Keegan Costello 
2012-13 Outbound to Japan
Hometown: Bonita Springs, FL
School: Estero High School
Sponsor: District 6960, FL
Host: District 2690, Japan
The Rotary Club of Kurashiki

October 21, 2012

When I got off the plane I could tell right away that there would be a major difficulty with the language. From checking in with customs, searching my bags, checking in for my next flight, and transferring my bags over to Okayama everything was difficult. But it was all worth it when I got on that plane from Tokyo to Okayama. The view was incredible; I had never seen that many mountains before. when I had landed I saw my host family and rotary club waiting for me, I got so excited that I ran past baggage claim and wasn't allowed back in. we had to wait and extra 30 minutes to have the staff hand me my bags in person. After that we all exchanged business cards and left for my house. The first thing I got when I arrived was a galaxy s-3 fresh off the market android phone. The only phone I've had for 2 months was a 9 dollar pay as you go for the trip. I never needed (nor could afford) one of these phones so right from the start I knew things here would be very different from home. When we arrived at their house I was shocked by how close it was to the water and mountains. But the house alone was amazing, the size was compact but the inside was so clean and efficient. I and my host mom had said goodbye to the rotary members at the door and I was left to my room. It was on the first floor and all to me. It was the traditional style room with heated bamboo floors, sliding doors and a personal office. When I saw the bed I leaped into it with darting speeds. I hadn't slept for at least 49 hours (between the nervousness the night before the trip and the whole time during it) so it was no wonder why I got to bed at 3 and walk up at 8 the next morning. 17 hours did me well and I got up and explored my room, unpacked allele and finally got enough gut to get out there for breakfast. When I got to the host dad and mom and even my host sister miyuchan where waiting for me. I had breakfast and we all talked. I found out my host mom was an English tutor on the side so she speaks perfect English. This was both a blessing and a curse for me because I could have a translator but also I couldn't learn on my own as well. But I loved them all from the start. My host father is a doctor who owns his own clinic and my host sister works with him as his secretary. My host mom would stay home, clean and teach kids all day. So we had a lot of time to bond. The next day we went to my first rotary meeting, luckily I had my speech ready but I was no way ready for the conversations that I would be having with the Rotarians. I was totally unprepared for the meeting but they were very sympathetic towards me, a few younger Rotarians spoke very good English and helped me translate with the older ones. All together there where about 50 people, when I finally got up to speak I wasn't so nervous because they were so nice so I just tried my best and they all clapped for my job well done. the n ext day I had to go to my host fathers rotary club to do the something, unfortunately my host father was the youngest one there and the old men where all asleep for most of the whole meeting all 30 of them. Yet they clapped for me and I was better prepared this time and my host father was very proud of me. But the day after that would be the hardest yet. I had only been there 2 days and tomorrow I would start school! We had gone to my school very briefly my first day to meet my teachers and principal who were very eager to have me there. The biggest excitement came from Mr. Baxter, and English teacher from England who had been living here for 12 years, he informed me all about the rules and showed me around. But my first day of school I forgotten all of that, I walk up and go to school but, in the wrong uniform! So Mr.Baxter had to run home and get me something appropriate before my BIG SPEECH! After making 2 of these speeches you'd think I'd be ready to speak to my school, but it was really hard when you have 1500 eyes staring at you read terrible Japanese. All the kids where excited to have me there and the principal introduced me and it seemed like I did a great job and this speech was entirely different from my first 2 so I was happy. Yet I wasn't expecting a new speech for my homeroom class that was my worst impromptu speech yet! But again they all thought I was cool so it didn't matter. And right after that they introduced themselves in English. Being a private school and all, it looked like they knew a lot more English than I expected. when I took my seat I had made 3 instant best friends, Komichan ( a golfing English genius), Sekiguchi (a basketball star and a major class clown) and Matsuo( a soft tennis{extreme badminton} star) they would follow me around everywhere for the first 2 weeks. but that whole day after that was utterly a loss... I couldn't understand anything class and even some of the universal subjects like math where sooo hard, most of the math classes here are at the calculus level by freshmen year. On top of all that I found out that in Japanese schools the teachers move... not the students. So all day I would sit in the same seat not understanding anything going on around me. but in spite of that I made friends, I used situational humor I laughed at their jokes even though I didn't know what they were saying, and slowly I began to fit in and understand. Since then I've been going mountain climbing almost every week, speaking at rotary meetings every 2 weeks and switching between kendo and soccer every other day. I also go to an extra Japanese class every Tuesday and Thursday. A lot has changed in the first 2 months and a lot of changes are occurring inside me. Since then some amazing events have occurred. Shokochan (my host mom) has taken me to a lot of temples to help me get more in touch with my faith; I have practically climbed every mountain i n tama. on my second week here we visited Okayama Castle, which is one of the oldest castles in Japan dating back 1000 years, with its amazing garden in front( one of the three biggest gardens in Japan. a week after that I went again with Haiyashi sensei, I didn't have the heart to tell him I had already seen it because he's usually so strict I never see him smile, and just for this one day he did. both times I got to have shaved ice, see the crane zoo, and feed/pet the huge carp they had living in the ponds. my third week I finally got my schedule rearranged to fit my needs.
Monday: 1st/3rd period is art class, 2nd/4th period is drama, and 5th/6th period is judo/kendo.
Tuesday: 1st P.E., 2nd library, 3rd English, 4th Japanese history, 5th biology, 6th/7th study with Mr.Baxter
Wednesday: 1st English, 2nd library, 3rd/4th assist in drama classes, 5th/6th assist in English classes
Thursday: No school, go to Japanese class in Okayama
Friday: 1st library, 2nd world history, 3rd/5th/6th assist English classes, 4th calligraphy
Saturday: study in private Japanese classes

For my first month here we had a huge party at my host parent's house. They invited a lot of foreigners from around the world; I met a few Americans and Australians here to study in Japan. There was also an American family who moved here 13 years ago.... unfortunately they fit the perfect bad American stereotype, there 4 kids are all homeschooled (which us unheard of in Japan), because of this they don't know Japanese and there social skills are very poor and they love to eat McDonalds. I was a bit embarrassed to talk to them and I felt really sorry for the kids not having a great opportunity to learn another language especially there 13 year old son. We had Hanze over as well, Hanze is from Germany, and he is 78 years old. Hanze moved to Japan 50 years ago but before that he traveled all across the world on his bicycle for 8 years. His stories are amazing he went all across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and even Asia. When he hit the ocean he went to Japan hop ing to catch a ship to America. But he fell in love instead and has been living here ever since. My host sister invited a good friend of hers who is a master at the dijeri, he would play for us and wed try to see if we could play, and it was a lot of fun. We ate food from around the world; I even gave gifts to everyone. I also invited me best friends Tanakakun and Inuekun to sleep over and we had a blast, the next morning we went mountain climbing at 5:30 in the morning and watched cartoons until there train came.
Two days after the party we had Bunkasai (school festival). Bunkasai is a celebration of another school year; all the students get together and come up with an idea for each club/class to do. Our class made a haunted house, but others had shooting ranges with prizes, karaoke competitions, food booths, movies, and so on. It lasted for 5 hours and at the end of it all I was exhausted ad covered in sweat from running from class to class. At the end of it all a bunch of school bands (mostly rock bands) got together and played for an hour or two. Somewhere great.... others horrible but it were all fun. My favorite thing was they built a 20 foot tower made of used water bottles, it took them all day to build but it was worth it. The wind took it away eventually but I got a few pictures of it before it did. We spent about an hour after cleaning up afterwards; I was as confused as to what to do due to the language so I found some simple grunt work to do. We had to move these very hea vy, long platforms for the teachers (they must have been 180lbs) and for most people who were moving them it took about 5 people to move them from the 3rd floor to the first, but me and Tanakakun listed them by ourselves with twice the speed. We where both covered in chalk dust but it was worth it to get it done. He was about to die halfway though so I had to drag them most of the way, I felt so happy to be better than my other students at something! Afterwards I took Tanaka out for shaved ice and I walked to his house where we hung out and listened to music and played videogames till 11pm.
I just have to note real quick that before this adventure I never drank soda of any kind for a solid 4 years, I hated the stuff for health and personal reasons but ever since I came here I've been addicted to only one "SANGRIAS: MELON CREAM SODA" IS THE BEST DRINK EVER!!!! I get it whenever imp having a hard day, it's actually quite tasty considering it has about half as much sugar than whets in a coke, plus its twice the size. I can only find it in the vending machine next to my house so unfortunately I only have a limited supply.

So about a week after the school celebration we finally got ready for out school sports day. Every class was divided to be either in the blue, red, or yellow team. Every class had to make their own team banner with their colors to show support for the event. And on the day all the teams would go to the huge Okayama dome to participate I the events. Our class was the red team, everyone had worn there team colors and all day we had a blast cheering on our team for the different events. I was in the tug of war and the relay and I was so excited. When it was our turn for tug of war I explained we should pull in sequence on my count and I think because of that we won, but I tried so hard to pull with all my strength that my back gave in. I was in the nurses for the rest of the time. Until relay came up and even though I knew it would hurt like hell I mustard up the strength to do it. I was in serious pain when it came to my turn. I was in first at the beginning but by the time I p assed it over I was in second. I was in so much pain afterwards all I could say was I'm sorry for not doing better but they just kept saying good job so I was happy. Afterwards we cleaned up and left. The next day I had plans too, with my 2 friends Mami and Maichan to karaoke. We sung for 5 hours..... I could barely speak but it was sooo fun. All in all one of my best weekends.

Next Tuesday I was taking my usual train home when I noticed a blond haired girl sitting on the train. I had seen her a few times before but it was only now that I noticed she was wearing a school uniform. I was interested, so I sat down next to her and we talked. I found out her name was Clara she was an exchange student from a different program, and that she was from Germany she had been here for 6 months. She also told me she had 5 exchange students at her school. I was very surprised, considering rotary only has 2 other students in the whole prefecture of Okayama. So she introduced me to some of them and many of her other school friends on train. And we decided we should all meet up on Saturday to go see a movie. I invited my best friend Tanakakun (on account that he really likes foreign girls) and I thought it would be fun. There was max from Australia (who loves anime and so his Japanese was perfect). Alas, a girl whose been living in Italy for the past 2 years but was born in America. Meg, who has lived in America half her life, so she is fluent in both English and Japanese. Dike, who is from Japan but wants to teach Japanese to English speakers one day. Helena, from Finland, and sera, a friend of Daiki's. we saw "the hunger games" (which I saw 5 months ago in America, and I didn't like it) which I loved it was a great movie, and I sat next to ala who was scared easily so I had to tell her when the scary parts would come and she would cry heavily on the emotional parts. It was hilarious but very cute. Afterwards half of them had to go home but the rest of us stayed out till 11:00pm shopping and goofing around. I and Tanakakun, being best friends/rivals would fight all the time making everyone laugh. He'd slap me in the back of the head or id say something funny to him in Japanese and we would end up fighting for (what seems like) forever. I had bought a lot of really cool pins for my rotary blazer but I had placed the bag down to run away from Tanaka.... and it was never seen again hahahahaha. But all in all one of the funniest days I've had with friends here so far. I had only known them a few hours and I felt like I've known them all my life.

For now that all I have to say but, every day here is an adventure if only I could tell you all about every day I'm here but I don't have the time I'm too busy living it. The only thing I can say for those who haven't done what I'm doing is, do it as soon as possible even if you're just going to Mexico, even if your just traveling to a different state or city, even if your just trying something new even if your just traveling to a new state of mind. Take that first step into the unusual and out of routine and I promise you won't ever take a step back. Thank you everyone for all your support and encouragement I promise I won't let you down.

April 16, 2013

Dear Everyone.
I've survived! the holidays are over, the tree is put away, and the year of the snake has finally come. its always hard to put my feelings for the last two months on my journal but here goes nothing. over the holidays I ran into a few things that made me feel like going home. old friends passing always, missing my family, my dog, my old food and customs. most times I was fine trying to enjoy the good times with family and friends here but it was just a few strong moments where your memories come back to you that you start to feel sad about your situation and your lonely disposition. for everyone planning to do what I've did I can tell you there are a lot of people here and around the world who deal with this loneliness by taking on negative habits. like eating chocolate every day and finding out after the holidays you just gained 40lbs. or the kid who just keeps to himself and winds up getting into a fight in school and sent home because he cant deal with his emotions. some people choose to break one or all of the four d's to get over the holidays. and I obviously don't need to remind everyone what happens to them unfortunately. the best solution is to get lost in your family and friends here. I knew this year would be hard but I also knew that the only ones who could help me recover would be them. So I just spent every waking second with them and it all turned out ok in the end.

To tell you bout all the adventures I've experienced would take forever to explain. But I will mention that my next host family coming in February is a family of monks. None of them are related by blood but I consider them a family. I spent New Years with them at they're temple. We read the sutras, meditated at 5 am every day, and lived the monk lifestyle. I think most would call me crazy to be interested in living that life but well I'm not most people haha.

Being here for five months now is really different that from when I started, things are beginning to be normal now. The days are a bit quieter and I don't surprise as easily as before. But that just part of the plan I guess, you know that roller coaster feeling of all the ups and downs of exchange, I still really don't believe that's true. I guess exchange effects everyone differently. But I would agree that after Christmas things begin to feel normal, Even though crazy stuff is happening to me that doesn't happen to most people.

The biggest lesson on my exchange isn't the language, or the culture, its not about the awesome food or friends either. It's the ability to adapt to change, to make a new normal, to find security even in the most hectic and new environment. Waking up at five every morning to clean a temple and meditate with a group of bald Japanese monks doesn't seem like the most relaxing expedience for a lot of exchange students, but I feel the thrill of it, of it being new to me. And now that I'm here for five months I'm holding on to anything exciting I can. And once I master it, feel normal, I have to move on. That's the hardest lesson to learn, the real reason we are here. The lesson we cant learn from the security of our homes with our parents and friends. The real lesson of all life that no matter how much you don't want it too, everything will change. Your friends, family, job, school, relationships, money it all comes and goes in life, in an ups and downs fashion. And you cant be scared of that, because if you are its going to hit you when you least expect it and tear your hopes apart. Go with the flow, don't fight the waves, ride them, and hope they take you where you want to go.

The second thing I've learned while on exchange is that a lot of exchange students are the same. I mean we all have different talents, hopes and dreams. But we all generally care about the world and we have big plans for the future. I love all the exchange students I've had the pleasure of meeting during my exchange. And there are many of them I am looking foreword to meeting from all around the world. I'm taking advantage of this adventure now. To stay close with my fellow exchange students after exchange, contacts that will one day change the world. We are the movement makers, the next presidents, astronauts, doctors, even just future mothers and fathers who will share what they've learned this year with the world. To make it better, to pay it foreword, to be the ambassador of the world and purge the world of racism and ignorance... big job for a bunch of teenagers, but I think we can pull it off.
Keegan Costello

So it's about March now and I've been living with the monks for 3 months. It's a Buddhist temple with over 50 rooms! It's huge, traditional and looks straight out of any of the Japanese movies. We have only 5 people ( including me) in the rooms, the head monk (my host father), his son who was a former punk band bassist (so we get along well), the second in charge monk who works with me all the time in the mornings, and a woman monk whose been like a mother to me. Everyone has shaved heads but me, we wear monk clothes and I live 100% a monk life. Every morning I wake up at 5:00 in the morning to a huge gong. We have about 10 minutes to get our monk clothes on and meet in the meditation room. There we pray, gongs bells drums and the deep voice of traditional Tibetan prayers orchestrate the room. A room covered in offerings incense and pictures of Buddha's long past. To watch this every morning gave me great humility for we would thank every day for letting us be alive on this earth. I being a Buddhist myself since 13 (a very lonely one in America may I add) was for the first time being around people who practiced the same faith as me. After the prayers and meditation we went into our rooms for 30 minutes of reflection, followed by a cleaning of the entire temple. This place had 50 rooms'50!!! And each of us had a task. Mine was floors which were scrubbed down by warm water from the bath the night before. That took about 30 to 40 minutes. By that time breakfast was ready and we would eat after a prayer of course. Our meal was completely vegetarian, well besides the occasional fish. All meals were traditional Japanese, rice, pickles, soy sauce, sea weed. I loved it but at times things tasted bland and I've never craved a burger or donuts as bad as when I was there. After breakfast id rush to get ready and go to school. The only problem I had was how it was 24 degrees in the dead of winter here, and all I had was an electric blanket and a small gas heater in the temple. The walls there are made of paper, sand, and glass we didn't wear shoes and being a Florida boy I dreaded stepping out of that blanket in the mornings to change clothes and step on that freezing hard wood floors.
I love it here at the temple people are so nice and they would bend over backwards for me, but I requested this week to get a new host family for my last month and a half. I've been living here for 3.5 months and I love it, but it's not a host family. I'm treated as a monk; they haven't ever had a host son stay with them let alone a foreigner stay with them. The monk life is very aloof anyways; they would usually spend most of there days alone doing individual work in silence, even when we eat food together its in silence. So it's very lonely here at times and I spend most of my off days studying, that's done wonders for my Japanese skills but I haven't many people to practice it with. That's why I made this decision to change and I stand behind it, the monks understand and it was only my Rotary here that had a difficult time with it. This isn't a host family and id like to spend my last few weeks feeling like I'm a part of one. As an exchange student we all have to follow the rules but we must also stand up for ourselves when necessary. This is OUR exchange, yes we are ambassadors and we represent our countries and many important people who care about us but we also have a choice. The more you affirm yourself and stand up for your rights when you feel wronged on exchange the more comfortable future exchangers will feel when settling in.

I had a friend visit me two weeks ago by the way. Her name is Helena Christensen from Denmark. We have been talking every night on Skype since we got here over 7 months ago. I actually met her through the exchange website 3 months before exchange. She's staying in the Tokyo area (the same as jasmine Norris) and we have been helping each other adjust. We tell our stories to each other, give advice, complain, and celebrate. We gave gifts to each other over Christmas and she promised to come visit me in Okayama since my Rotary wont let me. She stayed here a week at the temple (which is far from here Tokyo life to say the least). I took a week off school just to show her around everywhere. It was intense not only to have another foreigner stay with me but a person I've known for almost a year who knows my secrets and dreams. She says it's my turn to come visit her in Denmark after exchange; I can't wait to take her up on that.

The school year is almost over and we will soon change class grades, I wonder what will happen then to me, what my next host family is like and what adventures await in the next issue of Keegan's journal.

p.s. while I'm here my mom (who rose me by herself) badly injured herself at work and was out of commission for a while (still is) and out of her wishes I decided to stay while she fights for me. I just love the friends I've made over the years who are now pooling together to take care of her in my absence.


Its may and the bitter cold has finally bloomed into spring, cherry blossoms are in bloom for the next two weeks and their pedal cover the ground like confetti. I changed host families to an old couple who lives in Tamano (the same town as my first host family) their family is very international and very understanding of foreigners. I already feel like I'm their son. My host dad is a fisherman who eats his catch which usually consists of squid, sea urchin, and various fish. My host mom stays at home most of the day but she plays a game called dragon quest for hours on end, and I thought teenagers were the only ones who dream of being a level 76 wizard. The trek to school is a bit longer but I don't mind because I take the same train as my best friend Daiki in the mornings. Daiki has been such an inspiration to me, because his drive to learn English is unlike anything I've ever seen in a Japanese person. Every night he studies and then practices what he learns with me in the morning hahaha come to think of it his other subjects in school are kind of lagging but their isn't much I can do about that.

I have amazing news!!!!!!!! The new school year started and I got promoted. My English teacher thought my Japanese skills were good enough to move up from being a Japanese student to an assistant English teacher. So from now on until I get home ill be helping plan and present the daily lessons to middle school students and freshman year high school students. I won't see my friends nearly as much but ill make a lot more friends by being introducing different year groups to my native language. The extra benefit is that I don't have to wear a uniform no more, not that I hated it or anything, but having one pair of clothes to wear all week can get allitle hard to keep clean. I still got to wear a tie and dress pants but everyone knows who I am and talks to me more with my new outfit. Although if you think life is easier since I switched to teacher your dead wrong. I will never again insult a teacher or think they are lazy; a teacher's job is ten times harder than a students. We have to make the lesson plan, we have to make it interesting enough for kids to pay attention but simple enough to understand, stand in front of 60 eyes that stare at you for an hour and a half a class (talk about stage fright), and you have to do it 7 times a day without getting bored about the same lesson you gave 7 TIMES ALREADY!!!!
But it feels very rewarding at the end of the day to give back to these kids and know that 210 kids just got a bit smarter today.

So I leave in less than a month and I can feel the pressure. I don't know how much I've changed, guess ill have to see. I'm so happy that I've learned another language though, a feat I never thought I could achieve. I wouldn't have come this far if I took a Japanese class in America. It's only once you've lost everything that you fully understand you can do anything. I don't know what my future holds now, weather its traveling across the world by bike, starting college, volunteering, it doesn't matter all I know now is that my future will be bright and I wont let any thing nor anybody get in my way.

My friends are already starting to cry about me leaving and I've invited all of them to my home during the winter breaks. Some of them will think of me occasionally some few to not at all but regardless I hope I've left a positive image of my country at least burned into the back of their brains. But as for my best friends we will stay in touch every week and I vow to see them again! The next time I write I will be home and this will all be but memories, memories that will last a lifetime, which no one can take from me. I just want to thank everyone for this amazing opportunity. I am a man now, willing to face the world with open eyes. Thank you rotary, thank you host families, I hope one day I can give back to you in some way what you gave to me. Priceless moments, loyal friends, impossible challenges and immeasurable gains. One day I will be a host dad and spread the love you showed me