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

Journals: Zoe-Japan Blog 2018-19

  • 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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