Alex Flanagan

 Japan

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
School: Riverwood International
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Sandy Springs, Georgia
Host District: 2770
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Urawa-Diamond


My Bio


こんにちは。Hello, My name is Alex. I’m currently sixteen and live in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ll be studying in Japan next year, and I’m very excited. I live with my parents, my dog, my rabbit, and two cats. I have an older brother who attends Furman University in South Carolina who wants to major in physics. Music is a huge part of my life, and I’ve been playing piano for over eight years. I also play trumpet in my school’s chamber winds, and have played in the marching, jazz, and pit bands throughout high school. I’ve also been taught a little bit of drum set and guitar, but I don’t know too much yet. I’ve made a music video, too. My favorite subjects other than music are psychology and literature. In my free time, I enjoy hanging out with friends, watching movies, playing video games, and writing. I’d say my favorite hobby is paintball. I love art, but I can’t draw, so I like to color and buy artwork for my room. I love to make people laugh, and there’s no better feeling than making someone’s day brighter. My father says the Japanese culture is a completely different way to be modern. I’ve taken Japanese since middle school, and I’ve always liked the language- its structure and flow is fascinating to me. I’m thrilled to live in Japan for the next year of my life. I think I’ll have an incredible time. Maybe I won’t have to use subtitles when I watch anime when I come back. I’m ready for a life changing journey, and I wonder how I’ll change. My world is so small right now and I know there is so much more out there to learn. I can’t wait.

Extended host family

Extended host family

Winter Wonderland in Kinugawa Onsen

Winter Wonderland in Kinugawa Onsen

The band and me

The band and me

Me with exchange students in Shibuya!

Me with exchange students in Shibuya!

Hiroshima school trip

Hiroshima school trip

My friends and me on a ship in Hiroshima

My friends and me on a ship in Hiroshima

Christmas in Tokyo with the exchange students

Christmas in Tokyo with the exchange students

Winter Wonderland 2

Winter Wonderland 2

Journals: Alex-Japan Blog 2017-18

  • Alex, Outbound to Japan

    It is so difficult to believe that yesterday marks five months of my exchange, which means I'm halfway through. This sounds cliché, but it really doesn't seem that long ago that I got on the plane to come over 6,000 miles from home.

    Life has been a rollercoaster.

    Since the beginning of October, college applications took the spotlight of my free time. Truthfully, ever since I came to Japan, I can't believe how busy I've been.

    In the middle of October, I traveled to Hiroshima with my school, and that trip was absolutely incredible. It was heartbreaking, beautiful, and unforgettable.

    Shortly after, I was a part of a big documentary project in school, and I spent many of my afternoons and evenings filming. When I wasn't filming, I was working on university applications.

    Towards the end of October, I started to not get along with my host family at all. Fights broke out and my home life became miserable. November was the most difficult month of my exchange. With the holidays coming around, being stacked with college applications, and having a really difficult home life, I felt so alone and sad.

    However, I reached out to my counselor and I got to change families on the first Saturday of December. Immediately, my life turned around.

    The fact is, it is so easy to feel alone on exchange. You're in a country where you aren't like anyone else around, you can't speak the language perfectly, and you just want to belong. I felt so on the outside.

    The way this changed was really reaching out to exchange students and becoming involved and trying to make friends at school. Thankfully, I became so close with a few friends at school who have made me feel like I'm a part of everything here. One of these friends, I play in a rock band with at school. Joining a club activity can really make all the difference at school. You not only feel like you are a part of something, but you will grow so close with your club friends bonding over something you all share in common.

    Outside of school, the exchange students truly have become my extended family. When the holidays came around, from spending Halloween at Shibuya crossing, Thanksgiving hiking and barbequing, to Christmas in Tokyo's Roppongi Hills, the exchange absolutely changed everything for me. It will be so hard for me to leave them when June comes around, but for now, I truly treasure every moment with my family of awesome teenagers from around the world.

    In my new family, I got to experience Japanese New Year's in the most perfect way imaginable. I had quite the quiet New Year's Eve spent watching the annual national TV program called Kohaku, where a bunch of singers, dancers, and comedians provide entertainment for the whole country. Around midnight, I went to a nearby temple to ring the bell. In Japanese New Year's, the bells at temples are rung exactly 108 times, as it is said in Buddhism that there are 108 sins. We ate traditional Japanese noodles that evening that represent longevity and hope for a wholesome coming year.

    New Years' day was relaxing and enjoyable. More traditional food, Osechiryori, started my morning. I got to rest and spend time with my host family for the rest of the day. The following morning, my host family and extended family all traveled together to a place called Kinugawa Onsen. In total, there were 27 of us all staying in a hotel together. Those two days have, by far, been the highlight of my exchange. I spent one of the best days of my life in a traditional Japanese Inn with the most loving, fun, and lively 27 new family members of mine laughing and enjoying each other's company. That evening, it snowed like I had never seen before. What a perfect day. The next morning we all woke up to a winter wonderland before heading back home.

    Finally, college applications were finished and I am so happy to say that I have been accepted into the University of San Francisco with a scholarship as well as the University of Colorado Boulder! I still have five more schools to hear back from, but now that the applications are finally done and I know I'm in somewhere, there's a huge weight off my shoulders.

    There's still somehow always lots to do, between Rotary activities and assignments, schoolwork, travel plans, and club activities, but overall, I absolutely love my life here. I'm now in a family that I love, with a support network of friends- exchange students and Japanese alike.

    Yes, sometimes I still feel alone, and sadness hits me hard. Despite that, though, the everyday life I have I enjoy tremendously, and those times when I finally understand the Japanese around me, have an amazing conversation with my host family (all in Japanese), or when those absolutely perfect days come along- I had another one yesterday, in fact- it makes it all so worth it.

    Just like these first five months have flew by, I bet these next ones will do the same.

    Until next time,

    Alexander

    Click HERE to read more about Alex and all his blogs

  • Alex, Outbound to Japan

    I arrived in Japan on August 20, so it’s been just about a month and a half since I moved to Japan. Moving here has already changed my life forever. I absolutely love living in a completely different place hearing a different language all day. Learning how to live your life in a completely different way, as people do in different country than you, is what exchange is all about. You will find that living in another country is beautiful, amazing, and extremely challenging. Exchange isn’t a vacation, you don’t stay in a hotel and just go do touristy things all day. That’s not what exchange is about at all. To me, it’s learning about how people on the other side of the world do things- school, transportation, meals, and things as small as going up the escalator. If you go to Japan, you’ll find out what I mean. You learn about the underworks of a culture, finding out how the reasons behind what they do can go back for centuries, or sometimes people don’t know why they do certain things; they just do them. With time, you learn to just do them too.

    Most all days I truly enjoy here. Even simple things like walking to school from the train station make me feel full and happy with life, because I know I’m living life somewhere so different than back home. It’s exciting and incredible. Then there are the days where something truly beautiful happens, and I feel like the luckiest person alive to just experience the world. These are the days that stay with you.

    Going on exchange means you get to experience these things, but it also is the most difficult challenge you will take on thus far. In only a month and a half, I experienced sickness, new allergies, losing my bike key and tickets, extreme exhaustion, Japanese language difficulties, miscommunication with my host family, and sleepless nights. Exchange isn’t easy. There are times when I wish I could just give my parents at home a hug, or just understand what on earth was going on around me. These things just take time and you just have to get through them. If you’re not ready for some of the hardest days yet, you’re not ready for exchange.

    For me, though, it’s more worth it than anything I’ve ever done. Getting through the days that seem impossible, and enjoying life have made me stronger already. I feel my language ability stronger bit by bit every day, and those crappy days make the great ones even more beautiful. Being on exchange has made me appreciate life in ways that I had never done before.

    I wanted my world to be changed and different than anything else I had experienced before, and that’s what I’ve gotten.

    Click HERE to read more about Alex and all his blogs

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