Catalina Casillas

Japan

Hometown: St. Johns, Florida
School: Allen D. Nease
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of St. Johns, Florida
Host District: 2770
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Urawa East



My Bio


こんにちは! My name is Catalina Casillas and I have been blessed with the most amazing opportunity to study abroad in Japan! I am extremely grateful for all who have helped me so far on this journey, as I would not have been able to become an exchange student without them. Here in Florida, I study at Nease High School as a sophomore and take part in the International Baccalaureate program. I participate in the French Club and International Students Association at my school, and I strive to do my best in school and in my extracurriculars. I live with my two younger sisters, parents, and two dogs. Dancing is my passion, and I take multiple classes a week. I love to sing and draw as well, and I hope to maintain my dedication to the arts overseas. This coming year, I am prepared to immerse myself in a new culture, trying new foods and reaching new heights. I want to create global connections and gain a new perspective, opening not only my eyes but other people’s eyes to the diversity and unity of the world. I am looking forward to this life-changing experience, so thank you Rotary, friends, and especially my family for this opportunity. I will make everybody proud!

At the famous Shibuya Crossing! The energy there, it's amazing

At the famous Shibuya Crossing! The energy there, it's amazing

Christmas in Hakodate, Hokkaido.

Christmas in Hakodate, Hokkaido.

Meeting my new exchange friends in Ōmiya for the first time.

Meeting my new exchange friends in Ōmiya for the first time.

Me with my little host sister in Meguro after seeing a flower arrangement exhibit.

Me with my little host sister in Meguro after seeing a flower arrangement exhibit.

I watched a short Noh play in Urawa with some Rotarians.

I watched a short Noh play in Urawa with some Rotarians.

School trip to Singapore!

School trip to Singapore!

In Niigata prefecture! Obviously I'm very good at skiing.

In Niigata prefecture! Obviously I'm very good at skiing.

Purikura, Japanese photo booth, with my host sister! These are very popular with Japanese high school girls.

Purikura, Japanese photo booth, with my host sister! These are very popular with Japanese high school girls.

Another purikura with my inbound friends! We ate the famous fluffy pancakes right before.

Another purikura with my inbound friends! We ate the famous fluffy pancakes right before.

Rotary trip to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Osaka.

Rotary trip to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Osaka.

Outside the a robot restaurant in Shinjuku.

Outside the a robot restaurant in Shinjuku.

Christmas party with the inbounds. We all made food from our countries, so I made brownies!

Christmas party with the inbounds. We all made food from our countries, so I made brownies!

My host mom doing a ring of fire dance, traditionally to drive off evil spirits from rice fields in Akita.

My host mom doing a ring of fire dance, traditionally to drive off evil spirits from rice fields in Akita.

A trip to the onsen! I got to wear yukata. Onsen are popular places to relax!

A trip to the onsen! I got to wear yukata. Onsen are popular places to relax!

My new best friend named Allen, he lives in Nara Park and his favorite food is deer biscuits.

My new best friend named Allen, he lives in Nara Park and his favorite food is deer biscuits.

Journals: Catalina-Japan Blog 2019-20

  • Catalina, Outbound to Japan

    It’s spring here in Japan, and that means new beginnings for Japanese students. The school year has come to a close, and the sakura trees are soon to bloom. Despite all of the end of the year preparations and celebrations, it doesn’t have the closure I’m used to in a school year. For one, I missed a big festival that my dance club and I prepared for since January because of a Rotary trip for the third graders that are going to university this coming school year, and the growing fears of corona virus have shut down the school and made school officials cancel exams until March 16th.

    Maybe it’s because I, as an exchange student, don’t have as much academic responsibility as normal students and the fact that school is canceled tentatively until the sixteenth, but I feel as if I’m just going along where the waves take me. I used to be like that in Florida. I was a very go with the flow type person, whatever came my way I would deal with it when it got there, but here its different. Going on exchange was the first thing I really really worked hard for, not to say that I didn’t put effort into other projects, but exchange is different. I knew that this year, every day would bring new challenges and new experiences, not all of them amazing and wonderful but new all the same. It won’t be like a normal life in Florida but a normal life in Japan, a place radically different from the states. I know now that at least here I can’t just let life takes me where it wants to go. I need to get up and do the things that I want to do because I know that here, my time is slipping away. Once I leave it’ll never be the same.

    Moving on, I changed host families a month ago and this is the first time I’ve had a very set routine where I wake up consistently on time and not fall asleep before taking a shower at night and just take one in the morning like I used to. My past host families were very lax about their routine, I would sometimes go home and fall asleep before taking a shower, and take in mind cleanliness is very important in Japan, but in this host family I feel obligated to take a shower in the evening, that is just the way they do things here. Every morning my host mom leaves by 8:20 and every night comes home at 6:00. Every morning my host dad leaves at 7:30 and comes home at 9:15. There is something beautiful in doing the same thing every day, something I thought I would never say. They are very schedule oriented, going as far as to print a detailed itinerary of our three day trip to Akita prefecture, something that I think is extremely Japanese.

    That leads me to my next point, that something that I’ve noticed in Japan is that everything is presentation oriented. Either to be more convenient to others or to add beauty to their work or to give them some sense of peace in their minds, but that culture is very strong here. When I was invited to raise funds for the Japanese Red Cross Society, the teacher at my school that works with them gave me a printed color map to the place I needed to meet him, despite it being two minutes from my house. Everywhere you can find very well designed brochures for museums, cafes, and shops that my host families insist giving to me to remember the places I’ve been to. Even in cafes the food is beautiful, and drawings by students that aren’t artists are very clean and refined. Gifts must always be wrapped, and your family name etched on a plaque outside your house, and no food should come without a plastic wrapper lest your good cleanliness be disturbed.

    Maybe it’s because of the precision of learning characters of the three writing systems and the high standard of cleanliness that promotes this culture, but here in the states pretty much everyone in Japan would be considered a perfectionist. I’m not going to miss the wastefulness of individually plastic wrapped bananas, but I will miss the beautiful food and the high standards people hold themselves to. In America I am very forgetful and last minute with most of the things that I do, and my way of life conflicted with this sort of aspect of society, making me feel even more forgetful and clumsy at times, but I’ve learned how to adapt and, per say, procrastinate less.

    I really don’t want to think about the fact that I only have until July to stay here. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to leave. It’s only downhill from here, but how do I slow down gravity?

    Click HERE to read more about Catalina and all her blogs

  • Catalina, Outbound to Japan

    I am now halfway through my exchange here in Japan. I know it sounds cheesy, but I can’t believe just how fast time has gone by. I still feel like I’ve barely started my exchange and yet I’ve already made so many friends and experienced so much.

    I live in southeast Saitama prefecture, about an hour from many of the popular places inside Tokyo. I can literally take a day trip to Shibuya or Harajuku after school and be back in home in time for curfew. Living in America we are deprived of the wonders of public transportation. The train system, especially around Tokyo is literally the coolest, it’s so liberating to be able to travel everywhere with the tap of your public transport card.

    I won’t bore you with every single little detail of my exchange, that’s not what these journals are about. I am here to share my experience and feelings with you so that you might be able to realize the joy and freedom this opportunity has provided me with.

    Before going on this exchange I didn’t realize just how global this program really is. Yes, I knew I was going to meet locals, that was a given before I left, but I never even stopped to think about meeting people from across the globe like Switzerland and Brazil. These people have become some of my closest friends, I am not sure what I am going to do with myself without them after I leave. We are really lucky to speak English in America, my exchange student friends speak English really well, so I can easily have conversation with them. I love spending time with these people, and I know I will keep them in my life forever. The Rotex in my district all have gone to countries completely different from their own and are happy to have a little fun with us because they know how we feel, which I appreciate. I’ve noticed that a lot of exchange students, current and past, are much more confident than their prior selves. I didn’t even notice it until one of my exchange friends pointed it out to me but I myself have changed in the past five months. I used to live in Texas, and that is where my heart stayed long after I moved to Florida. I used to think Florida as only temporary, but I started describing the places and friends I have in Florida to one of the exchange students I’m closer to, and I realized I really have a home in Florida. My heart doesn’t belong just to Texas, it belongs in Florida just like it belongs in Japan too. I’ve learned to love places that I wasn’t originally from, and this is what my exchange has taught me.

    I feel much more confident now, I have been forced to order food and ask questions to strangers in a language I am far from fluent in and I’ve had to start all over again in a completely new environment with strange people. I’ve noticed my language skills improving and I’ve made so many new friends! I am so excited to see how much I will change over these next six months of my exchange, I know it can only get better.

    In my preparation to go exchange I knew that I was going to a place where I barely spoke the language and I didn’t know anyone and that was scary. Once I started taking off in my Japanese and becoming closer with the people that live here with me, I knew that Rotary had prepared me well for that aspect of exchange. For me, I hadn’t cried at all at the airport before I left or not even in the first two months. What I was not expecting was to become so close with my first host family. I only had two months with them but I had gotten into the rhythm of things and I felt really at home in their house. My siblings were amazing and my host mother was supportive in every way. The first time that I cried on this whole exchange was when I had to leave them. I cried twice that day. When I took my house key off of my keychain I realized that this was it. I’ll never get this back again. This part of my exchange was over and I had to move on to the next, but the transition was especially hard for me. Some time after that, I was at a Rotary function and my old host mom was there accompanying her son who is going on exchange next season. She was talking to another mom and called me her daughter. I was shocked. She said it again to me in Japanese and then in English “You are my daughter.” That was the third time I cried. I can’t believe just how profound this experience is and I’m barely halfway through.

    When you think of American culture, what do you think of? Hamburgers? Ford 150s? A poorly edited bald eagle over a clip art American flag with explosions in the background? That isn’t true. American culture is truly a mix, a wonderful thing, and I should know. I am a biracial American, and I have experienced two radically different cultures within my own family, not to mention the teen culture as well. Getting to think about my culture has led me to think about this new one that I am living in right now. People think differently when they live in different places, not just across national divides. Living here in Japan, I didn’t realize just how their own unique culture is embedded into their lives. I never realized how culture is embedded into American lives too. We do things the way we do because of where we come from, and how we were raised. The Japanese put out decorations for the New Year’s instead of Christmas, and they visit a shrine to welcome the new year. Waiters and store clerks often apologize for keeping you waiting and thank you for walking in and out of stores even if you think buy anything. It’s one thing to research about a culture, but you don’t really know how it really is unless you live in it, and that is something I am so grateful for. We all say “Oh I want to expand my cultural horizons” before we leave to go on exchange, not really knowing what that phrase meant. But I know now that is something us exchange students can understand, it’s something beyond words.

    I couldn’t be more happier here in Japan. The exchange student closest to me said “This exchange is a dream and I don’t want to wake up.” I couldn’t agree more.

    Click HERE to read more Catalina and all her blogs

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