[ Original Link: https://vimeo.com/196206263 ]
Living A Dream
For many people the most difficult part of traveling to a foreign country is dealing with the language. That will not be the case for 16-year-old Dover High student Alexis Altier, who will leave July 25 to spend a year in Japan.
Alexis not only speaks the language fluently but also reads and writes it. The surprising thing is that she is completely self-taught.
According to her parents, Todd and Robin Altier of Dover, Alexis is the first Dover student in seven years to go overseas with the Rotary Exchange Program. She will stay with the Otomo family in Natori, a city on the northern Japanese seacoast. In the exchange, the Otomos’ daughter, Satoko, will stay with a family at Wooster.
“I’ve always tinkered with languages, and I found Japanese to be the most fascinating,” said Alexis, a junior.
She explained that she taught herself the language phonetically, and then began listening to vocal music, reading Anime comic books and the dialogue in novels and playing Japanese video games. Because the language uses Chinese symbols in its written form, Alexis writes a symbol on the bathroom mirror each day and learns that one word.
“Whenever I get a little extra money, I buy a couple of books and read them back to front the way the Japanese do,” she said. “Japanese is not a tonal language like Chinese, so it is easier to learn.”
She said she also met an exchange student from West Lafayette with whom she has been able to have frequent conversations in Japanese. Ultimately, she would like to be an interpreter or work in international relations. She said she considers herself an ambassador and wants to represent the United States in as positive a way as possible.
Language is not Alexis’ only interest. She has run track, played softball and volleyball, and currently plays viola in the Dover High orchestra and in a quartet that plays for weddings. She has played the piano since she was 5 years old, is a member of the scholar challenge team and is an officer of the Anime Club. She studies French in school, and she said her teacher, Sherrell Rieger, has encouraged her ever since she first showed an interest in learning a different language.
“I think she is just as excited as I am that I am learning Japanese,” Alexis said.
Alexis’ bedroom is a ceiling-to-floor display case for her Hello Kitty collection, a result of her love for the family’s three rescued cats, Molly, Dulcie and Itachi.
In the kitchen, she displays yet another talent, gourmet cooking. A semi-vegetarian, who eats only seafood, eggs and vegetables, she loves to cook foods from around the world. Her specialties are sushi, edamame, kanten (seaweed with sugar water), tofu and azuki beans. Every Friday, she makes a meal for the family before they sit down to watch a Disney movie. She and her mother shop in the Asian grocery stores at Canton nearly every week.
“If you come to my house to eat, you eat what I cook,” she said. “I don’t baby anyone who is afraid to try something new, but most people find they really like the food.
“I’m looking forward to eating authentic Japanese food, and I am most excited about experiencing the entire new culture. I’ve heard that the schools are very hard, but they have a Juku, or Saturday cram school, for students who have trouble with their regular classes.
“All students wear uniforms, though they really like brand-name clothing. My height may make me a novelty there. I’m close to 6 feet tall, but then that makes me a novelty here, too, and it may be hard to find jeans for long legs.”
Alexis laughed about having to change her blond hair back to its original dark color because students in Japan are not allowed to have dyed hair.
“Everything isn’t formal there, though,” she said. “I’m anxious to visit Tokyo and observe the harajukio culture, in which the young Japanese dress in outlandish outfits and parade around the streets.”
“Of course I’ll miss my parents; my brother, Spencer; and my cats, but I think there will be enough new experiences there that I will be fine.”
Her mother agreed.
“Two years ago, when we were visiting Epcot Center, I found her having a conversation in Japanese with a couple of total strangers,” she said. “I knew then that it was important for her to travel to Japan.”
Robin and her mother, Carol Meek, will visit in April during the Cherry Blossom Festival.
“I’ve been trying to teach Mom Japanese, but she is having a hard time with it,” Alexis said with a laugh. “She also has a hard time with chopsticks and has to use the kind intended for babies … the ones with the little rubber figure on the ends that holds them together. Hopefully she’ll learn to use them by the time they visit, so she can eat.”
Alexis herself manipulates chopsticks, language and new culture like a seasoned traveler. She is packed and ready to go.
“I am living my dream,” she said. “Everyone should do that.”