Beyond boundaries: Japanese student Sanami Kanada (’24) reflects on exchange experience in the States


Arlina Yang

Sanami Kanada (’24) is a Japanese foreign exchange student at Amador, under the study abroad program sponsored by the Kato Yamazaki scholarship.

The moment Sanami Kanada (‘24) opened the mail from the Kato Yamazaki scholarship in Japan about the details of her study abroad trip, her wish truly became reality.

Kanada became interested in the idea of studying abroad where she took a class on SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) in elementary school and learned about many environmental problems present in the world. 

“I wanted to study in the U.S., which is at the forefront of environmental issues. I wanted to dive into a completely different world from the one I had been living in, so when I was in junior high school, I finally decided to study abroad,” said Kanada.

Kanada arrived in the U.S. on July 14th, 2021, and she will return to Japan around March of 2023 at the end of her scholarship.

Applying for the scholarship

Kanada’s dream to study abroad became a possibility after she passed her traditional high school entrance exam and entered the highly selective Nara Women University Secondary School in Japan. 

“Life in Japan is very different from life in the United States. The integrated junior high and high school I attended was far away, so I had to get up at 5:30 every morning and commute to school every day, taking about two hours by train and on foot,” said Kanada.

The Kato Yamazaki scholarship sponsors fifth, seventh, and tenth grade Japanese students interested in studying abroad in the field of culture, arts, and sciences. Kanada became one of the only two students out of more than 750 students in her school to receive the opportunity to study abroad. 

“I had to maintain good grades, even though it was very hard to get the funds to study abroad. So when I was successfully selected for a scholarship organization, I felt a great sense of accomplishment,” said Kanada.

The scholarship foundation decided to send Kanada to Amador Valley High School in California, where she would come to learn of an environment, culture, and language entirely different from Japan. 

“The culture and language would be completely new to me, so I took English conversation classes in Japan to improve my English (before coming to the U.S.),” said Kanada.

Kanada recalled experiencing many culture shocks in America: school lunches, 7/11 convenience stores, and most notably America’s diversity with different nationalities.

“Statistics show that Japan’s population is about 90% Japanese, and I had rarely even met people from other countries. Everyone here has a different personal history, different ideas, and different places of origin. I was moved by the respect, acceptance, and support that everyone had for each other,” said Kanada.

Kanada left Japan from the Narita airport in Tokyo and landed in California on July 14, 2021 for her study abroad experience. (Photo provided by Sanami Kanada)

Comparing two environments

While Kanada enjoys the American public school system, she noticed many differences between Japanese and American high schools, such as schedules, entrance exams, and student bodies. 

“Everyone (in the U.S.) was only required to take the classes they needed to take, not the classes they wanted to take. In Japan, however, everyone was placed in a certain class (where students take classes together as one class) and enjoyed school festivals, athletic events, and field trips together every year, so it was more of a tight-knit team effort,” said Kanada.

In her freshman year, Kanada took two ESL (English as a Second Language) periods to adjust to the new environment. She credits her friends for being there for her even when she “could not even speak a short sentence” in English at first.

“I was taking Japanese I at the time, and my friends in that class taught me about American culture. I could learn about new and fascinating aspects of America that are different from that of Japan by spending time with them, going downtown to hang out, and thanks to them, I was able to continue my school life without giving up,” said Kanada.

One of Kanada’s most memorable moments in Amador Valley High School was Donversity, a school event that celebrates its diversity with performances from many cultural clubs on campus. She participated as a Kpop dancer for the Korean Culture Club.

“I had never seen or heard of such an event before in my life, and at Donversity, I felt an understanding and respect for cultures, genders, and individual identities from all over the world from all the participants. As an international student, this was a memorable event for me that made me want to use what I learned and do my best to make the world a better place,” said Kanada.

Coming back in the future

The Kato Yamazaki scholarship study abroad program ends around March of next year, and Kanada will return back to her high school in Japan after the program wraps up. 

“I had to withdraw from the school I used to attend once (for the opportunity to study abroad in America), and because I am returning to Japan, I had to arrange for re-entry procedures,” said Kanada.

Kanada’s experience in America as a foreign exchange student proved invaluable.

“This different environment allowed me to notice something that had always been there, but that I had never noticed. It is the connections that transcend boundaries and countries, the gratitude for friends who constantly care about me, and many other things that will no doubt enrich my life in the future,” said Kanada.

While Kanada would be heading back to Japan before the end of her sophomore year, she said she could return  to the U.S. for higher education.

“I’m thinking about both colleges, because I got the opportunity to study here. I think I might be able to get into some universities in America. I’m going to apply, even though it’ll be extremely hard to apply as an international student here,” said Kanada.

Regardless, she is grateful for the opportunity to study abroad in America at Amador Valley High School.

“I was able to learn important things that will affect my life in the future, things that I would never have been able to learn in Japan. I have only about six months left of my life in the U.S., but I will enjoy it to the fullest until the end,” said Kanada.