Zoe Stephens

Japan

Hometown: Decatur, Georgia
School: Decatur High School
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of Decatur, Georgia
Host District: 2770
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Omiya Nishi


My Bio


Konnichiwa! My name is Zoe and I’m currently a freshman at Decatur High School. I have lived in Decatur, GA for the past six years. I live with my mom, my dad, our two dogs, and a cat. I also have an older brother who is nineteen. Before moving to Decatur I lived in the Philippines. Growing up in another country sparked my curiosity about the world and is what’s caused me to become so fascinated in learning about different cultures. I am beyond thrilled to be spending the next year of my life in Japan and to embark on this incredible new adventure! Music is a really big part of my life and in my free time I love to play guitar and write music. I also participate in music theatre and chorus at my school. I’m also a member of my school’s Model U.N. team and am on student government. My favorite subjects include Literature and Social Studies. Outside of school I have been apart of Girl Scouts for five years and am pursuing my Gold Award. I enjoy spending time with my friends whether it’s going to the movies, walking around the neighborhood, or even just sitting and talking. I am so grateful to Rotary and to my family for this incredible experience. I look forward to representing the U.S., meeting new people, and broadening my horizons!

Me and some of the inbounds at orientation trying on yukatas before heading to dinner

Me and some of the inbounds at orientation trying on yukatas before heading to dinner

Me and some of the other inbounds at orientation showing off all our new pins

Me and some of the other inbounds at orientation showing off all our new pins

My host family and host Rotary club welcoming after arriving at Narita Airport

My host family and host Rotary club welcoming after arriving at Narita Airport

	 All of the inbounds for District 2770, plus the Rotex, posing in front of Hikawa Shrine. If you look on the right-hand side, in the front row, you can see me (I'm in the Hawaiian shirt)

All of the inbounds for District 2770, plus the Rotex, posing in front of Hikawa Shrine. If you look on the right-hand side, in the front row, you can see me (I'm in the Hawaiian shirt)

A photo of the exterior of my school because I just think it's beautiful

A photo of the exterior of my school because I just think it's beautiful

A blurry photo of me wearing a kimono in Kawagoe

A blurry photo of me wearing a kimono in Kawagoe

My class and the class across the hall from us threw a surprise birthday party for me!

My class and the class across the hall from us threw a surprise birthday party for me!

My friends and I acting goofy in the rain

My friends and I acting goofy in the rain

At a cat cafe in Kasukabe - I couldn't get over how cute they were

At a cat cafe in Kasukabe - I couldn't get over how cute they were

On our school trip to Malaysia, posing in front of the twin towers in Kuala Lumpur

On our school trip to Malaysia, posing in front of the twin towers in Kuala Lumpur

My host mom, my counselor, and I at a Rotary meeting

My host mom, my counselor, and I at a Rotary meeting

The Batu Caves outside of Kuala Lumpur - we climbed all the way to the top!

The Batu Caves outside of Kuala Lumpur - we climbed all the way to the top!

The exterior of Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo

The exterior of Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo

Went to this crazy cute pink cafe in Osaka, and my friend and I couldn't help taking some photos

Went to this crazy cute pink cafe in Osaka, and my friend and I couldn't help taking some photos

Me spotting Osaka Castle from across the river!

Me spotting Osaka Castle from across the river!

Nighttime view of Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka

Nighttime view of Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka

 The exterior of a shrine in Chichibu

The exterior of a shrine in Chichibu

While visiting Universal Studios I was sure to get a photo in front of the Hogwarts Castle

While visiting Universal Studios I was sure to get a photo in front of the Hogwarts Castle

A more up-close look at the castle - it's even more impressive in person

A more up-close look at the castle - it's even more impressive in person

Journals: Zoe-Japan Blog 2018-19

  • Zoe, Outbound to Japan

    Hi again! I thought that with the first month of the New Year already behind us, now would be a great time to give some updates on what I’ve been up to and some reflecting over the last month. This month has been filled with a lot more travel than usual, which has been great. I’ve realized that in these last 6 six months or so I haven’t really seen much of Japan, so I really want to try to experience as much of the country as I can before the end of my exchange.

    My first trip of the New Year was with my host family. We drove up to Chichibu, a mountainous town a few hours from my city. Aside from gorgeous views of the mountains, Chichibu also has a lot of beautiful shrines. They aren’t necessarily very big, but they have so much character and are really incredible to visit. Although our trip only lasted a day, it was nice getting to spend time with my host family.

    A few weeks later I got the chance to go to Osaka with my host mother. She has some extended family that lives there, so we got to visit them and have them show us around the city. They took us to Tsutenkaku, which is a famous observational tower in the city. They also showed us around Dotonbori, which is a popular destination for tourists. The streets are lined with all sorts of stores and restaurants (and a takoyaki stand on literally every corner!). Halfway through our stay in Osaka, we met up with one of my exchange friends who was also there on vacation with her host mom. Together we toured Osaka Castle, which was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the year 1583. He intended the castle to be the center of a new, unified Japan. However, after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s death, troops stormed the castle, destroying it and terminating the Toyotomi rule. Throughout the years the castle was rebuilt. It is now currently home to an informational museum and serves as a popular spot for tourists. It was fascinating getting to learn all about the history of the castle, and how complex it is. The next day my friend and I went to the Universal Studios Park in Osaka. Since it was just the two of us we were able to speak in English, but it was always fun seeing people’s reactions to us finding out that we could speak Japanese. The highlight of the day was, by far, going to the Harry Potter World within the park. My friend is a huge Harry Potter fanatic, so she loved exploring the park. We strolled through Hogsmeade, sipping on butterbeer, and peering in to all the different shops. We even got to tour the inside of the Hogwarts castle and it felt as if we had been transported to the actual Hogwarts.

    While all of that was a total blast, there were still times this month that weren’t all sunshine and rainbows. It hit that my exchange was already halfway over, and the aftershock left me feeling a whole range of emotions. Part of me is looking forward to being back in America and getting to see my natural family and friends again. However, a bigger part of me is already dreading having to say goodbye to the friends and family I’ve made since arriving in Japan. I feel like I’ve grown so close to so many people that leaving them is going to be really difficult. Also, as the end of my exchange gets closer, I’ve had to start thinking about things like re-enrolling in school, getting my transcript from my school here, and trying to tie up any loose strings that I run into, mostly regarding my transition back into my school in America. I’m trying to stay present in the moment, but being the worrier that I am, it hasn’t been as easy as it usual is. Sometimes the stress of it all can really get to me, but I know that putting it off will only make things more stressful in the future. One valuable lesson I’ve learned from all of this though is that I need to be willing to ask for help. Typically, I try to do everything on my own. I feel like if I have to ask for help it means I’ve failed in some way. But that’s not true, and I must condition myself to stop thinking it is.

    Well, thank you as always for reading. I hope you enjoy hearing about my exchange. From exciting adventures to useful lessons I’ve learned, I love getting the chance to share my experiences with you all. Till next time!

    Click HERE to read more about Zoe and all her blogs

  • Zoe, Outbound to Japan


    Hey y'all! My oh my how time flies! It's been over four months since I arrived in Japan and it's been one heck of a ride. I've experienced so many ups and downs in this time, but nonetheless I wouldn't dream of being anywhere else. It certainly hasn't been easy adjusting to my new life in Japan. So many things are different from the U.S. that it's taken a lot of getting used to. And on top of it all, I'm also faced with the challenges of speaking a different language.

    The language barrier can make even simple things difficult. Especially in the beginning, it was frustrating not being able to express some of the things I was thinking. I have certainly come a long way with Japanese, but I still have a long, long way to go before I would consider myself fluent. There are still times when I feel like I can’t understand a single thing someone is saying, or I just long to have a conversation where I don’t have think so much before everything I say. My friends at school have definitely helped me feel more comfortable about speaking, and I’m really grateful to have them.

    Speaking of school, it has been going pretty well. I’m actually kind of impressed with how much I can understand sometimes. I even take most of the same tests as my peers, sometimes the teachers will translate the questions into English, but most of the time everything is in Japanese. It’s nice being able to take some of the same classes and tests as everyone else. It make me feel less like an outsider and more just like any other student. I also got the opportunity to go on a school trip with my class recently. We went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for three days. While there we were hosted by a local school. The students showed us around the city, taught us about Malaysian culture, and shared lots of laughs with us. At the end of the three days we put together presentations about what we learned, and even made up a song and dance. After the closing ceremony we got on a bus and drove to Singapore, where we spent the final two days of our trip. While in Singapore we met with students from the National University of Singapore. They took us around to some of the more touristy spots in the city and told us about life as a university student. The next day we woke up early in the morning to go to the airport and fly back to Japan.

    Everytime I think about this trip I am reminded of what an incredible opportunity it was. I was able to grow so much closer to my classmates and it made me feel like a part of the class. I am still so grateful to my school and my host Rotary club for allowing me to go on this trip. Not only did I get to experience a new country but I also got to make lasting memories and further the friendships I have with my class. Most Japanese classes have been together for the past few years, so the majority of the students already have a very tight-knit bond. This was something that I was a little worried about before coming to Japan. I wasn’t sure how my class would deal with a new student, much less a new student who didn’t speak much Japanese. However, I quickly saw how open and kind all of my classmates are, and this trip just further proved that.

    Well thank you all for reading! I hope that you’ve enjoyed learning about my exchange. In the new year I hope to start uploading more blog posts sharing the good and the not so good. As always, thank you to Rotary and my family and friends for supporting me in this awesome adventure. I am already feeling bittersweet about having to leave my family and friends in Japan at the end of my exchange, but I’m trying to think of that as little as possible. As Rotary always says, “Keep your head and your heart where your feet are.” Till next time!

    Click HERE to read more about Zoe and all her blogs

  • Zoe, Outbound to Japan

    Hi there and welcome to my first ever journal entry! It’s been a little over two weeks since I landed in Japan, and my experience so far has been quite a whirlwind. These first two weeks, although challenging at times, were incredible. First let me give you all some background on my exchange. I’m living in Saitama City, specifically in the Minuma Ward. It’s about 30 minutes from Tokyo by train, which is pretty awesome. My current host family includes my host mom and my host grandmother. I also have a host sister but she is currently on exchange in Florida (District 6990). I haven’t gotten to meet her in person since she left before I arrived, but she’s given me lots of advice and really helped me navigate everything. She also connected me to some of her school friends because I’m attending the same school that she went to. I’m really lucky to have such a great host family, and I am already falling in love with my city!

    My first few days in Japan were very laidback, which I appreciated being that I had a pretty bad case of jetlag. I visited my school, explored my new neighborhood, went shopping, and got to spend some quality time with my host family. Four days after I arrived was the district-wide orientation for all of the inbounds in District 2770. We all met up August 22nd at Omiya Station in Saitama City, and from there rode a bus to the ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) where we would be staying the night. The first day was filled with mostly logistical things about our time in Japan along with some advice from Rotex and Rotarians about how to make the most of our exchange, and how to best acclimate to life in Japan. The second day we got to walk around the city, going places like Omiya park and Hikawa shrine. After our little excursion we went back to the hotel and got to watch a traditional tea ceremony (called sa ̀…do) be performed, some of the inbounds even got the chance to try it themselves. The tea ceremony concluded our orientation and we all packed up our things and headed back to Omiya Station to meet our host families. The whole orientation was great, especially getting to meet and hang out with all of the other inbounds. It’s nice to have people who are going through the same thing as you and who are able to relate to your struggles.

    A couple days after orientation, my host family and I went to visit my host mother’s cousin and attend a “hanabi” (fireworks) festival. It was absolutely beautiful, and arguably the best firework show I’ve ever seen. I also appreciated the fact that my host family wanted me to meet their relatives. It showed me how much they care about me and that they’re making every effort to make me feel apart of their family. Two days later I went to my first Rotary meeting at my host club. I was a little nervous given that I had to give a speech in Japanese, but all of the Rotarians were really kind, and afterwards told that I did a good job. After the stress of making my speech was done with, my focus was on my first day of school, which was the next day.

    I had no idea what to expect from my first day of school. I had visited it once before and met three girls who gave me a tour around the campus. The moment I arrived it was pretty clear that I would stand out. Not only was I the only exchange student, but my uniform had not arrived yet, so I had to wear my own clothes. After homeroom, one of the English teachers at my school introduced herself to me and told me that I would have her class for first period. After English I had a free period. Two other girls who had a free period introduced themselves to me and asked if I wanted to help them make posters for Bunkasai. For those of you who don’t know, Bunkasai is a cultural festival that basically all schools in Japan have. They’re a very big deal and students will spend weeks decorating the school and preparing fun games, performances, and concessions for the two day event. After my free period was lunch, which I had kind of been dreading. It was confusing trying to navigate the cafeteria, but thankfully one of the girls in my homeroom offered to help me and invited me to eat lunch her and the other two girls in my homeroom.

    After lunch I had a few more classes, which I could hardly understand given that the teachers were speaking so fast. Despite my confusion at times, it was a good first day. I expected that there were going be a lot of times when I wasn’t clear what was going on or when I didn’t understand what someone had said. But those are just things that come with living in a new country and speaking a different language. The reason I don’t get discouraged is because I know that if I keep trying hard enough, one day things will start clicking. Eventually, the class I could never understand will finally make sense, what seemed confusing and strange will become second nature, and what I once regarded as a foreign country will feel like my second home.

    Click HERE to read more about Zoe and all her blogs

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