In 3 days I will have been in Japan for 5 months. The month before I arrived, I suddenly started having doubts about my exchange. A year is too long, what will I do?, the time might be better spent getting ahead in college. But I was wrong. The last few months have flown by, and when I look at my calendar I can’t believe my year is almost over. There have been wonderful days and there have been days so horrible that I needed to scream, but I’ve never found myself wishing that I hadn’t done this. This experience has been both wonderful and difficult in ways I had and hadn’t expected.
I was prepared for the home sickness, culture shock, and problems with communication. What I wasn't ready for was how mentally exhausting learning a new language would be, always straying to hear familiar word so that I could have a clue what was happening around me. And going in, I surely didn't imagine that I’d have to keep a constant filter between my brain and my mouth because sarcasm or crude humor might not be welcomed.
But because of Rotary, I’ve been able to see amazing things and meet amazing people. I’ve visited Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Kyoto. I’ve experienced the wonderful freedom that is living in a city where everything is at proximity; I no longer have to ask a parent to drive me anywhere, I can walk, ride my bike, or take a train. I’ve gone Skiing, I’ve taken Judo, and I've taken Kyudo. I’ve become very good friends with amazing people and now, not only do I have a home in Japan, but Australia, France, Italy, Taiwan, and Thailand as well.
At first, It felt strange calling my host parents Mama and Papa, It almost felt like I was cheating on my parents. But they truly have treated me like a daughter and have become a extension of my family. I used to be a strong believer that family meant blood, but family is the little things you share with the people you cherish the most. It’s baking apple pie with my younger brothers Takuchan and Yutaro. It’s my host mom covering me with a blanket when I fall asleep on the couch. And its when my host dad made an efforts to bond with me through sports and activities because we could barely communicate in the beginning.
To any future rotary outbounds, just take it day by day, and focus on the good. Communicate with your host family and I’ve found that sometimes its nice to text other exchange students and support one another because trust me, we are ALL going through the same struggles. I have 5 months to go and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
-Vanessa Berthold, 17
P.S. You guys were right, I’ve become super comfortable at being uncomfortable.