal Refuge Kansai). Since I have been persistent and been at every adoption fair since 2016 I have gathered up over 200 hours of community service with them. Through this, I have shown a consistent and sustained commitment to helping the organization. I also often have other responsibilities there as I have been there so much I am trusted to take interviews with people who are potential adopters, people who want to foster in the future, and new volunteers. Because I volunteer so often, I have to be able to work well with others. This is because there are other volunteers there too, and we need to work together to make sure the animals are doing ok and that they are not stressed.
This is an important service as animals who are from a shelter usually have high levels of stress, therefore it is good to go and take care of them so they remain healthy as severe stress can come with many health implications. As people in Japan buy animals from pet stores, they often underestimate the amount of time needed to take care of them, and also the training needed. The animals in pet shops often come from puppy mills, and these places keep animals in terrible conditions, small cages and almost no food and care. Once an animal gets bought from a pet store, puppy mills just provide another one, and the cycle continues. For this reason, it is important to make sure the animals in shelters get adopted so that they also have forever loving homes. If the cycle continues the shelters will be overcrowded, and people will throw animals out on the street, and there will be a problem there too. This is already true with cats, the population keeps growing in the stray cat community as many are not spayed or neutered.
This experience has changed me as a person as it has really helped me come out of my shell and become more outgoing, as I used to be a shy person. It has also helped my communication skills a lot, I have pretty bad social anxiety, and because I have been needing to talk with so many new people, as well as being in crowded spaces. This has helped my anxiety as when I expose myself to the situations, I get better at dealing with them, and this is very useful for the future.
So far throughout my high school experience arts has greatly contributed to helping me relax through all the stress I have been in these past three years. I love sitting down with a sketchbook and either sketching drawing or painting. For Christmas last year I got different art mediums packs that I like to differentiate between and try different types of 2D art. I also enjoy 3D art such as sculpting with clay, jewellery making, and sewing. A while ago I got a sewing kit from my sister, and this Christmas I also got a mannequin so I can sew even more things now, the sewing also includes sketching up a pattern to follow. In my free time, I also enjoy music as an art. I love sitting down and playing my guitar, piano or ukulele and singing along, I have also recently started trying to write my own songs.
I have been taking Spanish for 6 years now, and from the second to the eleventh of February 2018, I went to Spain for a trip with the Spanish department of YIS. The trip was designed so that students may experience the Spanish culture and apply their language skills, therefore one of the goals was to only speak Spanish throughout the whole trip. Once I arrived in Pontevedra, Spain, I went straight to my host family, and I lived with my friend Adela. Spain had a very different culture than what I was used to living with. the food was very different, so I ended up trying a lot of new things that I initially wasn’t sure about, but ended up liking.
People in Spain also had a completely different lifestyle than I was used to. Everything was later than it usually would be for me, school started about an hour after what it usually does for me, lunchtime was later than I was used to. People also eat dinner at about nine to ten pm rather than around six to seven pm. Because everything is ‘delayed’, so is going to bed, I was struggling at first with staying up until two am in order to spend time with my host family. Because the days get so long in Spain due to staying up so late, I had to become accustomed to taking siestas, which is taking a nap after you get home from school, as this first seemed strange to me. However, after getting used to siestas, I wish I could still take them.
The after-school life, the weekend, and nightlife of teenagers are also very different from what I have grown up with. After school in Spain, teenagers usually go out onto the town with their friends and hang out, rather than going straight home to study. During the time when I was in Spain, there was a holiday known as ‘Carnival’, this is when there’s a carnival through the city, and people dress up in costumes and go out during the afternoon and evening to be with friends. Adela and I, together with a few of our other friends, went to the Carnival together, and later that night had a little get together and hung out. This is when I found out that during the weekends, teenagers usually hang out in the town until about three to four am, which is very different from where I am from, my parents would never have allowed that.
Because I was surrounded by native Spanish speakers, they speak a lot faster and with more advanced vocabulary than I was used to from speaking in class. This was because in Spanish class at school, everyone is still learning the language, and because of this speaks a lot slower, with breaks so that we can think about the grammar we are going to be using with conjugation so that it is correct. However, because I was around native speakers, I had to focus really hard on being able to understand exactly what they were saying, initially I also did not understand all the Spanish slang the teenagers were using as that was not something we learned at school. In order to get past these obstacles, I asked my host family and my new friends a lot of questions regarding slang, and I also asked them for certain tips and tricks on the grammar and vocabulary. In the past, I have also found that it is a lot easier to overcome language challenges by engaging yourself in the language. Since I had previous experience with this when learning German, whenever someone would speak to me in English I would speak Spanish with them and asked them to do the same so I would get practice. From previous experiences, I found that just by listening to other people speak, you can adopt a better accent with allows for better fluency, and through listening to the context of a conversation and asking questions to native Spanish speakers, I was able to greatly expand my vocabulary and use of grammar. Since I was able to use these strategies, after just a week in Spain speaking only Spanish, my language and communication skills had greatly improved, and I was able to speak a lot faster with better fluency and not needing to think as much about vocabulary, conjugation and grammar as it felt more automatic after using it so often in an environment where I had natives around me, who also corrected me if there was a more efficant way of saying something, or even if I just said or conjugated something wrong. This was useful as they gave me tips on how to remember the grammar better, and it helped me be able to recall conjugation a lot faster.
After spending all that time in Spain with a Spanish speaking family. I am really glad I got the opportunity to further my Spanish skills so much. I really enjoyed the experience, and it is so useful that I was able to grow my knowledge about Spain and the Spanish language. In order to properly communicate, I really had to expand my vocabulary and grammatic knowledge, and this has helped me a lot since then.
When I was eight years old I moved away from my home country, Sweden, to Switzerland. Because I moved when I was so young, it was imperative that I learned English in order to be able to communicate in an international school environment. After about two months in the international school in Zurich, I was able to read, speak and write fluently in both Swedish and English. However, since I was in a school that was in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, it was mandatory to learn German in international schools as well. Because of this I also learned to be fluent in German from grade two up to grade eight. In international schools, it is also necessary to learn either French or Spanish once you reach middle school. So for me, I chose to learn Spanish, and I have stuck with it all the way through middle school, into high school, until I graduate next year in grade twelve. Since I have been learning Spanish for almost seven years now, I can communicate and understand at a level of fluency.
Ever since I was a little girl I have always loved animals and felt extremely strongly about animal rights. Since I grew up with a cat for the first eight years of my life it felt strange not to have a pet inside the house, so when we moved to Japan our family decided it was time to get a dog. Since my little sister was terrified of dogs from a young age it was decided she would get to meet the dog before so she wouldn’t be scared. Since there are so many pet stores around Japan it went faster than expected and after just going in to look at a puppy we came home with a new family member the very day. Unfortunately, my sister has extreme allergies and after three days we ended up having to give the puppy back. However, at an activities fair at school I ended up finding a flyer about becoming a foster family for a dog, after talking it over with my parents it was decided this would be the perfect situation in finding us a dog my sister wasn’t allergic to and we would be able to adopt.
After having a meeting with Julie at ARK, we later got a foster puppy Jerry, and even though we couldn’t keep him he still got adopted to our cousins in Sweden. The organisation ARK, however, had really sparked my interest, and as of February 2016 we started fostering, and this then led to me volunteering at adoption events every weekend. On June the 20th 2017 I had gathered up 150 hours of community service at ARK, and I still volunteer at every event and plan on continuing to do so until I move in 2019. In October 2016 we ended up adopting our second foster dog, Yama. As of today my family has fostered two dogs and five kittens and are still up as a foster family whenever homeless animals come to the Tokyo ARK.
Throughout my Freshman and Sophomore year of high school, I have been a member of the service group Animal Relief Club (ARC), which is dedicated to helping homeless animals and shelters. As I am a huge animal lover I figured this would be the perfect service club for me as I am involved with ARK outside of school and would like to continue helping within the YIS community as well. Being a part of this group I noticed that all leaders throughout the past two years have been talking about actually getting in contact with animal shelters, talking about making shelter visits and so on. However, none of the leaders these past two years have actually managed to make something they were talking about does happen, all that has been going on has been having a stall on Food Fair. Because of this, I thought it would be good to actually do something with the club to do what we all came to do, help animals. So for my Junior year, I prepared a speech and ended up becoming a leader this year until my Senior year in November.
As a leader of ARC, I will be preparing things for the group to do each year and taking action in actually going and physically helping shelters out as well as perhaps collecting materials such as blankets and things for dogs and cats (eg toys) to help the shelters out. We will also be doing donations from bake sales, and I am also planning to have employees from a shelter come in to talk to the club about what it is really like since a lot of people aren’t yet aware.
In January of being the leader of ARC, I got the group started on a project to do with the Yokohama community and helping all the stray cats in the region. On the project, I got us in contact with an organization who could help teach us how to capture the cats, then take them to the vet to get them spayed and neutered and then release them again. This is to ensure that the stray cat population stops increasing so rapidly. In May 2018 I organized for one staff member and one board member from the shelter ARK to come in and talk to the club about TNR (Trap Neuter and Return). We had this presentation in order to get started on out own TNR for cats around the school and the Motomachi area in order to lend a hand in reducing the exponential growing cat population here in Yokohama.
This year, as leaders, we have also partnered with the sustainability club in order to make vegan cosmetics. This is in order to promote anti-animal testing and being sustainable towards the environment. The sustainability group is in charge of making the containers, while ARC is in charge of making the actual cosmetics. The goal is to have a little label explaining why we are doing what we are doing, as well as a brochure to make people buying the product aware of the implications of animal testing.
For the sophomore year at YIS students are required to complete the Personal Project, this is where you had to chose a topic which is considered an issue and make a product to help. For my personal project I decided to talk about animal welfare in Japan and teamed up with the non-profit organisation ARK in order to create a promotion video for them about adoption rather than buying a dog and informing about abuse and abandonment.
Through this video I was able to not just reach the members of the YIS community, but also got praise by the founder of ARK, Elizabeth Oliver, and the video was also approved by Dogs Trust in London. Multiple people coming to adoption events for ARK have talked about the video in a positive manner and talked about how it affected them and how it made them want to adopt rather than buy a dog from a pet store as they were not priorly informed about the abuse and puppy mills going into running it.
After having created this video, the ARK staff were so pleased with the outcome and the amount of awareness it has been spreading, not only in Japan, but also other countries such as England, Sweden and the US, that they created a page on their website dedicated to featuring the video.
As a student in YIS we are required to attend field studies every year. During my sophomore year, I attended the diving trip to Okinawa in order to get a diving license. Throughout this trip, and before, we were required to study and take a test every single night as well as go diving for three out of the five days spent on the island. Learning how to dive was a new and scary, yet an exciting and wonderful experience. Throughout our studies of diving we had gotten to learn that there are many risk factors included in being an open-water diver, which made it really scary when in the water. While we were diving we saw many new underwater plants as well as a wide range of fish, and even a turtle. At the end of the trip, I passed my test with one of the highest marks in the group and got my license.
One of the hardest skills I had to learn was regarding equalizing, keeping my breathing steady and buoyancy under water. These are all very important skills in diving as if you don’t equalize, you can blow your eardrum out. Equalizing is opening the normally closed eustachian tubes, allowing higher-pressure air from your throat to enter your middle ears, we were taught to equalize through pinching out noses and blowing gently. We learned that it was important to keep our breathing steady and regular. This is because if you at any point hold your breath, you will start ascending, and as you ascend the air in your lungs will expand which can cause lung overexpansion injuries from a collapsed lung, to an arterial gas embolism, which causes strokes. Buoyancy control is important as this helps the diver stay in the proper position with little effort. Poor buoyancy-control skills struggle throughout the dive.
This trip changed my view of the wilderness because I used to be afraid of diving since it has always seemed like a dangerous activity where you can be harmed. I used to be somewhat afraid of the ocean as it is unknown to me, and there can be many dangers lurking around. However, during this trip, I developed a new appreciation of the underwater world. Through going on this trip it has opened up various possibilities for my future. for example, I have always wanted to work with animals, so because I am a certified diver, I could look into becoming a marine biologist.