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South Senior Masters English

By Sidrah Baloch
Published: October 2009

When Yuji Wakimoto walked through the doors of Newton South for the first time as a freshman coming from Japan, he couldn’t believe how many white people he saw around him.

“It was weird meeting different people who weren’t all Japanese, Wakimoto recalls. “It was awkward for me to switch from a 100 percent Asian population to a mixed community with black people and white people.

Wakimoto, now a senior, moved to Newton in 2006. His father accepted a job offer in Massachusetts and decided to relocate his family from the suburbs of Tokyo, Japan, where Wakimoto was born, to the suburbs of Boston.

In his first few months in America, Wakimoto was struck by the many differences between his mother country and his new home. Compared to the narrow streets and small houses of Japan, all of the roads and buildings in Newton seemed huge; it snowed much more in New England than it ever had in Tokyo; and the community in Newton was much more racially and religiously diverse.

And then, of course, there was the issue of language. Although he had been studying English both in and out of school in Japan, Wakimoto remembers that at first it was difficult for him to completely understand and communicate with his new classmates.

“All these slang terms’€I just didn’t get it, he said. “I couldn’t understand parts of the conversation.

Wakimoto took his freshman History and English classes through the school’s English Language Learners (ELL) program and took mainstream Math and Science classes. For Wakimoto, having ELL classes in his schedule and being around other students who were likewise still learning the nuances of American slang made assimilating into the Newton South community less stressful.

“There was nothing to be embarrassed about, Wakimoto said about ELL. “It was easier to communicate with people who were also having trouble with their English.

It took a few months before Wakimoto began feeling more comfortable with his English and not “panicky when he couldn’t fully understand people’s accents. “[I realized that] knowing language and actually using it are completely different, he said.

ELL helped Wakimoto gain confidence in English communication, but it was his experience on the track and cross-country teams that really helped him make friends and become a part of the Newton South community.

“[Being on] track and cross-country was a good way to fit in, he said. “It was a really great community.

Since joining the teams in his freshman year, Wakimoto has enjoyed both team and personal successes. As tribute to these successes, Wakimoto is captain of the Boys’ Track and Cross Country Teams.

Wakimoto, now fluent in English, has enjoyed all that the South community has had to offer.

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