In My Many Sisters, an 18 year-old Watanabe decided to give back to the world that provided her a privileged life by volunteering with the Sisters of Charity in Taiwan. Watanabe's desire was to force herself out of her comfort zone, test herself on how strong she really was, and learn how being bicultural might affect her perceptions of unfamiliar cultures. She had no expectations at all, which was useful, for she was not disappointed with anything. Although Watanabe's primary goal in going to Taiwan was to become comfortable with the Mandarin Chinese language, she gained far more than any language could offer.
Watanabe's work at a home for the elderly was with people older than her grandparents. Her work immersed her in the lives of the Sisters of Charity and those that they served. The nuns were kind and understanding to all that were in their care, and the staff was unselfish and worked well together. This cooperation made life better for everyone.
Watanabe's jobs included doing loads of laundry every day, feeding people who couldn't feed themselves, doing dishes, and cleaning up after everyone. She not only went to each patient's room to see what they needed, but stayed and visited. Patients didn't remember the administrators or the nurses, but they remembered Watanabe because she took the time to talk and to get to know them on a personal level. In her spare time, Watanabe recorded every experience and her thoughts about the elderly. My Many Sisters resulted from that journal.
Watanabe felt she needed to compare herself with those who were unfortunate, to remind her of how blessed she was. She realized that those people who constantly needed help were not necessarily suffering, but somehow knew they were indirectly giving others an opportunity to help care for them. Watanabe wrote often about smiles being a universal language and how those that smiled brought joy and happiness to themselves and others. So she smiled, even when she was feeling down.
Working with the aged was difficult for Watanabe, but she still found it difficult to leave. She felt her work there was like a beautiful dream. She said, "When you are thrown into another world, another culture, you often see yourself in another kind of mirror. You see yourself through the eyes of strangers and feel their pain of living. I now not only view everything from a slightly different perspective, but more important is how I view myself as changed."
Caroline Watanabe was born in Osaka, Japan. Her mother is Caucasian American and her father is Japanese. She was bilingual from the time she could talk. In addition to working in Taiwan, she also volunteered in Japan with the tsunami victims. She is a sophomore psychology major at the University of Dallas. Read more on the book's website.
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