Gary "Mike" Mallow
2008-09 Outbound to Japan

Hometown: Weston, Florida
School: Cypress Bay High School, Weston, Florida
Sponsor: Weston Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Imizu Rotary Club, District 2610, Japan

Mike's Bio

 Hello. My name is Mike Mallow and I'm currently a junior at Cypress Bay high in the city of Weston. I'm sixteen years old and was born in Florida.

My favorite activities include tennis, mountain biking, and gymnastics. Because I'm currently employed and attending school I haven't got much time to pursue these interests. Hopefully as time progresses during this year I'll be able to devote more time to these activities.

I'm also a math geek to say the least. After this year I will have earned more math credits than anyone currently attending Cypress Bay including seniors. Currently I'm taking advanced placement probability and statistics as well as advanced placement calculus BC. Hopefully my future career will have a mathematical basis. I'm also extremely interested in history and science and am quite proficient in the two.

Also, I'm so thankful for the chance to be an exchange student! Thank you so much for this amazing opportunity!

August 31 Journal

 I guess the start of my adventure would be an appropriate place to start. When traveling to Ft. Lauderdale Airport I couldn't help but think, "Wow... I'm actually on my way to Japan." After the final farewells and hugs I proceeded to the security checkpoint. My mom was permitted to escort me to the gate. I met a very nice man on this first plane. A doctor from Boca Raton. He was extremely friendly and taught me the correct way to fix a tie. When we arrived at Chicago he helped me navigate the foreign airport. Eventually I met with other outbounds headed to Japan. The 13.5 hour flight was terrible long but a good book satisfied my boredom... This of course was a last resort as one can only watch "Iron Man" so many times before one finds himself reciting every line. Once on the ground at Narita International Airport I met my escort to the next airport: Haneda airport... Tokyo airport. On the bus ride to this airport we passed Tokyo Disney world and the largest Ferris wheel that I have ever seen. Once on the plane I immediately passed out from exhaustion. It felt as though I just dropped my head for a moment before the plane lifted off when a familiar voice spoke the words "Welcome to Toyama". I left the plane and headed to baggage claim and saw a very welcoming sign....."Welcom to Toyama Gary Mallow". I couldn't help but smile. I had finally made it! I met my host parents and my host club's youth exchange officers. It was roughly 8:30 pm. I hadn't been stationary for nearly 24 hours. We went out to dinner and after that to my new home.

The days of this past week tend to melt together. They have all been incredible. This new culture is very foreign but the harder I look for differences, the more similarities present themselves. This is not the backwards country everyone told me it would be. It is not better or worse, just different. Although they do have better cell phones... much better... much much better....

I started a language class with another inbound from Canada. We were the only English speakers in the class as the few others were from China. One of the girls from China looked to be about 13 or 14 years old. One day she looked me in the eyes and said, in a slightly broken English, "kawaii (cute in Japanese), you are very cute," with a huge smile on her face. I didn't know what to say in return and I held my tongue. Then the inbound from Canada said, "She's seventeen." I immediately forgot this statement and put the thought out out of mind, never to return to it until this moment of course.

A few nights ago was my welcoming dinner. IT WAS ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL!!! All the food came in small portions but after several and an hour or two, portions tend to look like triathlons. I became so full but I had to persevere! More and more food came and with each mouthful a mountain was moved.. until of course the next dish came or one of the very kind Rotarians offered me a portion of their meal. This did tend to happen quite frequently. One of the Rotarians was kind enough to slip me a taste of "sake". Pictures will be coming shortly!!!!

Today I played tennis. I have been playing for a very long time, almost 14 years, but the Japanese courts provide a new challenge. The Astroturf covered in sand creates quite a slippery surface. I was able to play for a few hours and hit with some of the club's members. Japanese people tend to play tennis much different then I'm used to. I believe this is a result of the types of courts they play. My strategy takes advantage of clay courts which respond very well to spin. Tennis balls slide a bit on these new courts. A fun new way to play.

One last entry for this report: The other day I was on my way back from language school. I was to take a train home. Of course my host mother had shown me the correct train to take the day before but I had to take the "special" train.

I was waiting for the train to come. One did. It looked different. Nicer than the one I had boarded before. I like! "Private" was written on the door leading onto the train. "Ok." I thought as I entered. The seats were very comfortable. Then a woman offering treats passed. "Uh oh..." I thought. Then it passed my intended destination. "Guess that's not where I'm going today." I was told to get off at the next station and I did. I was lost. "This is bad" I thought and almost started to freak out. But then I realized that I could have some fun and started exploring. My attempts at naming my location were futile; Japanese is hard to read. I was able to call someone, a boy who was an exchange student to Oregon, who was able to talk a volunteer who helped me get on the right train. When I got to the correct station my host mother asked me what had happened. I told her that I had gone on an adventure.

P.S. Japanese people are all so very friendly if an effort is made on my part to befriend them. They have been extremely generous and kind. I have witnessed their behavior and have found that they treat each other the same way they treat me. If someone needs help in a public place everyone lends a helping hand. I am so happy to be here.

I think Mr. Kalter loves us much more than anyone loves their outbounds. It seems we were the only ones who had research papers.

Schools starts tomorrow for me. Time to go and practice the introduction that I will be giving in front of the entire student body...

September 21 Journal

 I have been in Japan for exactly one month. I have starting adjusting to everyday life and school quite well, but this was not always the case. I started school three weeks ago and what a fantastic three weeks it has been...

For all exchange students living in Japan, the first day of school means making a speech in front of the entire student body... in Japanese. Of course the outbound orientations prepared me for this tiny undertaking. Of course my speech was in perfect Japanese and was delivered with perfect pronunciations of Japanese syllabaries. Of course not! All of my preparation (totaling maybe ten minutes) served me well though. The night before the big day my host mother helped me translate a paragraph of English into Japanese. Then I went to sleep.

The next day I arrived at school and was ushered to the main office. Here I was to wait for the opening ceremony (this is where all the students and teachers gather into the gymnasium). A few of the female students made several trips to the office to steal glances of me and would giggle every time eye contact was made. The details of what the ceremony are still a mystery as it was given in Japanese. I was to deliver my speech at this event. After thirty minutes of waiting it was time. I walk onto a stage, leaned into the microphone, and began to speak. I'm not sure If it's possible to "wing" anything in a language you don't know but I'm sure I came close. Now that I think about it, none of the students must of been paying attention because I spoke about myself, for example who I was, where I'm from, how old I am, why I'm here, my hobbies, yet I was asked all of these questions, which I had answered in my speech.

After the speech it was time for uniform, hair, and nails check. Students aren't allowed to have long fingernails or dyed hair. I got to watch the girls clip their fingernails. I snapped a picture or two of this. Then I was escorted to my homeroom class: 11HR. I was told that I am now a first year high school student. PERFECT!!! I am to be hazed again!!! My grade is "ichinensai" or first year. I am the same age as "sannensai" or the seniors.

I didn't stay long in my homeroom as an American ATL (alternative language teacher) guided me around school. I soon learned that my school was composed 70% of girls. "What a shame." I thought as the tour continued. Girls were sticking their heads out all over the place and giggling up a storm. Some tried to say hello in English but most just just stared, turned red then ran away. Most of the boys said anything except for the seniors. They said hello and giggle like little girls when I said "hi" back.

The second day of school was much like the first... except a tad more hands on. I was swarmed my classmates (girls) and asked the same several questions over and over and over and over again. "Do you have a girlfriend? Do you like Japanese girls? How tall are you? Do you have a cell phone?" I still get asked the first two questions many times every day. Very few students speak more than a few words of English by they sure are trying.

I has been three weeks now and it has died down, but only slightly. I think I'm friends with all of the students by default. I have recently purchased a cell phone. I have been emailing my friends in Japanese and English... mostly Japanese. But, because of who my "pen pals" are there is A LOT of motivation to learn Japanese... quickly.

A month has passed by and I'm told that my Japanese is getting better but it doesn't feel like it. I'm going to keep studying though!

December 13 Journal

 For every holiday, Japan seems to start slightly early. Halloween decorations went up in September and streets were lit with Christmas lights in early November. Let's just say that getting homesick over the Holidays shouldn't be a problem.

I have settled into life here rather well and my Japanese is conversational, although rather limited. I am able to text and email friends in Japanese only without needing someone to translate every word now. But enough about my language skills. School has become quite routine but still can be fun. Not everyone is used to me after three months and when I do speak in Japanese, they tend to freak out. But even with friends, it's difficult to see anyone outside of school because of the nature of Japanese culture. High school students are always "studying" or doing some sort of school club activity. You might wonder why I write "studying". They really isn't much to wonder about. I think that "studying" and watching television are interchangeable.

I have taken advantage of the club activities at school to both keep fit and to boost my Japanese competency. I train in the school gym every day with the judo and baseball clubs and I run up the four stories of stairs with the girls judo club twice a week. By remaining at school after classes are finished, I think I've shown the students that I am a part of their school. This has really helped me and my classmates adjust to each other.

When I'm not in school I go to the major cities by train, always with friends, and just play around. Also, I've just switched host families and now I have a seventeen-year-old host sister. We do some things together but she is someone to talk to at home so it's really helping my Japanese. Last Wednesday I went to her school. All of the students, all six of them, were weaving baskets that day... for fun. No one finished their basket but me. I was proud of myself. It turned out really well too. I even finished the another student's basket for her. It wasn't because she was really cute or anything. That's not like me at all.

IT SNOWED THIS WEEK!!!!!!! It's all gone now but i did get to have a few snowball fights. I think that in a few days the ski slopes open up. I can't wait!