It’s been just over 6 months that I have been living in Asia in a completely different mindset than that of the USA. What an interesting experience it has been so far. Being over the halfway point of my exchange, I have mixed emotions about how fast time can go. I have made SO many friends and SO many connections here it’s crazy to comprehend that…it’s been the most amazing and significant part of my exchange so far. Living in a pretty small city in a pretty small prefecture in Japan, I have gotten accustomed to the local customs and way of life in a short period of time. I have also made these friends and connections because it’s the type of city where everybody knows each other in one way or another. It’s not Tokyo but it is a “good” place to be a 17 year old exchange student as I have been told my many. Thank you Japan for the wonderful people you have shown me and a mindset that not many “outsiders” will ever will be given the opportunity to be shown, let alone become a part of.
I am exhausted this week…I am doing a temporary “home stay” at my club counselor’s home until Tuesday and then switching families again in about one month. Pretty much just packing non stop for a majority of this month and next. It’s a pretty cool home (modern, sleek, and easy going…with cool music) and we have been going out for dinner every night this week. Yesterday I ate my weight in just sushi and drank way too much green tea…i’m not even exaggerating it was a toxic amount that I consumed but rest assured it was delicious as it was a more upscale sushi bar. Today was a steak restaurant with my counselor, his wife, and her son (whom goes to my school)…and yes I ate my weight in just rare steak. It’s little memories like these that I am slowly finding to be the best parts of my exchange and those that I feel that are overlooked by many unless you look back to them and acknowledge that they were precious memories. Such as listening to Justin Bieber at full blast with the windows rolled down on a busy city freeway with the coolest club counselor in the world. These are the moments that I will remember because they were when I was happiest.
Exchange is not always going to be these moments. Many think it will be fun all the time…but you will also experience a lot of “down” time. Just know that this is not necessarily a bad thing…if anything, for me I learnt a lot from these times where I felt upset or just plain bored. It taught me that not everything is handed to you on exchange.
Moving on, February has been kind of a busy month with lots of things to tell about but I will only touch on a few of them. I have gone on several ski trips north of where I live with other exchange students and Japanese friends. They were so much fun and we all had such a good time skiing together. The Japanese alps are pretty awesome.
Like I said before, I have been moving around A LOT.
Today at school we had a monthly (although the Japanese school ceremonies and their frequencies have always confused the hell out of me) ceremony in my high school. About 200 hundred of us 2nd year-4th year students (“ichi ninsee’s — yon ninsee’s”) gather in a gym and line up in perfect order to create a square like shape around this huge gym. We hymn traditional Buddhist hymns (I try to look like I know what I am doing…but that’s the fun of it) and recite Buddhist monologues in perfect harmony. We then listen to our principal speak for about…..very long. Today was the first time that I went up with a select number and order and of students (as we do every time with different students so that each of us can go up a year). Each of us walked up to these boxes (or rather square-like shapes) containing powder and we had to move small handfuls from one side to the other. Then we step of the stage in a certain order and speed. I did it perfectly according to my classmates. Only a few people laughed at me according to them. That was awesome and a new experience for me.
Since September I have been involved in kudo (Japanese archery) which is so unbelievably cool and different from any “sport” I have ever done. I decided against soccer as my sport on exchange because I wanted to do something that I could not do in the states…so why not archery. I was not at all into it at first but now I can’t stop doing it. It took me until January until I was “worthy” of picking up a bow and until this February that I was worthy of using the bow and arrow to try target practice for the first time. I am progressing very well according to my kudo sensei and I am getting much better at my hand eye coordination and patience skills.
For future exchange students I would HIGHLY recommend that you become actively involved in a club or organization, especially if you are having a hard time making friends at school. If you spend the first few months of your exchange looking for something you are interested in (I came knowing I wanted to try archery) and seeing if it something that you are passionate about, then you will find other people in this club that share this mutual interest with you…and there you will find friends. Seems simple, but I didn’t actually know this point until a few months into my exchange year.
Japan is an incredibly enriching, unique, and mind stimulating study abroad destination. I would highly recommend this as anybody’s study abroad destination. Not just for the food, culture, and sights…but above all…for the people. They can be absolutely amazing and unbelievably inspirational after you take time to get to know what they live for. I still do not this and maybe never will to the fullest…but I am getting there…day by day…all in time.
Thank you, Japan for these experiences.