Julia Voss

Japan

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Creekside
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Bartram Trail
Host District: 2690
Host Club

 

My Bio


Hello! My name is Julia Voss and I am overjoyed to say that I will be spending the next year of my life in Japan. I currently live in St. John's with my parents and our two dogs, and I have an older sister, Danae, who is 26 and lives in South Korea. I am a 17 year old senior at Creekside High School and will be graduating in May. I am originally from the state of Michigan, but my family and I have moved around a lot since I was young, and now that we've ended up in Florida, I'm sure we're here to stay! At school, I was a member of our marching band's Colorguard for two years, which was some of the best times and memories I had in high school. Unfortunately, I had to resign from it to keep up with my studies, but I am still very supportive of them and I can't wait to see their new performances! In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my friends. We play cards, listen to lots of music, and watch many movies and television shows together. I will miss them a lot when I'm gone, but I know I will love my new friends just as much and will have many good times with them as well. My hope for myself is to meet many new people and to become a great ambassador for America. I would like to thank everyone in Rotary for giving me this opportunity to represent not only myself, but also our great country and Rotary itself.


The famed Tottori-ken Cat Man. He drives a yellow scooter and sells baked potatoes

The famed Tottori-ken Cat Man. He drives a yellow scooter and sells baked potatoes

The view from my 6th host family's house

The view from my 6th host family's house

The

The

Minnow soysauce soup

Minnow soysauce soup

Journals: Julia – Japan 2016-17

  • Julia, outbound to Japan

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    I’m back again with the great news that there is indeed no word count limit on these journal posts. So now, without further ado, I will continue my fascinating takes on the latest and greatest trendy fads from Timbuktu-ken, Japan! 

    As I’m sure you can infer from my previous journals, I am hosted in the least populated prefecture of Japan. Yes, out of the 47 prefectures, Tottori is #47 when listed by population. However, where it is absolutely, without a doubt, #1 on the list of “least exciting prefectures”! So I would say to not expect any heart-stopping tales of adventure from me, but, like I’ve said before, where I lack in exciting trips, I learned a great deal about myself, the Japanese, and human beings in general. I’d also like to point out how residing in or near an “exciting” place has plenty of cons; think of living near Disney world (traffic, tons of people, fireworks every night). In no way am I ungrateful to anyone who has played any parts in my exchange life, and I place no blame on Tottori itself (due to the fact that it’s an inanimate object and can’t help that it’s boring). As a matter of fact, I’m very grateful to Rotary for giving me this opportunity to experience a truly authentic Japanese lifestyle.
    But okay, enough about that, and back to my recollections of life in Japan. I think I ended my last journal with Japanese music, so I suppose the next step would be to talk about the wonder that is Japanese television. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, don’t they only watch those silly anime cartoon shows?” First of all, no. Second of all, they watch the almost exact opposite. Most Japanese television that isn’t your average news/weather channel (of which there are many to choose from), is different “variety” shows, where a group of 6 to 8 old men talk amongst themselves about the average news/weather channels that you purposefully skipped over. To me, there is nothing quite as boring as TV in Japan. Yes, late at night, early in the morning, and on channels specified for children, there may be some anime or actually entertaining shows on, but never anything on during a convenient time, for example, say, when you get home from school, where you just finished listening to people talk for 7 hours. Actually, I have a specific memory from my first host family, where we were all in the living room during primetime, and they were actively engaged in watching a show about tea leaves. Not about cooking them, or harvesting them even, just about tea leaves, from what I could gather. And unless I am missing out on some sort of symbolism or whatnot, I could not understand why this program existed… But, what some people find interesting can be completely opposite than what others do. If I had to put an extreme label on my preferred entertainment viewing programs, it would have to be “big explosions and bigger explosions”; so it’s not that hard to see why I was less than impressed with Japanese TV.

    On the topic of furniture, I feel I should also mention that a fair amount of Japanese people do not sleep on beds. A “futon” in Japan is a rectangular stuffed mat of various sizes and thicknesses, usually stored into a closet during the day and rolled out at nighttime (unless if you’re like me, who is too lazy to fit it back into the closet and opt to leave it and just shut your bedroom door instead). Two out of the seven host families I’ve had slept on futons, and some of them can be really quite nice and enjoyable, but I have had the unfortunate experience with futons that were too soft or not thick enough, which is the basic equivalent of sleeping directly on the floor. Not the best for people with a bad back (or bones in general, really). 

    Ironically, the Japanese have invented one of the most comfortable and convenient pieces of furniture I’ve ever encountered; the “kotatsu” table. Generally small and rectangular in shape, the kotatsu table top is set upon several blankets, under which is a heater built into the table frame. Not only can you maneuver your way underneath it for a warm nap, but it also makes any sort of table top activity 100% more comfortable. Not allowed to eat on them though, unfortunately.

    Another great thing about where I live are the “onsen” baths. These are very large public bathhouses, usually sourced from a natural hot spring in the area. I love going to onsens, and I know that it’s something that I’ll miss when I return to Florida, but I know plenty of foreigners who outright refuse to go to them. This is where ill stress on the “public” part of an onsen, as they are giant knee or thigh deep pools that everyone sits in together. Of course, almost all of them are segregated by gender, but they are usually at least 5 or so other people in the bath with you (and yes, we don’t bathe in our clothes here either). We hardly ever talk to amongst ourselves, and plenty of them are very elderly, so it’s not so uncomfortable after a while. This was really strange for me at first, but I came to genuinely appreciate the peaceful atmosphere.

    I got a writer’s block trying to think of some other furniture, so now I think I’ll talk about transportation. City buses are extremely widespread here, and trains connect almost every major and minor cities together. This is all and well, but what really surprised me was how incredibly expensive transportation is in Japan. While riding local trains is relatively cheap, riding a bus will cost you your pinky finger. It cost around $8.00 for me to take an 11 minute bus ride to school every day. Every day.

    Speaking of school, yes, I do have school on Saturdays. To be fair, its only a half day, but it still means waking up at 6:30am. We also have three separate pairs of school shoes, our outdoor shoes that we use while walking to school, our sandals, which are plastic slip ons that loosely resemble those Nike sandals that men usually wear with white knee high socks, and our indoor shoes, which are sneakers to be used only in the gymnasium. There are also “toilet” sandals, which are worn in an obvious place. Class sizes are usually around 40 students, who all stay in the same room with rotating teachers. When the bell rings for class to start, we all stand at attention, ask the teacher to, well, teach us, and bow, while at the ending bell, we repeat the same gestures but thank the teacher instead. It was a little hard to get used to at first, but it comes easy enough after a while. What I never got used to is bowing to and greeting every administrator whenever you see them outside of class. Frankly, there’s a lot of teachers and very few places to go in my school, so no matter when or where you are, you are expected to drop whatever you’re doing and formally address said teacher. This was really kind of annoying at first, especially because I almost always forgot and the teachers had to remind me again and again. However, the more elite athletes do things a little differently than the other students. Where we are supposed to say a formal greeting, they are supposed to formally greet teachers by standing at attention and shouting a shortened form of a formal hello. What they say ends up sounding a bit like a large dog’s bark, and makes me jump every time. Now as to why teachers want to be addressed this way is beyond my understanding, but it is the way it is, I guess. 

    Making friends in my school has been, well, extremely difficult for me. It’s not that Japanese students are unfriendly or mean, they just won’t go out of their way to talk to you, especially if you have only a limited knowledge of their language. The English level in Japan is significantly lower than any other developed eastern Asian country, and it certainly shows when it comes to communicating. We actually have a very ironically named English “communication” class, where we listen to Google Translate-esc recordings and work out of a textbook. Again, “communication” class. Every single student that talked to me within my first two or three months of school only did so to practice their English, or to ask me to help them study or answer a homework question. Not that that’s a complaint of mine, I love having any reason to talk to my peers, it’s just not what I expected at all. Communicating with them in Japanese is incredibly difficult, because of their social hesitance, and my social anxiety of making a mistake. Here’s a few examples, just to name a few; the time when I was talking to a classmate and accidentally called him “disgusting”, much to his obvious dismay, and the time that a boy from a different class was introducing himself to me and I accidentally mixed up his nickname and the word for “garbage”, or the time when I mistook the word for “hate” as the word for “pretty” and ended up telling some acquaintances that I hated flowers.

    Finding a decent icebreaker was difficult too, but I found that mixing up their names with other somewhat similar sounding English or Japanese words worked fairly well. Introductions where names went from “Mami” to “Mame” (“beans”), “Inage” to “Unagi” (“eel”), and “Kawano” to “Kawado” (Japanized version of “coward”), made for good memories and stories, especially after the fact. 

    Just a little “F.Y.I.” for my readers, it takes me several days to write these journal entries, and since I started this one, my farewell party has passed. Saying goodbye to everyone was a lot harder than I thought it’d be. With less than a week left of my exchange, I have come to truly appreciate the relationships I forged here, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they were. I think the hardest part about returning to America is knowing that there’s a very real chance that I may never see some of these people again in this lifetime. Of course, I have made the decision to return, but as to how or when, I’ve no solid plan. Through all the ups and downs of my exchange, there have been a select few people who have stuck with me and have been by my side, and they will always be with me in my treasured memories. 

    As much as I hate ending on a sad note, I need to get back to what little is left of my life here. I may write one more journal on the plane ride home, but I won’t make any promises. If I don’t, here’s my thanks to Rotary, my family, and everyone who helped make this life for me here a reality. And thank you, reader, for giving my whiny ramblings your attention and making it worth writing these journals, and I hope you got something out of reading them. Goodbye for now, and thank you again.

  • Julia, outbound to Japan

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    For the future outbounds to Japan, and for those who are curious enough, today I will write about average life for me here in Japan. As a disclaimer: This is purely my own experience here, and everyone should know and understand that a student’s life on exchange is always unique to only them, so everything I write here certainly will not apply directly to any other student, present or future, only truly to myself. So take my reflections and explanations with that in mind, also knowing that behaviors and trends change almost constantly, so it is very likely that a some of my observations will be outdated by the time any of you readers actually go to Japan (or not, whichever).

    So, I will begin with some of the first things that surprised me when I first arrived, stuff that I hadn’t heard of before in my pre-exchange research. Stuff that I hadn’t thought of studying about my host country, because everyone already knows that Japanese people take off their shoes before they enter a house. First, the Japanese drive on the left side of the road. If you’re anything like me, this would be the kind of thing that you would just assume you wouldn’t need to know about, but I almost had a meltdown on the way to my first host family’s house from the airport. Their roads are also only just as big for a compact car to fit, but that doesn’t stop the Japanese from driving at face-melting speeds up and down mountains. Ah yes, the mountains. Allow me to assure you, unless you live in a huge, leveled city, you can and will get violently carsick from being almost literally thrown around in the backseat of someone driving up or down a mountain side, while also questioning whether or not they may be blindfolded and attempting to use echolocation to drive. In Japan, seatbelts are not only a necessity, but also a luxury you will come to truly appreciate.

    Something I also did an extremely poor job of researching before arriving was Japanese cuisine. Now, I think it’s safe to assume that most people can think of only ramen and sushi when pondering Japanese foods. First of all, no. No, they’re not. Sure, they eat a dish similar to what you consider to be ramen sometimes, but sushi as it is in America doesn’t not exist in Japan. The Japanese eat many foods that I didn’t even know were edible in the first place. I’ll name some of the more common foods eaten here. For starters, Japanese people eat a bowl of rice with every meal, unless they’re eating noodles. For breakfast, a “nattou” rice bowl is very common. Nattou is a food that is entirely unique to south and eastern Asia, and you’ll soon understand why. The nattou dish is made of fermented soybeans, which are known for their pungent (eyebrow burning) smell and glue like texture. It is almost always mixed with soy sauce and yellow mustard to “kill the smell”, and dumped on a bowl of rice, for “added nutrition”. Now, as to why they eat this… food(?) is a complete mystery to me. Being around it for several months has made me somewhat resistant to the smell, but what really gets to me is that they slurp it up, not unlike how an American child eats spaghetti. Upon arriving in Japan, you will come to find that the Japanese are incredibly loud eaters, and often do things that would be considered appalling in average American table manners. They hold their plates up to their faces, so as to slurp more accurately, and are not afraid to talk with their mouths full of rice. They also can slurp literally anything, to the point where it’s almost somewhat impressive. For a mid-meal snack, they eat “onigiri”, which is normally just a ball of plain white rice, sometimes wrapped in seaweed. Again, not my ideal image of a “snack” food, but this one I easily got used to, because it’s a common sight in Japanese anime and comic books. For lunch, Japanese students make very elaborate “bentou” boxes, of rice, some form of protein, eggs, and pickled vegetables. This is something a few of you might be familiar with, but sometimes the contents of these boxes can seem like culinary artwork. However, of course, I am far too lazy to have a Master Chef session in the morning before school, so I still just settle for a plain peanut butter sandwich. Explaining dinner foods is where things get complicated. This is normally the meal where noodles might be eaten. Popular noodle dishes are “yakisoba”, thin spaghetti-like wheat noodles in oyster sauce served cold, “udon”, thick earthworm-like egg noodles in various savory broths, and the famous “ramen”, which, in Japan, is made of long wavy noodles, usually in a “miso” or soy sauce broth, topped with slices of eggs, pork, and bamboo shoots, and al so may have chopped leeks, bean sprouts, nattou, seaweed, or pink fish cakes. Another popular dinner food, one that might be good eating for some Americans, is “yakiniku”, which is slices of meat, chicken, or pork and vegetables on a hibachi table. This is a dish I actually enjoy, but for most people, all seems well at first, but then you start to wonder, where exactly is this meat from? A question you quickly learn should not be asked out loud, else you want to lose your appetite. Common meats eaten in yakiniku, other than slices of normally eaten areas, are tongue, intestine, liver, gizzard, diaphragm, tripe, tail meat, and heart. Bon appétit. Tofu is also a common dinner staple in Japan. It’s almost always eaten plain, and sometimes cold. It can also be deep fried, but with the fried “skin” removed and put into either hot or cold soup. Sometimes this same “skin” in used to wrap small balls of rice and is eaten like sushi. I’m not a fan of this particular form of tofu, and to me it tastes like what I imagine eating a wet toilet paper roll tastes like, but I do know some other foreigners here that enjoy it. The Japanese also almost never drink plain water, only “ocha” or “matcha”, which are bitter green and brown leaf teas, respectively. These are the “basic” drinks of Japan, meaning if you go to someone’s house or a restaurant, they will only ask if you which kind of tea you want, and not bring a glass of water. I found this incredibly difficult to cope with for a long time, almost as difficult as it was for my hosts to comprehend why, on a hot day with no air conditioning, I could possibly ask for a glass of cold water and not for a cup of hot tea? Totally unheard of.

    Now, I’ll start with my surprises at school. I’m sure at least some of you know that Asian students clean the school every day after the last class, but I’m also sure that most of you don’t know exactly how much of the school we clean. Every single room in the school is swept, dusted, and wiped down daily, sometimes by students who don’t even use said classroom. They also clean the bathrooms, wipe the floors with rags (think Spirited Away), and sort the trash. All in their school uniforms, and it usually takes around 15 minutes to do. And allow me to rant a bit about my school uniform. The boy’s uniform is mostly the same throughout Japan; a white polo shirt, a black button up jacket, and long black pants. Girl’s uniforms are different for almost every school, and I just so happened to go to the school with the most matronly style I’d thought possible, coming in right behind Mother Theresa herself. Everything is made almost two sizes too big, with a meter long navy skirt that appears to be made out of theater drapes, and a frumpy white polo that makes even the tiniest of girls look like Violet Beauregard from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Now, I am not even remotely close to being considered a “small” size, so I went to my first day of school feeling roughly the size of the moon.

    Also, if I remember correctly, it’s a common stereotype that Japanese people have bad dental hygiene. While yes, sometimes they appear to need the assistance of some braces (but what nationality of people doesn’t have this problem?), they by no means have “bad teeth”. After every meal, almost every Japanese person I know spends at least 5 minutes brushing their teeth. I had a host grandmother who would actually brush hers for around 20 minutes, and use two different tooth brushes at the same time. This is something I found quite comical, of course, but the Japanese are very serious about dental hygiene, and many of my host mothers wouldn’t let me go to bed or to school without brushing my teeth first. 

    Japanese people also listen to a surprising amount of music from the Beatles. I hear John Lennon’s “Imagine” much more than I had ever heard before in America. Yes, the “Miku” vocaloids (animated pop singers) are somewhat popular, but only with younger girls and sometimes with middle aged men. Similar to how My Little Pony is in America, I guess. However, Japanese pop music (J-POP) is incredibly popular with almost all ages. Most American people couldn’t name a single J-POP band, and allow me to shed some light on why that is, in my opinion. In short, J-POP band names are by far the most ridiculous, downright cringe-worthy uses of English that I have ever seen, not just in Japan either. Popular bands include “GReeeeN”, “SMAP” (just say it out loud), “Bump of Chicken”, “fripSide”, and the “Kinki Kids” (again, out loud), to name just a few. Now imagine trying to talk to a native English spe aker about J-POP, and telling them that your favorite band is called “Bump of Chicken”. Now you know why you don’t see much of J-POP outside of Asia.

    There’s so much more that I want to write about, but I’m afraid of there being a word count limit on the journal page. I guess I’ll go try and see. Hopefully I’ll have a new journal up soon.

  • Julia, outbound to Japan

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    Hello all, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I don’t remember the last time I wrote a journal, so I’m very sorry for that. Anyways, things have been a challenge here since the earthquake (which I’m kind of certain was my last journal). I will have had 7 host families by my departure date, which is currently scheduled for June 1st. Moving around so much has made for a unique experience for me. Among the places and people I’ve lived with were an elderly couple, a single mother, an elderly single mother, a college aged older brother, an 8 year old brother, a 10 year old sister, an apartment above a restaurant, in a Buddhist temple, in a shared bedroom, and in three different cities. I’ve ridden trains for the first time, and have walked so far that I wore a hole into the bottom of my hiking boots. I’ve sang in karaoke bars, bathed in public hot springs, climbed mountains, partaken in traditional green tea ceremonies, and traveled to Kyoto and Osaka. I’ve done so many things that I never would’ve thought possible before coming here; and yet, with only a month and a half left living here, I still feel like I’ve barely seen or experienced anything in Japan. There’s just so much to experience on exchange. Not just in Japan, but anywhere in the world. I’ve found something interesting behind every corner I’ve looked, and was almost never bored when I went out to do something. 

    What memories I treasure most here of life in Japan are these small things; walking underneath paper lantern illuminated cherry blossom trees at night, watching a sumo match on TV with my first host father, the stray cat that lives near my school sitting on my lap for the first time, the views from the many hiking trails I walked up, the heat of the natural foot baths in my host city, the heart shaped beauty mark on my sixth host mother’s face. To me, these memories are what make u p my life here in Japan. I never got to go to Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyushu, Niigata, or Hiroshima. I never got the chance to ride the Shinkansen (bullet train) or a crowded subway car, or see Mount Fuji. I never even saw a cosplaying person (“otaku”) or a tanuki. And yet, despite all of these things that I had so hoped to experience during my exchange, I do not feel bitter or wronged. Not because I lost the desire, but because I am content with the way I have lived my life here, with the situations given to me. So even though I never saw or did all of these exciting things, I have come to accept the fact that I was never guaranteed those opportunities to begin with, and that it just wasn’t meant to be. I suppose that would be my advice to the future classes of exchange students; to never keep expectations of how you believe your exchange life should go. Although it is an exciting thought to have, all the places you will possibly go and see, what you should keep in mind is that the life of an exchange student isn’t the life of a tourist. You will most likely live with a normal, average family (who travels to big, gaudy tourist traps about as much as your own family does) and lead a life not too different from the basis of your current student life. Of course, everything is unique for each student, but these are constant factors into the life of a Rotary Youth Exchange student: you will go to high school, have host family home responsibilities and obligations. In short, you should learn to love the small things in your exchange life -the sound of your friend’s laughter, the way your host family’s cooking tastes, the neighbor’s cute dog- and not be bitter about the things that you can’t do. Because your life on exchange goes by so quickly, just ask any Rotex. You don’t have time to sulk, only to go out and experience life as it truly is in a different country. With such a small amount of time left, I find myself regretting not what big cities I couldn’t go to, but the way I acted when I didn’t get my way. As I’m sure many Rotex in the past have said, I really wish that I had truly listened to my Rotex when they gave me advice and not just sat and filled my head with unrealistic fantasies. Nevertheless, I am still grateful for the experiences given to me by Rotary, and will probably live the rest of my life trying to give back to the world that has already given me so much.

  • Julia, outbound to Japan

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    Hello from Kurayoshi, aka the epicenter of the 21st's 6.2 magnitude earthquake! Let me begin by saying that, as of now, I'm absolutely fine and safe in bed. The quake happened at around 2:00pm, while I was in school. You never realize how sudden these things happen until-all in a matter of seconds- your books have been thrown from your desk and your classmates are running for cover. To make a long story short: the school's foundation cracked, so we were evacuated into the baseball field where we stayed for around 2 hours until our parents came to pick us up. My mother and I arrived home to a war zone. Almost all of her fine china and glassware had been thrown from shelves and the hutch, so there was broken glass everywhere in the kitchen, luckily all electronics in the house had been spared, but somehow the quake managed to shatter the porcelain on one of the toilets. Anything on a shelf was thrown off, and, strangest of all, the concrete on the driveway over the gutter cracked. My mother was so, so admirable and strong, in the face of such a personal disaster. I really admire and respect her courage and initiative, given the stress of the situation. It was all a very surreal experience. Even now, 4 days later, aftershocks are still happening every hour or so. Laying here in bed, I can feel the earth healing herself, and I can hear the deep bass coming from underneath. It's very strange to witness, especially seeing that I have only lived on the US east coast my entire life until this year, and this really opened my eyes to the trauma of an earthquake; that the one thing that was constantly stable throughout your life is now untrustworthy and terrifying, with your mind thinking that nowhere can be safe if the very ground underneath you is the danger. But minds will be minds and tend to get carried away, so my logical side reassures me with the fact that I am safe and that I know what to do and who to talk to if, for whatever reason, I feel unsafe. I will end with saying thank you to everyone in Rotary for giving me the confidence to feel completely safe in this trying situation, and for giving my family and friends peace of mind for concerns of my safety. Well, it's very late, and it's been a long, long day, so I will sleep now, and pray for Earth to be healed in the morning. Good night all!

  • Julia, outbound to Japan

    Read more about Julia and all her blogs

    Hello from the Kurayoshi-Higashi high school’s library! The first of October marked my first month here in Japan, and so much has happened that there’s just no way I can fit it all into a journal. But I guess I should start with a little bit about my exchange and current situation... Well, I am living in Misasa, Tottori, a very small town with a population of about 6,000 people. It is very rural here and extremely mountainous, which also makes it pretty isolated compared to most other areas in Japan. My high school is in the nearest city, about a 10 minute bus ride from my current house. It’s a fairly normally sized high school; each of the three grades has 5 classes of around 30 students. Grades are by age, with 1st grade being from 15-16, 2nd grade from 16-17, and 3rd grade from 17-18. I was placed in 1st grade, due to the fact that the higher grades focus almost entirely on studying for college entrance exams. I’m the third ever exchange student at my school, the second American, and the first female. I’m also the only exchange student within a 40 minute drive of my area, so this means that I am unlike most other Rotary students in that I am without any “exchange friends” to fall back on and to relate to. But being alone isn’t so bad; I don’t have anyone to compare myself with and I also have an entirely fresh, new slate to work on in terms of my school life. Speaking of which, I am very pleased with my time spent at school. The students at my school are so shy that it’s borderline comical, the boys being significantly more so than the girls. I really enjoy complimenting people and seeing them happy, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love getting complimented? The boys at my school. To the point where if I even make eye contact or say their name, they flinch, hide their face, thank me, and pivot their bodies to face opposite of me. They are not unfriendly, or even like that on purpose, they just culturally unadjusted to an outgoing girl, forgetting the fact that I’m also the only person in the entire school who is significantly physically different from everyone else. Earlier today, I was talking with my friend who sits in front of me in class, and I asked her how Japanese people get their elegant face freckles (Have you seen them? They’re like literal artwork), and in the conversation I mentioned the boy who sits two seats away from us. He looked at us when I said his name, and I told him that he has a very tasteful beauty mark on his cheek, and this was his reaction in this exact order: he glanced from me to her a few times, put his face into his hands, did a 180 in his seat, took an unintentionally audible deep breath, fixed his hair, and did not turn back in our direction the entire morning. No, really. The girls are much easier to talk to and are generally less shy now, but the first two weeks I was in school was intimidating, to say the least. For a while, absolutely no students talked to me or attempted to approach me because of shyness, but none of them were too shy to group together and stand in my classroom’s doorway to stare at me from across the room. It happened routinely every day, as if it were a part of their agendas. Sometimes I still catch people staring as they walk by, but thankfully it’s mostly dissipated. Now, most of the girls in my school run up to talk to me, their favorite question being, “do you remember my name?” Allow me to elaborate on this: the Japanese language is not tonal, meaning every letter sounds the exact same no matter where it is in a word, very unlike English. It also means that many words sound the same, and it’s no different with names. I have yet to meet anyone with the same name as someone else, but the similarities between them are pronounced and seem to swim together inside my head. By no means do any of my classmates look the same, but matching Yuna and Yano to their faces is difficult, especially when communication is difficult to begin with. However, luckily for me, some of my classmates go by seemingly random English nicknames, so remembering Twiggy, Grandpa, Nosy, Queue, Mantis, Noodles, Muscle Man, Baseball, and Kitty is easy for me. Anyways, some of my teachers have names for their faces, but I find that most of them pay me no mind either way, which is nice because it makes me feel more like a student than an exchange student, if that makes any sense. My English teachers are some of my favorite people I’ve met here so far. The English conversation teacher, Emma, is kind of like my best friend here. She’s from Minnesota and has been teaching English here for two years. Her class is my favorite so far because classes are nonexistent for me; I spend most lectures studying the writing systems or doodling. I’m also not expected to do any classwork, tests, or homework, so that is a huge relief for my brain, because can you imagine doing calculus homework in Japanese? Neither can I. School lasts from 8am to 3:30pm; many students stay later to participate in clubs or study sessions, but I haven’t joined any daily clubs yet so I just get on the bus to go home. Here, home is my sanctuary. I love my host family, which consists of my mother, father, and older brother. My host parents are amazing people, both very funny and caring people, but my host brother goes to college far away, so my contact with him is limited. My current host family is friends with my next host family, who lives down the road, so I also have a host sister who goes to school with me. She will be leaving to go on a non-Rotary exchange in Chile in a few months. Oh, speaking of which, I can’t believe I still haven’t written my thanks to Rotary. Without all of you, I wouldn’t be here in this amazing country writing this. So thank you, for giving me and all of us out on exchange this opportunity. I hope that someday I can repay the world for all that its given me in this experience, and Rotary for believing in me. Again, thank you all so much, and I hope I can live up to your expectations.

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