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How a change of scenery changed everything

Exploring my developing sense of self through adolescence and beyond

<p>Ella Powell is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at;</p>

Ella Powell is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at 

Prior to the big move in the summer of 2016 — following my father’s pressing military orders to Japan — I was a very busy middle schooler, with hobbies such as playing soccer and making Rainbow Loom bracelets in my bedroom. In between all of my activities, I was also consumed by worry — always wondering how other people perceived me and always torturing myself to be something they liked. 

It turned out the real scare in middle school wasn’t so much the occasional insect in my locker, but the mean girls scurrying around the halls as if they owned the place — and me. This pattern of self-loathing continued the longer I remained within my demanding friendships. 

I had strived for the unattainable ideas of popularity and perfection — an impossible feat for anyone, let alone a clumsy and shy 12-year-old. I didn’t realize how truly miserable I was living until I was given the opportunity to reset by living in another country. Living in Japan physically removed me from the toxicity I had experienced at my dingy, cockroach-infested middle school. 

I vividly remember beaming with excitement and passion one sixth grade morning upon christening my brand-new short-alls at school while I was still living in the U.S. I paired them with colorful leggings and my Converse with the silly rubber shoe laces that never came undone. I remember even more clearly the reaction I received from all the popular girls that day. My so-called “best friend” at the time asked in disgust, “What are you wearing?” as if I had made some terrible mistake that would cost me my reputation — my entire life. 

The shame I felt for the rest of the day was unbearable, and I never dared layer leggings under my short-alls ever again. I continued to wear fun pieces, but with extreme caution. If the girls at school didn’t like what I was wearing, then I simply wouldn’t wear it. These people sought control over my thoughts and emotions without any regard for my personal desires. I remained trapped in this cycle of people pleasing to keep the friends I had while failing to understand my own self-worth. 

Remembering moments like these makes me think back on the pressure I felt growing up to fit in with those around me. It was important for me to be liked by everyone — an ounce of rejection would kill me. I based my worth on the opinions of others. I thought the girls on my soccer team hated me because I was the quiet one. I wondered what separated me from everyone else. It is now clear to me that there was never anything wrong with me in the first place. Sometimes, all we need is a change of scenery.

After having lived in another country, I no longer remained fixated on the turmoil of middle school, but rather was open to change and the opportunity in the present. Experiencing such a drastic change in culture enabled me to realize I could be myself without having to keep up the toxic image I’d created over the years. There was no unspoken pressure to dress the same or hang out with certain friends. I experimented with my fashion, adopting mom jeans as my go-to pants, and surrounded myself with a diverse group of friends who now live all around the world. 

I can now reflect back on memories from Japan like winning my prized stuffed dinosaur “Thickie” from a claw machine on Homecoming night, my best friends cheering me on as I rolled my last 100 yen coin into the slot. My ability to branch out and find my place made special moments like this possible.

It was an amazing feeling to finally be seen by a group who shared similar values as me. I didn’t have to worry about being discarded for something as trivial as a pair of tights I chose to pair with my outfit. I was no longer disposable within my friend group, but felt that I served a purpose and made an impact on those around me.

Now at the University, I have made friendship connections that will last me a lifetime and I’m not afraid to express myself. I share thought-provoking comments during class and display my inspiring fashion choices around Grounds every day. The strides I have made in empowering my true identity have led me to the beautiful connections and opportunities available to me at the University. These include writing for The Cavalier Daily and working as a stylist for V Mag at the University. 

The move gave me the space I needed to fully develop my sense of self and value my worth. I will forever be thankful for the opportunity I received to discover the real me while I lived in Japan. Arriving in a foreign country came along with many challenges and a plethora of mixed emotions. Excitement, curiosity and fear all loomed over me as I navigated a completely new culture. 

When people ask me what it was like living in Japan, I always respond with gratitude. Not just because of the beautiful culture I was able to experience on the island of Okinawa, but the true connections I made there — especially with myself. I love getting to know myself more each and every day and I will continue to unabashedly express my identity.


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