Corey Yeung
2013-14 Outbound to Japan

Hometown: Safety Harbor, Florida
School: St. Petersburg Collegiate High School
Sponsor: District 6950, Florida
Host: The Rotary Club of Koshigaya-South

Corey's Bio

こんにちは (Konichiwa)! Hello! My name is Corey Yeung, and I am 17 years old. I will be graduating from St. Petersburg Collegiate High School in May, simultaneously earning my High School Diploma and Associate’s in Arts Degree. I am eagerly excited for this year long exchange to Japan to be enlightened by their culture. I live in Safety Harbor with my mom, dad, older sister, and lazy-but-loving dog. I take my academics seriously with utmost fervor, trying to gain knowledge whenever an opportunity is given. In school I would consider my forte to be math although I have interests in other subjects as well, such as English and speech. Additionally, I try to learn any unfamiliar vocabulary words I come across as it can be very supplemental to my communication skills. Aside from academics, I have hobbies that allow me to stay active as well as to lay back and relax. Foremost, my prominent hobby is soccer. Soccer not only keeps me fit, but it gives me a chance to ease any stress I had from that day. I have been playing soccer for over a decade and I’ve enjoyed every part of it, from the heated competitive moments to the bonding that teamwork and sportsmanship brings. Soccer has kept my mind sharp and astute, critically evaluating which actions to perform even when the ball is on the other side of the field. Other hobbies I partake in is watching movies and television shows, going out with friends, playing the piano, and traveling. Particularly, exploring new areas and venturing out to new locations seems to open up a spirit of discovery within myself; traveling has enriched my awareness in adapting to new environments. I have traveled occasionally to different states and have also studied abroad to Italy, which was truly remarkable. The immense effect of international relations today has tremendous correlation with my future-planned occupation. In the near future, I aspire to be a successful business entrepreneur, hoping to make a significant impact in our world. Rotary International is an enabler for me to have a fundamental understanding in communication skills and cultural awareness. To have the opportunity to be given this unique, amazing experience makes me extremely appreciative. I want to specifically thank Rotary International for choosing me as an exchange student to be immersed into a new culture and way of living. I would also like to give my appreciation to my mom, dad, and two older sisters for supporting me to take part in this educational and life-changing experience. Gaining novel perspectives from this exchange will give me a new outlook that will benefit me later on. I will uphold this honor with utmost potential and vigor. The lessons from this exchange will be unparalleled, helping cultivate me into a cultural ambassador.

Corey's Journals

August 26, 2013

こんにちわ、コーリーです!What an experience this is. I’ve only been here for ten days and it feels like I already had a year’s worth of experience. My arrival in Japan was not as I expected. I thought I would either be vivacious or extremely anxious, but instead I didn’t know what I really felt. The initial feelings of excitement for an exchange student did not come to me immediately. While I was at the airport, I was just thinking, “Alright…okay, I’m in Japan.” My perception that the Tokyo airport would be frenetic and completely confusing was the complete opposite. It was quite calm and the steps I needed to take through customs were pretty explicit. It was not hard to follow and I was able to get through the airport smoothly. My preconceived assumptions of how things would go were already different from how it actually was.

After going through customs, my host family and fellow Rotarians were already there. They greeted me as I bowed and pictures were taken. I thought that only my host family would be there, but I was welcomed with several Rotarians. The thought that the car ride from the airport would be silent wasn’t the same for me. Even though I did not speak much, the car ride was comfortable. I rested a little from my jet lag and was getting ready for the meal ahead, as it was dinner time. The meal was excellent and everyone was having a good time. The people in Japan are really easy-going with friends; the conversation was lively (even though I did not understand it) and many laughs were going around. Albeit all this being said, the first few days were very difficult for me.

Adapting to the culture and getting use to the host family’s routine was not the difficulty, it was the language barrier was hitting me hard and I was feeling overwhelmed with the task ahead. I was feeling lost and wondering what in the world I was doing here. Am I really capable of doing this? How am I able to push on? These were the kinds of questions I was contemplating over. However, after that rough patch, I was finally introduced with the excitement of learning about a new culture and having new perspectives. The support I have is incredible (my family, friends, and Rotarians from the US and Japan) and that was what motivated me to push on.

Taking small steps at a time was the solution. You can’t expect to learn everything overnight, it takes time. Aside from events here and there, I am studying all day, every day. I just organized a steady study regiment which is relieving.

The Japanese culture is one to admire and I am very appreciative to be given this opportunity. What is in store for me in the near future is unpredictable and that is what makes this so exciting, as independence and growth are attributes that I will inevitably encounter. I can now look forward to this exciting adventure.

私はとてもつかれたですだよ!学校は忙しいです、でも楽しいです!Hey everyone, it has now been almost a month in this amazing country and it has passed so quickly. I’ve started school and even though it has been tiring and busy, it’s great to finally get to hang out with friends. The people in Japan are so kind and they are always willing to help me.

So since my first blog, so much has happened; I met the other exchange students in my district and also started school. Meeting the other exchange students was definitely exciting as I was given the chance to start making friends and get to know how their experience in Japan is going too. The orientation was for two days and we all got to stay overnight at a traditional Japanese hotel which was a great experience to further step into the Japanese culture. We also got to go to the Hikawa Jinja (Japanese Shrine) and learned how to properly give our respects. We then proceeded to learn about the tea ceremony and its specific technicalities. This day was full of the rich tradition of Japanese culture and I was able to spend it with my fellow exchange students.

Aside from meeting the other exchange students, starting school was something I was really looking forward to. It is definitely mentally (and physically) tiring but all of this is part of the experience. However, the first week and a half wasn’t the normal school schedule. The school was preparing for the school festival and so much preparation was made. It was surprising how all the students prepared for the festival. They went to the supermarket nearby and got a bunch of recyclable boxes, flattened it out, brought it back to school, and made art out of it. And when people looked at the final result, they could see the amount of effort the students did to make this festival possible. Most rooms were different from each other and there were plenty of activities to do. My classroom was a relaxing area where you could sit and talk with friends. The other classrooms ranged from scary houses and snack shops, to quiz games and art galleries. And it wasn’t just the students or teachers who enjoyed the festival, many people from outside the school came too.

The starting day of the festival, all the students and teachers went to a theater room nearby the school called Sun City. That is where performances were done to represent the start of the festival. It was colorful, comedic, and entertaining. There were several dance performances by the students, and music played by the school band. There were also awards given out at the beginning of the ceremony as well as short introductory speeches. Including myself, there are three exchange students, the other two are from France and Germany. We were told to give a short speech about ourselves in front of all the students and teachers that day (about 1,000 people) and surprisingly it wasn’t extremely nerve-racking. I was a little nervous but I was also excited to introduce myself to everyone. I do have to admit that the words almost escaped me during my speech but I was able to say everything that I wanted to.

After the festival was when I began the normal school schedule. So this is a general schedule of a standard school day for me:

7:00- I wake up and wash up.

7:30-8:00- I eat breakfast.

8:00-8:15- I ride my bike to school and remember to park my bike on the upper (second) level (third year students park their bike on the first level).

8:15-8:35- Study and talk in my classroom until “Short Homeroom” starts.

8:35-3:15- Classes; though on Monday, the classes are until

4:15. Lunch is at 12:40.

3:15-6:00 (end time varies) - My club activity: Track and Field. On Friday’s I go to the Interact Club.

Around 6:30- Get settled in at home.

Around 8:00- I eat dinner and we talk/watch television.

10:30- I go upstairs and go to bed.

So this is the general schedule of my school day at Koshigaya-Minami High School. The club I wanted to join was soccer, but I was unable to. However I was able to join Track and Field which I am just as satisfied with. And anyways, I get to play soccer after club activities on Friday’s with the guys in the Interact Club and so I still get to play soccer for fun. What is really different for me is how much exercising there is. Aside from Track and Field practice, I have PE three days of the week where all the students basically run long distance. Though for some reason, I don’t feel as tired all the time (probably due to the fact that I exercise a lot now) and so when I get home, I can still study.

And the idea that Japanese people eat small portions is not how it is in my case. Each meal is very filling and sometimes I can’t even finish it all because there is so much food! Still, the meals are delicious! Right now, a pretty noticeable problem for me is remembering all these new names. I’m already not that good at remembering names, but when I have to know over 50 names (my class/teachers, and club members) in Japanese, that task becomes difficult. Nevertheless, the school is an exciting place to be and is something I enjoy. So until next time, でわまた!

November 3, 2013

The time on this exchange really is flying by. It’s been about two and a half months since I arrived in Japan and it has definitely been a step into a whole new world. The Japanese culture is definitely one to admire and this experience is like no other.

Sleep escapes me most of the time but it oddly makes this experience all the more better! There is so much to do in Japan and so many places I still have yet to venture out to. I went to Mount Fuji and also went to a famous Buddhist Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. Mount Fuji was absolutely a great sight to see, but we were unable to climb it because the path was closed for the season. Nevertheless, the trip was worth it because, well, it was Mount Fuji. The Buddhist Temple, Sensouji, was incredible. We were only there for a short time but the beauty of it was mesmerizing. What I only saw in pictures I saw standing right in front of me. My host father was very kind to take me and another exchange student to this site as it was quite far by train.

So now to the more nitty-gritty, there are several obvious differences between America and Japan. First off is school. Yes school is definitely a lot longer than I’m use to but I have now grown used to it. The club activities make this so, but it is also the part of the day I look forward to because it is also a time when students get to hang out with each other. It is definitely still a struggle to communicate with them but I try. In America where you don’t have to join any club activities and just spend time with friends outside of school; students in Japan make the most out of their time during the club activities to talk with friends. The formalities are also an obvious distinction between Japanese and American high schools. Before and after every class all the students stand up and bow, saying “おねがいします”, for the beginning of class, and “ありがとうございました”, for the end of the class.

Track is also the same way. All the students line up together and bow to the coach and to the field before and after practice. And what you will almost undoubtedly here at sports club activities is, “ファイト” and “おつかれさまでした.”

The tests in high school are also done a different way in Japan. Remember how in America when students would always say, “Why do my classes always have the tests the same week?” Well in Japan, there are select days for tests and so the all the students in the school would take tests for those select, consecutive days. The Japanese school system is rigorous but students still have an enjoyable time, especially during lunch time.

My class only has eight guys, including me, and so we would eat together in the classroom and talk with each other. And the majority of the time, students would bring bento boxes to eat lunch. Like I said, it is tough to talk with the other students but I try. They never mind helping me whenever I ask them and they take their time to explain it to me.

On another note, it should be taken notice that all of this does not mean Japanese people are very serious people. Yes there are specific formalities done but when they spend time with friends it is very relaxed and easygoing. It goes the same with adults too. When they hang out with each other on their spare time, they would get some drinks and have a good time, sometimes getting pretty loud.

Even driving is a bit different than America, and I’m not just talking about driving on the other side of the road and having the driver’s seat on the right side; the roads are a lot more narrow, at least for the city I live in. The cars are always bound to drive over the line in middle of the roads, whether it is because of a person riding their bike on the side of the road or because the turn is so tight, but it is completely normal to do so.

There are so many cultural differences between America and Japan that I can’t name all of them right now, but one more I want to mention is the train system. Many people know that Japan’s train system is highly efficient and it most certainly is. Trains come within 10 minutes and are actually a comfortable way to get around. The seats are cushioned most of the time and the inside of the train is clean, it makes riding the train feel like riding in your own car; that is if your car is clean. Even though I don’t take the train much right now, as my school is only 10 minutes by bike, their train system is one that exemplifies efficiency and top quality.

Just the other day, I was helping my host mother with a complicated flower puzzle she was working on. There were 1000 pieces and the puzzle wasn’t even close to being finished. That is exactly how I feel learning Japanese is right now. There are so many pieces scattered in a disorganized manner and is up to me to work on it piece by piece. It will take a long time and does get discouraging at one point or another, but it is always a work in progress. Sometimes it gets so complicated I have no clue what to do, but I just have to keep pushing forward. So why would I do something that is so difficult and mentally taxing; because we all want to see the picture that intrigued us to open the box to the pieces of the puzzle.The time on this exchange really is flying by. It’s been about two and a half months since I arrived in Japan and it has definitely been a step into a whole new world. The Japanese culture is definitely one to admire and this experience is like no other.

Sleep escapes me most of the time but it oddly makes this experience all the more better! There is so much to do in Japan and so many places I still have yet to venture out to. I went to Mount Fuji and also went to a famous Buddhist Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. Mount Fuji was absolutely a great sight to see, but we were unable to climb it because the path was closed for the season. Nevertheless, the trip was worth it because, well, it was Mount Fuji. The Buddhist Temple, Sensouji, was incredible. We were only there for a short time but the beauty of it was mesmerizing. What I only saw in pictures I saw standing right in front of me. My host father was very kind to take me and another exchange student to this site as it was quite far by train.

So now to the more nitty-gritty, there are several obvious differences between America and Japan. First off is school. Yes school is definitely a lot longer than I’m use to but I have now grown used to it. The club activities make this so, but it is also the part of the day I look forward to because it is also a time when students get to hang out with each other. It is definitely still a struggle to communicate with them but I try. In America where you don’t have to join any club activities and just spend time with friends outside of school; students in Japan make the most out of their time during the club activities to talk with friends. The formalities are also an obvious distinction between Japanese and American high schools. Before and after every class all the students stand up and bow, saying “おねがいします”, for the beginning of class, and “ありがとうございました”, for the end of the class.

Track is also the same way. All the students line up together and bow to the coach and to the field before and after practice. And what you will almost undoubtedly here at sports club activities is, “ファイト” and “おつかれさまでした.”

The tests in high school are also done a different way in Japan. Remember how in America when students would always say, “Why do my classes always have the tests the same week?” Well in Japan, there are select days for tests and so the all the students in the school would take tests for those select, consecutive days. The Japanese school system is rigorous but students still have an enjoyable time, especially during lunch time.

My class only has eight guys, including me, and so we would eat together in the classroom and talk with each other. And the majority of the time, students would bring bento boxes to eat lunch. Like I said, it is tough to talk with the other students but I try. They never mind helping me whenever I ask them and they take their time to explain it to me.

On another note, it should be taken notice that all of this does not mean Japanese people are very serious people. Yes there are specific formalities done but when they spend time with friends it is very relaxed and easygoing. It goes the same with adults too. When they hang out with each other on their spare time, they would get some drinks and have a good time, sometimes getting pretty loud.

Even driving is a bit different than America, and I’m not just talking about driving on the other side of the road and having the driver’s seat on the right side; the roads are a lot more narrow, at least for the city I live in. The cars are always bound to drive over the line in middle of the roads, whether it is because of a person riding their bike on the side of the road or because the turn is so tight, but it is completely normal to do so.

There are so many cultural differences between America and Japan that I can’t name all of them right now, but one more I want to mention is the train system. Many people know that Japan’s train system is highly efficient and it most certainly is. Trains come within 10 minutes and are actually a comfortable way to get around. The seats are cushioned most of the time and the inside of the train is clean, it makes riding the train feel like riding in your own car; that is if your car is clean. Even though I don’t take the train much right now, as my school is only 10 minutes by bike, their train system is one that exemplifies efficiency and top quality.

Just the other day, I was helping my host mother with a complicated flower puzzle she was working on. There were 1000 pieces and the puzzle wasn’t even close to being finished. That is exactly how I feel learning Japanese is right now. There are so many pieces scattered in a disorganized manner and is up to me to work on it piece by piece. It will take a long time and does get discouraging at one point or another, but it is always a work in progress. Sometimes it gets so complicated I have no clue what to do, but I just have to keep pushing forward. So why would I do something that is so difficult and mentally taxing; because we all want to see the picture that intrigued us to open the box to the pieces of the puzzle.

November 17, 2013

The time on this exchange really is flying by. It’s been about three months since I arrived in Japan and it has definitely been a step into a whole new world. The Japanese culture is definitely one to admire and this experience is like no other.

Sleep escapes me most of the time but it oddly makes this experience all the more better! There is so much to do in Japan and so many places I still have yet to venture out to. I went to Mount Fuji and also went to a famous Buddhist Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. Mount Fuji was absolutely a great sight to see, but we were unable to climb it because the path was closed for the season. Nevertheless, the trip was worth it because, well, it was Mount Fuji. The Buddhist Temple, Sensouji, was incredible. We were only there for a short time but the beauty of it was mesmerizing. What I only saw in pictures I saw standing right in front of me. My host father was very kind to take me and another exchange student to this site as it was quite far by train.

So now to the more nitty-gritty, there are several obvious differences between America and Japan. First off is school. Yes school is definitely a lot longer than I’m use to but I have now grown used to it. The club activities make this so, but it is also the part of the day I look forward to because it is also a time when students get to hang out with each other. It is definitely still a struggle to communicate with them but I try. In America where you don’t have to join any club activities and just spend time with friends outside of school; students in Japan make the most out of their time during the club activities to talk with friends. The formalities are also an obvious distinction between Japanese and American high schools. Before and after every class all the students stand up and bow, saying “おねがいします”, for the beginning of class, and “ありがとうございました”, for the end of the class. Track is also the same way. All the students line up together and bow to the coach and to the field before and after practice. And what you will almost undoubtedly here at sports club activities is, “ファイト” and “おつかれさまでした.”

The tests in high school are also done a different way in Japan. Remember how in America when students would always say, “Why do my classes always have the tests the same week?” Well in Japan, there are select days for tests and so the all the students in the school would take tests for those select, consecutive days. The Japanese school system is rigorous but students still have an enjoyable time, especially during lunch time.

My class only has eight guys, including me, and so we would eat together in the classroom and talk with each other. And the majority of the time, students would bring bento boxes to eat lunch. Like I said, it is tough to talk with the other students but I try. They never mind helping me whenever I ask them and they take their time to explain it to me.

On another note, it should be taken notice that all of this does not mean Japanese people are very serious people. Yes there are specific formalities done but when they spend time with friends it is very relaxed and easygoing. It goes the same with adults too. When they hang out with each other on their spare time, they would get some drinks and have a good time, sometimes getting pretty loud.

Even driving is a bit different than America, and I’m not just talking about driving on the other side of the road and having the driver’s seat on the right side; the roads are a lot more narrow, at least for the city I live in. The cars are always bound to drive over the line in middle of the roads, whether it is because of a person riding their bike on the side of the road or because the turn is so tight, but it is completely normal to do so.

There are so many cultural differences between America and Japan that I can’t name all of them right now, but one more I want to mention is the train system. Many people know that Japan’s train system is highly efficient and it most certainly is. Trains come within 10 minutes and are actually a comfortable way to get around. The seats are cushioned most of the time and the inside of the train is clean, it makes riding the train feel like riding in your own car; that is if your car is clean. Even though I don’t take the train much right now, as my school is only 10 minutes by bike, their train system is one that exemplifies efficiency and top quality.

Just the other day, I was helping my host mother with a complicated flower puzzle she was working on. There were 1000 pieces and the puzzle wasn’t even close to being finished. That is exactly how I feel learning Japanese is right now. There are so many pieces scattered in a disorganized manner and is up to me to work on it piece by piece. It will take a long time and does get discouraging at one point or another, but it is always a work in progress. Sometimes it gets so complicated I have no clue what to do, but I just have to keep pushing forward. So why would I do something that is so difficult and mentally taxing; because we all want to see the picture that intrigued us to open the box to the pieces of the puzzle.

May 6, 2014

So it has definitely been a long time since my last blog. I’ve changed three host families, have had Christmas and New Year’s in Japan, survived a track training camp, went on the Hiroshima and Kyoto trip, and have continued to learn more about the Japanese culture and language. I’ve noticed that my last blogs have lacked any real substance, only meriting what has been good during this exchange. So for a change, in this blog, I will talk a bit more bluntly. As we all know, an exchange is life-changing. I knew that before the exchange and I said it repeatedly to people when they asked, “Are you excited?!” But I honestly had no clue what the meaning of life-changing was. I didn’t give it much thought of what it entailed or in what way it would change my life, but I definitely understand now. Even now, life-changing is indefinable. Its definition differs for each individual, and is more of an experience than a word. As hard as it is to define life-changing for everyone by generalizing our experiences, it can only stretch so far to explain an exchange.

This exchange has been quite an adventure and no matter how many days past, it continues to surprise me; the stresses, joys, and all the emotions I could imagine. I’ve experienced several emotions for the first time and even though I was aware of some of them beforehand, it is a completely different ballpark when I actually went through it myself. No doubt, it has been tough. I’ve been knocked down and have had my self-confidence dwindled to what I could barely call a pea. I’ve stayed down there and have had to fight my way back up. I am still doing so now and mustering past the ignorance that once stood before me. But for all the hardship I have been through so far and as many mistakes as I have made, I am grateful for it. Without any of it, I wouldn’t be able to call this exchange life-changing. I’ve learned more about myself and my personality, particularly my flaws. I can be as little as waking up on my own in the morning to putting aside any pride I may have and fear not the embarrassment of making mistakes in Japanese. I kind of knew this beforehand but had not taken it as far as I should have when I was starting out with the language. When you are not afraid of making mistakes, and tons of them, not only will there be unnoticed improvement in your language ability, but the more capable you are of showing the great personality within yourself. Embrace mistakes and ask questions because that is how you learn; not by choosing reclusiveness and waiting for the language to come to you. I continue to challenge myself and not let my fears hold me back by focusing on the progress I make and not the fear of judgment others may give. Because of this exchange I have been able to let go of the chains that restricted me to pass certain limits. All of this is tightly fitted into one experience, one year, one opportunity.

So now onto what is on everyone’s mind, the language. With Japanese I have reached a degree of conversational fluency. What do I mean by that? I can talk all day and all night if I want in Japanese. I still make grammatical mistakes and may lack a word here and there, but for basic conversations I am able to effectively communicate. The struggle is still with classes and joining in on conversations. During classes there is still plenty of vocabulary out of my range, especially with classical literature and earth science. Regarding conversations, I can have one-on-one easily and talk with my classmates, but once the conversation deviates into talking about games or shows they watch and play, I struggle to keep up with those conversations. If anything, the most important aspect I learned about language studying is that it is a continuous process. No matter how good someone gets or what degree of fluency they reach, there will always be room for improvement. And certainly when I return to Florida, I want to continue my studies in Japanese, whether that is at college or on my own. Of course with my previous ignorance before this exchange, the way I expected my exchange to go and actually how it is now, are completely different sides of the book. Not bad, but also not the ideal one I had in mind. The incredible learning experience I have had in personal growth has taken more of a priority on this exchange and because of that it took a toll on my studies. But again, I don’t regret the progress I have made. If anything, the struggles and stresses I have been through has made me more resilient to the weaknesses that once stood before me.

Regarding Japan and its culture in general, I can describe it in two short words. I saw a poster in an airport when I was headed for Hiroshima and Kyoto and it has stuck with me as it has always held true before that trip and well after. The poster read: Endless Discovery; and that is the best way I think Japan can be described as. Its rich culture, formal customs, and incomparable landscape make Japan undoubtedly a country of Endless Discovery. I have been able to explore and learn the culture every day and I couldn’t have asked for a better country to learn from. Everything is different from the American culture, from the obvious food choices to the school system and family values. Talking about this culture could fill books (and there are probably many of them) so it is difficult for me to decide where to start. There are a number of things I could talk about so the ones that have stuck out the most for me, I will write about.

I guess first off is the graduation at a Japanese High School. The way school is done in Japan could be considered opposite of the American school system because numerous things are different, from the teaching method to the classes students take. At graduation in Japan it is just as so. There are no blue gowns or square-shaped hats and there isn’t screams and cheers from proud family members and friends. Compared to an American graduation, the Japanese graduation may come off as very serious and formal. The audience remains silent the whole time, and when the students are told to stand, it is done in a very formal manner with a quick reaction and correct posture. The students wear the school uniforms as usual and the third-year students who are graduating would add a flower decoration to their uniform (that takes place of the blue gowns and hats). When the student receives the high school diploma, it is taken a certain way from the principal. This process is done by t he student firmly and has been practiced beforehand. These differences in graduation may come off as very melancholy and strict, but it is just a difference in culture. Although the Japanese graduation was more formal than expected, I enjoyed it very much, getting to see how it is done in a different country. In no way am I trying to deface how graduation is done in Japan as it was very interesting and enjoyable to me. There is also a graduation song for all Japanese high schools which I did not know of before, but its meaningful lyrics and calming tune suits the emotions students go through during graduation. This link is the song they use: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbgKWloZ8Yw.

When going out with friends, there is a similar pattern amongst the guys, regarding fashion. The clothes people where is very important in Japan and it shows. The clothes look good and they each show their own style. In general, the guys like wearing layers; they would where a shirt or two on top, and put on a jacket or light long sleeve, along with a pair of jeans or khakis. With girls, there seems to be a wider range of fashion choices but what many of them do is wear short skirts to show their legs and wear heels instead of flat shoes. As much as fashion is an important part of teen culture, I remain with my simplicity, or what others may say with no harm, unfashionable. When I wear a one-layer long sleeve shirt and a pair of sports pants, yeah, it’s is definitely understandable. The good thing is that the majority of the time we wear our school uniforms so I don’t have to think of what to wear that day, not like I give much thought to it though.

Regarding Japanese television shows (and I am a fan of American shows), I think it is far better. The dramas and movies were a bit cheesy at first to me, but once I watched it enough, it grew on me. The shows are interesting and I enjoy listening to them in Japanese. In particular, the variety shows are, by far, the best part of it all. They do so many hilarious segments and have recurring television personalities that make the shows so entertaining. My favorite part of the variety shows is when they talk about a story with in-depth detail. The way do it is something you can’t get from American television. They not only look for interesting stories, but they put so much research and time into it and it shows. Whether they go around different countries and explore their culture, or talk about a story in the past, they go into so much detail it grasps my attention every time.

And because Japan is such a compact country, aside from the outskirts and rural areas, the shopping areas are very centralized. Because the trains are used so much in Japan, at many stations, there would be a huge mall or shopping building write next to it. It would have stores like a supermarket, clothing shops, a movie theater, or other brand name stores. These buildings would usually be next to stations that have several train passengers. So not only is the train system very organized and efficient, these shopping buildings make the train stations even more convenient. And don’t get me started with convenience stores in Japan. There is plenty of information online about those stores if you want to delve into that so what I’ll leave to say about that is: Pure Awesomeness.

There are many formalities in Japan, but it is also a very light environment, like I said before, with friends. We enjoy our time, and make jokes with each other. The teenagers are expected to have a very timely manner, which they do, and they take being on time, and not being fashionably late, seriously. But when we are just hanging out with each other, it gets loud and lively.

I guess the last thing I’ll touch upon is the “American Image” Japanese people have. The obvious and expected one was that everyone is obese and the only regular food America consists of is steaks and hamburgers. This is constantly brought up when there is discussion of how America is viewed, and so I am constantly saying it is different and explaining myself. The next image that many Japanese people have of America is guns. They think we all have guns and that it is a very dangerous place. I, again, explain to them it is very different, and not necessarily everything they see on television holds true in reality. Many of them also think America looks like New York everywhere with bright lights and city lights. They are also familiar with the American Dream. I’m sure this definition has changed over time but I just gave an explanation of what it essentially means. I described it to a friend of mine that it is an individualistic dream that differs from e very person and that it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone wants to be a movie star or popular singer. America is simply the platform for opportunity that enables people to reach that dream.

I have two months left on this exchange and I plan to make the most out of it. Plans change, and they do so quite unexpectedly, but I came to realize, no matter how much plans change, I will change as well. If something is different than I thought it would be, there would still be learning opportunities and it would be my job to seek them out. As I am becoming more independent for the first time and continuously working to break through the language barrier that stood before me, it becomes clearer and clearer. Through any experience we go through, whether it be at home in one country or in another, the learning opportunities will always be there. As obvious as this may sound, my eyes have truly opened to the innumerous possibilities to do so. I will take what I learned from this exchange and continue to incorporate it into my daily life. I will work diligently, not only with my academic studies, but to also improve who I am and what I do. I will embrace the challenges and continue to grow. Because as we all know, the world is full of “Endless Discovery.”

August 22, 2014

It has officially been over a year since I took off to the opposite side of the world and began a journey that has changed my life. I lived with five different host families, visited the Tokyo area a number of times, have met people from over ten countries, and made unforgettable memories and life-long relationships. The feeling of being back in Florida was nothing but odd. However, now that I have been back for over a month now, I am getting back into rhythm with the American lifestyle. The strangest feeling had struck me when I finally stepped off the long plane ride, and knew that I was back in America. Aside from my aching muscles and terrible lack of sleep, all I could think of was the fact that it felt I hadn’t even left America at all. Where did my year go? How did it pass so quickly? Stepping off the plane, getting my luggage, and quickly trying to get by security to reach my transfer flight; those thoughts were running around my mind. After stumbling a bit with my English, trying to answer simple questions, I simply just wanted to get on the next flight back to Japan. No doubt was it one of the most stressful years I had gone through; without question did I struggle to rebuild a solid and vibrant confidence within myself; not a second goes by when I think of the mistakes and regrets I had made. But there were things far greater than all of that. I made lifelong relationships; I can take this newfound confidence and work even harder toward my future goals; I’ve made lasting memories with a beautiful culture; I’ve grown. I knew that going abroad that I would be refreshed with new outlooks and views, but I didn’t expect to this extent. I see everything with an even wider perspective and seek further opportunities that allow me to excel and explore the world. I look forward to growing and learning so much more.

I’ve learned to integrate the Japanese culture within my original, preset lifestyle. I am no longer part of just one culture, but two. To say this exchange was unforgettable or an invaluable experience does no justice to what it truly amounts to. Before this exchange, I knew it would be life-changing and was a recurring thought as the start of the exchange got closer. Only can someone truly understand this exchange if they themselves experienced it as well. As simple as it sounds, I was able to find more of who I am and what I believe in. I’ve come to appreciate even more of what is around me, and don’t let the status quo or expectation of others define who I am. To learn the language and culture is amazing and does indeed open yourself to new perspectives, but the personal growth is just as invaluable. Expect the unexpected because there is not much more you can predict. Before an exchange, all one can do is look forward to the exciting experiences ahead. T hat and actually study the language beforehand (really guys it’s a good idea).

I still distinctly remember my last day in Japan. It was around three in the morning, but sleep escaped me. I decided to take my last bike ride around my small neighborhood area and get some cool air. The only expression that I was able to make was a smile; a simple smile. Through all the ups and downs, the struggles and laughs, the hundreds of introductions and farewells, all I could do was smile. As much as I wanted to stay in Japan, I knew I would be able to see them again. The experience was temporary but the friendships are life-long. I took my last trip to a convenience store and enjoyed the stillness of the night and quietness of the streets. Oh will I miss those 7-Eleven’s in Japan. The ones here just don’t compare. By the time I reached the airport the next day; that was honestly when I couldn’t believe it. My exchange was over and I was heading back to Florida. Time does indeed pass by quickly.

It was odd getting accustomed back to the American lifestyle. It became second nature to head out the door, put my key into my bike, and head off to wherever I needed to go. It was normal for me to get on the crowded train in the morning and get to school. It was uncommon for me to hop into the car and drive. Almost every day I rode my bike, whether it be to school, to the station, or to a nearby store. Especially with my last host family, having to ride my bike for 30 minutes every day to get to school. Whenever I needed to take the train, I became accustomed to having my train card at hand to enter the station, and check the time monitor for the next train. These types of transportation are hard to come by now, and forget about taking the train, they’re nonexistent in Florida. Going to school, listening in each class, cleaning after classes are finished, and participating in the club activities were all part of a schedule that I have been doing for a whole year. Seein g every single student carry a pencil case, and whip out their favorite pens and pencils with numerous kinds of designs, from Disney to popular mascots, was nothing out of the ordinary. Being time-conscious and not having to worry about others being late because there is no such thing as being “fashionably late”, because really, that is just called being rude. The respects and traditions Japan holds close to its culture is admirable and it was my privilege being able to learn about it every single day.

The only sense of America in Japan was the excess amounts of McDonald’s and Starbuck’s. The countries were on the opposite sides of the world and the culture was just as so. It is because of that, I was able to grow so much. I had learned to embrace values and customs completely different from my own and meet people who looked at everything in a new, invigorating way. However, that does not go without saying I had many challenges as well. The struggles to really connect with the Japanese people or pushing past people who only judge was difficult. But out of all of that, I was able to find people who enjoyed being hanging out with me and didn’t mind the communication difficulties in the beginning. As I was able to grasp the language better and better as the days past, I was able to really strengthen those relationships and feel more a part of the culture than I was before. Yes it was difficult, but I changed. I grew.

As odd as it may sound the biggest struggle was trying to find the best way to learn the language. No matter how well Rotary prepares every exchange student and tries to go through every detail that is important to an exchange, I still had to figure out how to learn the language. Of course the way someone learns a language is strongly guided by personal preferences and what methods they like to use, but one fundamental key that is a necessity when learning a language is to use it. It’s as simple as that. Go out and talk to as much people as you can, listen to content in that language as much as you can, and simply practice as much as you can. To learn a language, sticking to the books is simply not how to do it. That obvious mistake was something I had done ignorantly. Those are good references, but do not help you progress as much as you could if you actually use it. And this goes for any language, not just Japanese. Just because it is a different language doesn’ t mean you have to try and learn it a different way. Do methods that work for you. This does not take away from the fact that there is no easy shortcut to learning it. It requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Embrace the mistakes you make and don’t let that stand in the way of talking to others. Mistakes is how you learn, it is what motivates you to do it better next time. Sometimes it will definitely feel like a letdown, but that is when you are tested the most to just push on and trying hard. Going up to people and talking without that fear, truly opens you up to so much more.

Another tip for language learning is making associations. Association is such a powerful tool that has helped me. Making associations helped me retain words a lot more quickly compared to rote memorization by a list of words. Basically what I mean for that, particularly in Japanese, is when you learn a new word, trying to make a picture out of it or make a fun little pun out of it goes a long way. What I have done that has helped me with my Japanese is to make as much associations that stuck to me for that one word. Whether it be knowing its kanji, having an image of it in my head, and/or remembering the situation I learned it in, helps me identify what that word was. So the next time I would want to say it, I would try and remember some or all of the associations I made, to dig up and recall what that word was. And if I am not able to, I don’t sweat it. I could either ask someone if they know what word I am trying to figure out, or just let it be. If it is a common eno ugh word, I would hear it again. When there comes a time where I would really need to know the word, I would try and remember it then. One of the best associations I was able to make, for myself in particular, was mistakes (like I said earlier). When I make a mistake in Japanese, I don’t just laugh it off, for some reason I instinctively and quite vividly, remember making that mistake. Whether it be pronouncing a word wrong, or trying to say one word but came out with another; these mistakes helped me retain the words better. Having that slight embarrassed feeling helped me retain even more words. That is another reason why I advocate going out and making those mistakes, because practice makes progress. I am no language expert, but these are the tips I recommend. I’m not sure if I was able to convey this concept completely, but hopefully I was able to get the whole picture of what I meant.

One of the best memories I was able to have toward the end of my exchange, was going to my second host brother’s wedding. I mean that just doesn’t exist on an exchange. What exchange student can say they have been to a wedding during their exchange; very few. That was an incredible experience and really enjoyed it, especially since it was the first wedding I had ever been to. This wedding was based on the Western style. Before the wedding the family met at the host brother’s house for a small gathering among the relatives. There were specific, beautifully-designed envelopes that several people put money in to give as a wedding gift. The bride had the same white dress during the wedding reception, and then during the dinner, the bride and groom wore traditional Japanese clothing, followed by a modern suit and dress. It was also customary for the family members of the bride and groom to go around every table, pour drinks for them, and thank them for taking tim e out of their busy schedule to come to the wedding. Also part of the Japanese tradition, at the wedding, the bride and groom used a mallet to break open a barrel of sake, called kagami-biraki, and serve to everyone. The kagami is a symbol of harmony and represents the opening to harmony, good health, and good fortune. Of course the dinner was delicious, though the only part that was a bit of a downside was when I went to the place where the bride and groom sat. They were so busy taking pictures and talking to the people in attendance that they didn’t get to eat any of the food. When I looked at their table, all their food was there, untouched. I guess that is how a wedding goes. I have a picture at the end of the blog of my host family and me at the wedding.

As this is my last blog, all I can do is reflect on my whole exchange and appreciate this amazing opportunity that I was able to partake in. I was torn apart during this exchange, but the end result paid off tenfold; having a clearer view of who I am and finding a stronger, more independent confidence within myself. The beauty of it all is that I get to continue this journey of growth. I have so much more to learn and look forward to. There are so many opportunities for me to embark upon, I just have to find them. No success comes without struggle, so I look forward to the challenges ahead of me and will work hard in my future endeavors.

Rotary has touched my heart and I am indebted to them for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope to continue my relationship with Rotary and touch the hearts of others around the world. I want to thank the Safety Harbor Rotary Club for sponsoring me and the Koshigaya-South Rotary Club for hosting me. And of course I would like to thank my family and friends for supporting me throughout this whole experience. Without the help and support from everyone, this exchange wouldn’t have happened and I am incredibly appreciative for all of that.

Explore and Discover; the world is limitless. Thank you.