Zachary (Zac) Cocalis
2010-11 Outbound to Japan

Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
School: Pompano Beach High School
Sponsor: Fort Lauderdale Rotary Club, District 6990, Florida
Host: Kanazawa South Rotary Club, District 2610, Japan

Zac's Bio

こんにちは私のページへ来ることをありがとう! This means hello and thank you for coming to my page. I just hope my grammar is correct! I am Zachary Cocalis. I’m a sophomore at Pompano Beach High School and I live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with my parents, my younger brother, Coleman, and my pet dog Quincy.

I am interested in a wide variety of things such as computers, science (more specifically astronomy), history (specifically European from the 1300’s to the 1800’s), drama , anything new or different that I encounter, and anything Japanese. I have looked at the heavens with wonder ever since I was little. I’ve had a telescope since I was six and watched “The Universe” (an in depth space show) since I was twelve. I have always loved the Hubble space pictures, theories about life in space, and future interstellar space colonization.

History can be a very boring subject but not if you get the right books or, in my case, a string of great history teachers. It all began with a book entitled "Under a War Torn Sky" by L. M. Elliott. It was about a World War II pilot who crashed in France and had to make his way back to America. That one book sparked my interest in history. When I was nine or ten I went to a drama camp. It was a month long session where they taught kids how to act. They gave us a play complete with costumes, songs, and a script. At the end of the camp we performed the play three times: twice for an audience of campers from other camps and once for family and friends. It was pretty unnerving for a nine year old to be performing in front of four hundred people but somehow I did it and it was fun.

When I was about eleven or twelve my little brother and I started watching anime together. I was already interested in sushi, probably because I like rice and fish and it was colorful. My love for Japan took a couple year to develop but after I joined the anime club at school and started reading manga I was hooked. It became a desire to go to Japan so I jumped at the chance to be a Rotary exchange student and hopefully go to Japan.

Some of my hobbies and activities are swimming (I swim with my high school team during high school season and year round with a local team), playing video games, watching anime, and reading. I started swimming competitively when I was ten. I started swimming because I don’t like running in Florida’s ninety degree weather. The swimming pool was the opposite. It was freezing even in the middle of summer. Our entire team would be standing on the pool deck in the sweltering heat on burning concrete daring each other to jump in. That was until our coach pushed one of us in the water and then we all jumped in.

In anime club we watch anime, read manga, and play video games. Every week one of those activates would be the most popular, attracting the most people. We would have huge tournaments of video games and our host teacher would join in too. It was probably the most fun you could have after school.

Now, normally, you hear your teacher say, “put away the cell phone or iPod” but in my case it’s “Zac put away the book, we’re going to start a new section“. I am a fast worker in class and I have this “free time”. I read, thinking that’s what my teacher would like, but I even had my English teacher say “put away the book!” Go figure.

I am extremely excited to have the chance of a life time to go to Japan. I can’t thank everyone enough who supported me and Rotary for sponsoring and sending me to Japan. So, THANK YOU EVERYONE!!!!!!! Or 皆ありがとう which I hope means “Thank you everyone.” I’m off to JAPAN!

Zac's Journals

August 29

My flight schedule began at 7:00am in Miami International Airport. I arrived at Dulles International Airport and proceeded to run to my next flight which started loading passengers about 10 minutes after I arrived. After boarding my flight I proceeded to stay awake for the entire 13 hour flight that was ahead of me. When I landed in Narita Airport I was exhausted then I went through immigration and customs. A little side fact the airport either wasn’t air conditioned or not to the level of American air conditioning I was sweating in no time. After checking my luggage again I made my way to the terminal. Once in the terminal I met the other three exchange students. Lastly we boarded this tiny airplane with wings that folded! It was a fifty minute flight to Komatsu airport in Kanazawa. So after a long hectic flight starting on August 20th at 7:00am ended in Komatsu airport with three other exchange students who will be in District 2610 with me. As we went into the baggage claim we say our families holding welcome signs. We grabbed our luggage and ran over to say “konban wa” good evening. We all had wonderful signs and I wasn’t expecting it. On the drive home I realized we were on the opposite side of the road driving cars that don’t exist in America. When I arrived home I was formaly introduced to my entire family Ojisan (my host grandfather) Obasan (my host grandmother) Mama (my host mother) Risa (my host sister). After that I went to bed.

I awoke the next day at 4:40 believing it was the afternoon but it was actually 4:40am. So I waited for the rest of the family to wake up. After eating breakfast and watching TV I couldn’t understand my host family showed me my high school Nisui senior high, and down town Kanazawa.

I was then told we had to get some food for lunch walking in the supermarket shocked me Japanese signs and advertisements everywhere, food and vegetables I have never seen before. While walking around asking question I notices that I was a bit too tall because I was hitting signs on my head as I walked. When we got home my host sister showed me how to make Okonamiyaki which is a cabbage pancake with fish or ebi (shrimp) and toped with a ultra thin slice of pork. After its cooked we put Japanese barbeque sauce on, then dried fish shaving that literally look like their dancing on the barbeque sauce, toped with mayonnaise. I tried my hardest but I still fell asleep after this. Risa woke me up and told me to get ready, that night they took me out to dinner and it was steak. When I got home I watched National Treasure with Risa and explained some of the American jokes.

The next day I toured Nisui and realized that I will have a locker and I need at lest three shoes for school one to walk to school in, one to walk inside the school in, and one for gym class. While walking around I see how clean everything is at home and even in the streets there is no trash or even dust or dirt. That afternoon I was invited to go Karaoke-ing with my host sister and her friend Yuki. As it turns we had to go wake Yuki up he sleeps in late. So once we got there we rented a box (you private karaoke room) and spent four hours karaoke-ing even though it only felt like five minutes.

The next day I became a registered alien in Japan and I signed up for weekly Japanese lessons as well. After the lessons I realized how hard it is going to be to learn Japanese.

This weekend my school was having a culture festival and all the students were participating so I went to the school and was amazed at what happened in just two days! There were stands out side and the class rooms were changed into attractions and activities! My class was running the haunted mansion. I tried most of the food there and most of the activities available. It was like the games we played during our second Rotary orientation were all the rules were different and you couldn’t speak.

So far I am having a great time finding similarities and differences in Japan and I believe that this is going to be the best year of my life! Thank you everyone who has made this possible!

October 22

I have been very busy over here on this side of the planet. My host family has shown me lots of very interesting things, and taken me places to participate in many events. I traveled up into Noto (the northern half of the Ishikawa prefecture) and visited the Wajima market. At the market there were traditional arts and craft for sale hand made obento boxes and chopsticks and lots of fish. While there I learned that to make the traditional obento boxes and chopstick you must first make the boxes (or chopsticks) out of wood then paint them hundreds of times to have a nice smooth glossy finish. I also visited Kiriko Hall. Kiriko’s are giant lanterns ranging from 1 meter tall to 15 meters tall and can weigh up to 2 tons. Kiriko’s are used at festivals to celebrate.

I also visited other fascinating places like a light house has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. In Kanazawa I visited the Ninja-dera or Ninja temple. I must say its was like a five year-olds dream there were hiding places everywhere traps hidden doors it was awesome. I also visited one of the world heritage sites in the Toyama prefecture. The world heritage sites are famous places where traditional houses are made. I could not read the pamphlet to see what else was done there but that’s what I saw and it was amazing! The only thing so far that I haven’t liked is the no picture signs wherever anything interesting or cool is.

 I also participated in kinpaku or gold leafing and I now have a pair of partially gilded chopsticks. I have practiced traditional Japanese crafts and skills thanks to my host family. One such skill was rokoro or pottery it is a lot harder than it looks. First you must make the clay workable by hitting it for a while. Then you must wet it and put it on a spinning table. It’s really hard to explain the rest and I don’t have any pictures because my hands had clay on them. You must shape the clay so you have a “bulb” at the top then you use your thumbs to make and indent. You must then widen the indent. Most of my attempted pots and bowls collapsed on them selves do to the spinning. I managed to make 3 bowls 1 pitcher and 2 cups. One skill I went to try was practicing the traditional Japanese drums. I must say it was awesome there’s no experience quite like it. I had the most fun my hands were shaking after all the drumming I did.

I have started language classes and my language skill seems to be coming along quite nicely and can basically understand most Japanese except at my school. My high school that I am attending Nisui koukou it’s the second highest ranked high school in the Ishikawa prefecture. That makes my classes about 10 times hared the students study everyday and have no free time. Some days I am the center of attention and some days I am ignored. Understanding most classes is out of the question I can only understand math some world history and calligraphy. Math is extremely hard they are do trigonometry and pre-calculus in there heads and this is a first year class the equivalent of freshmen! I must thank my AP European history teacher because without him I would understand nothing in my world history class.

Life at home here is great I have gotten used to living a Japanese-ie lifestyle. First question everyone asks thought how’s the food is the food ok over there your not starving are you?  The food here is better than any food in America ever the fast food is better you can go to a conbini (convenience store) buy food and have a tasty lunch or snack. Yes there is rice at almost every meal of everyday but the rice here is so much better than rice in America. There is only 1 food that I did not like so far and that was jellyfish its surprised me it was crunchy and like week old Jell-O not very tasty. My host family has done so much for me they are the best and I am so sad to be leaving them on the thirtieth, yes in one week I will be making my first host family change.

December 30

Last moth was very exciting my host family took me to Kyoto. I saw famous temples and shrines such as Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera. Kinkaku-ji is probable the most famous because it is the only golden temple in Japan. All of the temples and shrines I have seen have only been made of interlocking blocks of wood. Those temples have withstood earthquakes for (some) over centuries.

While in Kyoto I had some of Kyoto’s famous omuriusu (fried rice with an omelet on top) which was different because it had steak sauce on it.

My Japanese is progressing at a steady rate due to the Japanese classes that are extremely helpful. However it is very hard to remember all these new words.

I am of the belief now that the less English your host families speak the better. All the other kids that had host families that don’t speak any English are much better at Japanese. I wish Japanese people wouldn’t speak so fast when ever I say excuse me could you repeat that they just try it in English and it’s a little frustrating because not everyone here is good at English.

One thing that has surprised me is that I have yet to be home sick and I have never felt better (minus the freezing weather and lack of winter clothing). Winter is beautiful over here its snowing even as I write this letter there is almost six inches of snow already!

I also recently had my first encounter with hail oh boy was that fun! Hail is small and very painful it was almost a 10 minute run home while being pelted by freezing chunks of ice. Its amazing how an entire month can be wrapped up in a page.

March 13

Last moth was very exciting my host family took me to Kyoto. I saw famous temples and shrines such as Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera. Kinkaku-ji is probably the most famous temple because it is the only golden temple in Japan. The temples and shrines I have seen so far have only been made of interlocking blocks of wood or stone. Those temples have withstood earthquakes some over centuries. While in Kyoto I had some of Kyoto’s famous omuriusu (fried rice with an omelet on top) it was delicious.

My Japanese is progressing at a steady rate due to the Japanese classes that I am taking. However it is very hard to remember all of the new words I am supposed to learn. I am of the belief now that the less English your host families speak the better. All the other kids that have had host families that don’t speak any English are much better at Japanese. Japanese people, when I ask them to repeat themselves they automatically assume that I cant understand them. When in reality they are just speaking too fast. One thing that has surprised me is that I have yet to be home sick and I have never felt better (minus the freezing weather and lack of winter clothing).

Winter is beautiful over here. There is almost six inches of snow already! I also recently had my first encounter with hail oh boy was that fun! Hail is small and very painful it was almost a 10 minute run home while being pelted by freezing chunks of ice. It really feels like Christmas for once its cold and beautiful. My host family’s “Christmas Tree” is about 1 foot tall and is fake but on TV there are hundreds of commercials about Christmas and gift giving the differences are kind of funny.

There is one problem however my room never seems to warm up and the heater I have is small and weak. I don’t like freezing at night. For the past week I have woken up too see my own breath hovering in front of me like a small cloud. In the morning I never want to get out be because its just so warm compared to the morning air. It has gotten so cold I won't wear contact lenses because they will freeze my eyes. The cold is a double edged sword of fun and pain. Well Christmas is around the corner now there are more Christmas commercials on TV and winter break is coming up. The weekend before winter break lets out my 3rd host family “borrows” me for a weekend and takes me to Kobe, near Osaka to see an illumination. The illumination was beautiful and I got to me my 3rd host family as well. There was a problem however my school lets out on the day before Christmas and on Christmas day there is a Rotary orientation so there goes some fun there but I was able to skype with my parents and open presents so the Christmas spirit was their.

After the orientation and Christmas my entire family starts preparing for New Years Day which is huge in Japan it time to visit family and have fun. Well I was thinking like and American and stayed up to see the new year on new years eve. After about 5 hours of sleep my host family wakes me up and says get ready were going to visit family! So I spend the day with my host family’s family. But that was only one half of the family that I saw the next day I visited the other half. Now I myself like my family they can be really funny at times but spend the day with another persons entire family was kind of weird. Other than visiting family there are feasts it is usually eaten between lunch and dinner and I can go on for over an hour. The food was delicious and some traditional food you can only eat at New Years. The rest of winter break was uneventful. It was spent studying and having fun.

January was fun that month I learned to Ski and Snowboard . So my host family takes me on a trip to the mountains, being Japan it was a one day trip. On the mountain there was literally meters more snow than then city it really surprised me how much more snow there could be! So I rented a snowboard and figured out how to actually more with it, I went down the bunny sloop. After falling literally hundreds of times I learn the basics of snowboarding. Later I find out that the Rotary president of my club is taking me skiing next weekend. This time there was an instructor…who only spoke Japanese. So while improving my Japanese I also learned how to ski. Two birds with one stone. After learning how to ski and how to snowboard, I believe that skating and skiing are similar. While surfing and snowboarding are similar.

Also during January I joined the Kendo club at my school. Kendo is the Japanese are of sword play. Kendo unlike traditional sword fighting like fencing has a very different set of stances and set attacks. In Kendo your feet almost never leave the ground so you must learn to more quickly. I was quickly accepted into “the group” at the kendo-bu (Kendo club) partially all the guys that practice Kendo are all very different which makes for interesting conversation. What’s really surprising is that in my Kendo club the girls outnumber they guys at least 2 to 1. After join the Kendo club I seemed to be accepted more at school which was good.

February was a really sad month all the exchange student that kept us company left we had three good by parties each for a different group of exchange students. Of the 14 exchange students we had here there are now 5 left. But within all the sadness of their departure there is an upside, I am now a Sempai. Sempai translates to something like a mentor a friend and a teacher. I also understand my science and history classes. In Science were balancing chemical equations, which I find a fun challenge. The fact that I understood the class shocked everyone in my class it was pretty funny watching the expressions on their faces. My history class is not a history class, it a memorize dates and wars class. Its really easy to follow but the teacher doesn’t explain anything he just hands out pre typed notes and reads them to the class, this surprised me. With all the free time in class that I have, I learned how to study for hours on end. That skill will no doubt help me in college.

This month my Rotary club gave me a yukata which is a traditional Japanese informal summer attire. Even though I have had it for a week now I still don’t know how to wear it, its very confusing.

This week one an earthquake of an 8.8 magnitude struck Japan, lucky I was not on the west coast therefore avoiding the earthquake and the following tsunamis. I did feel the earthquake though it wasn’t as big as it was on the west coast it still surprised me. For those of you wonder what an earth quake feels like, it felt like some one was trying to jerk a rug out from under my feet. I am glad this disaster did not strike Kanazawa.

My Emotions over the past months from December to February I was feeling really bad. I was focusing on how unfair things were to me. For example: my school, friends, and just life in general. My School is very academic in my prefecture it is the 3rd highest school. Because it is the third highest school everyone spends their time studying thus I had a lack of friends who would do anything with me. So at school for the most part I am ignored. Add that to feeling inadequate compared to the other exchange students who had lots of friends and all these fun stories about school. When ever I tried relaxing around the other exchange students I was called immature. When I wasn’t relaxed I was “a wet blanket” (someone who‘s not fun to be around). It seemed like the other exchange students didn’t care about my feelings or my problems only themselves. Most of the time I would get angry over little things, like people on the bus. I started hiding my emotions because no one want to see someone not having fun especially not on exchange. So as the days grew worse, and my moral plummeted nothing changed. It just kept getting worse. Because of my bad decision to hide my feelings the Rotarians and my host family didn’t know how bad I felt. Every advancement I made was overshadowed by doubt and foolishness on my own part. Every day was darker than the last in my mind I dreaded doing anything with anyone and I had no idea how to fix it. So as I reread the Rotary guide book I found out I was having a bad case of some culture shock. Knowing that I quickly worked through my problems. I made my problems mountains when in reality they were mole hills. Then I thought of this nifty little quote to sum it all up “When knowledge is given it is not learned but when knowledge is learned what you earn is wisdom“. I know it sounds kind of cheesy but it summed up all my feelings. After working through all my problems I feel great once again.