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Multiculturalism has opened Katie Davis’ eyes to a whole new world.

Katie Davis was not yet 16 years old when she visited Japan for nearly a year through a youth exchange program, but the experience led to lifelong lessons that the housing manager uses in her role today at Laurel’s Edge in Kennesaw, Georgia.

A graduate of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who grew up in Long Island, New York, Katie decided to major in international affairs with a focus on political science. She minored in Japanese and planned to be a diplomat.

But life had different ideas for Katie’s journey.

Katie Davis in high schoolIn high school, Katie took French classes and had a special interest in neoclassical art. Her French teacher offered Katie the opportunity to participate in an exchange program. She wanted to go to France or Italy, study art and experience the culture.

Instead, Katie was accepted as an exchange student in Japan.

“I wasn’t really thrilled with that at first because it wasn’t on my radar,” she said. “But the choice was either to go to Japan or stay home, so I decided to give it a try.”

Katie boarded a plane and flew to Tokyo. She spent 11 months and three days in a town called Shimizu in the Shizuka Prefecture — a prefecture is like a state in the U.S. While in Japan, Katie climbed Mount Fuji just in time for sunrise, saw a live volcano and spent time in Kyoto and Osaka.

“Living in Japan was so drastically different from the way we live here,” she said. “It really helped me to adjust to new ideas and perspectives. I learned different behaviors, customs and attitudes. It was definitely a time of exposure for me.”

Katie said before her trip, she was a typical self-absorbed 16-year-old. She learned quickly that the world does not revolve around any one person.

“I had to grow up really fast in the sense that I couldn’t be self-centered,” she said. “If I had walked around like I’m an arrogant American, things were not going to fall into my lap. It really helped me be more aware of my surroundings and appreciative of the people around me. When I returned, I wasn’t as concerned with being materialistic and I was able to concentrate more on my education and where I was going after graduation.”
Going to Japan as a teenager gave Katie the confidence to apply to the prestigious George Washington University, now her alma mater.

Katie Davis, Laurel Edge ManagerShe also learned to be more culturally aware and patient with a diverse group of people. This is important for her current role as housing manager at Laurel’s Edge with a population that includes Asian-Americans, African-Americans and other minorities.

Three Korean families live at Laurel’s Edge, and another resident has lived in Japan. Katie uses the opportunity to practice her Japanese — a language she learned while in Japan.

When she had first traveled to the country, Katie only knew how to say in Japanese, “My name is Katie and I come from New York.” But in six months, she was relatively fluent. At the height of her understanding, Katie knew about 2,000 Chinese characters and both 36-character Japanese alphabets called hiragana and katakana.

Katie also learned what it felt like to be a minority. As a blond American, Katie attracted attention in Japan. In fact, a newspaper reporter saw her at the national soccer championships in Tokyo and decided to write an article about her.

Katie said she grew up with cultural diversity, but she didn’t appreciate it until her travels.

“I try to bring my appreciation of unique cultures into the community,” Katie said. “In January, we celebrate the Chinese New Year (at Laurel’s Edge). I’m always looking for opportunities to partner in a language exchange so I can use Japanese every now and then.”

That multiculturalism has opened Katie’s eyes to a whole new world.

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