08/08/2012 09:11 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Making Friends in Japan

Ever wanted to feel like a movie star? All you need to do is hop on a plane and come to Japan! Easy, right?

Today my delegation and I found ourselves in a local school in Sendai. We were greeted by the students with an overwhelming procession -- cheering, clapping, whooping, hollering and everything in between. I couldn't tell who was more excited, my delegation or the Japanese students! After doing my beauty pageant wave for about 10 minutes, I had a realization -- "How on Earth am I going to communicate with these kids?!" At this point, my Japanese vocabulary consisted of: Hello, thank you, excuse me, and good-bye. Basically, I'm as good as a rock when it comes to expressing my thoughts in Japanese.

Upon our arrival we were given a fantastic demonstration of "Shorinji Kempo" by a handful of the students participating on their nationally ranked team. Needless to, say it was about the coolest thing I have ever seen. Just picture a bunch of people running around hitting each other with sticks as they scream at the top of their lungs (or at least that's what it looked like to my untrained eye). However, Kempo was explained as a training method for both the body and mind, "to cultivate a balanced self, healthy and vigorous in both body and spirit." Some of the kids in my delegation even got to help with a demonstration, and boy was I jealous.

Next, the delegates and I were placed in smaller groups and led to a classroom where a handful of Japanese students were waiting for us. As we were walking to the classroom, I thought to myself, "How bad can this be? All we're supposed to do is make paper cranes; I can do that!" Little did I know, we'd be doing so much more.

As we walked into the classroom, you would have thought (insert favorite celebrity here) had walked in, not a group of five American high school students. For the next hour or so, we all sat around a table, helped make cranes for their upcoming festival and laughed like crazy. It turns out I am quite hilarious in Japan. I'm sure this is for a multitude of reasons (except the part about me actually being funny), but hey, whatever gets the crowd laughing.

By the time our visit with the students was over, none of us wanted to part ways. There was lots of hugging, picture-taking, and even some crying from a group of Japanese girls as they said good-bye to our blonde haired and blue-eyed Lauren.

I've never said so few words, used so many hand gestures and made such good friends. Nothing was in the way -- not our cultures, our experiences, or our languages. Instead, these things united us and brought us together. At the end of the day, I had learned a new word in Japanese: tomodachi (friend). I know for myself and a lot of the other delegates, the greatest lesson we learned was not to let our cultures define who we are and the relationships we are capable of.