Nice to meet you! はじめまして！ My name is Lisa, and I canít wait to be an outbound student to Japan for the 2012-2013 exchange year! Iím sixteen and am a Junior at Bloomingdale Senior High School. In preparation for my year abroad, however, I am trying to finish up all of my credits so that I may graduate with the class of 2012.
First things first: this exchange isnít just about me. It is about my family, my friends, my country, and the country of Japan. I am the messenger, and my message is that of understanding: I want to get rid of any prejudices or stereotypes that I, my family, my friends, and those I donít know yet carry, because it is my firm belief that misinformation is the root of most conflict.
One of my greatest loves is art. I love all of its forms, but two-dimensional art, specifically painting, holds a special place in my heart. To be able to create a world in days, to tell a story in a frame, or to reveal more emotion or truth than many people show in their entire life is something that I look for constantly in my own (and othersí) compositions. Someday, I hope to go into the art field. In my student letter, I wrote that I hoped to double-major in studio art and art history and work as a curator someday, but that has changed even though the time that passed between then and now was short-lived. Iím not entirely sure anymore what I would like to do with my life, but I am confident that it will always be within the Arts. Iím not a huge fan of writing about myself, so the fact that I have said this much already shocks me. I like to think that I am outgoing and determined, and have been told that Iím easy to talk to. I remain open-minded to the world, and cannot imagine any reason to judge someone for anything other than the way they treat others. Things like gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and religion mean little to me when considering someone a friend, so it has been said that my collection of friends is on the eccentric side.
If someone were to ask for one weird fact about me, I would tell them that one of my life dreams is to live in a hobbit hole. Strange, I know, but true. :) The year ahead will be one of many adventures, Iím sure! To think that, this time next year, I will be on the other side of the world, speaking another language, eating different foods, making new friends, and becoming a part of new familiesÖ well, the feeling is unparalleled.
ďďRemember what Bilbo used to say: Itís a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you donít keep your feet, thereís no knowing where you might be swept off to.ĒĒ J.R.R. Tolkien
Lisa- Outbound to Japan
September 5, 2012
has been almost a month since I first arrived in Japan, and yet I wake up
every morning knowing exactly what my routine is as though I'd lived here
for much longer. However, I wasn't always as comfortable as I am now- I
didn't always know how to get to Takashimaya from Hopetown, or how to get
home from the Train Station on the random day when my bus driver says he
won't go to my normal stop. I didn't always have friends, or know how to
ride a bike as well, or know the difference between "Itsumo" and "Zenbun".
I won't lie to you and tell you that I've
enjoyed every waking moment, that it was easy to make friends and that all
of the studying I did before made it easy to understand Japanese now. I talk
to the Rotex when I doubt these things because that's what they've all gone
through and they understand, so I want to thank all of them from the bottom
of my heart. I also want to thank Rotary for giving me this opportunity, my
family for supporting me, and my friends for wishing me the best.
The only real place to start, I suppose, would
be on the plane ride to Japan.
All alone, dressed in my Rotary blazer and khaki pants, I sat in my seat in
the plane. Moments before, I'd had problems getting my carry on to fit in
the overhead compartment because, even though it was well within the limits
for Delta, it was just barely small enough for the plane to Japan. Being
short didn't help my situation, so luckily the (rather tall) lady behind me
got up from her seat and put it in the overhead bin for me. Thank goodness
for Japanese hospitality!
The plane was about to
leave when a young Japanese girl sat next to me, probably no more than ten
years old. I think at that moment I was more afraid of her than she was of
me. She knew absolutely no English, so when I had to ask her questions about
what was written on the immigration form (such as time in Japan and whatnot)
our conversation became a mixture of poor Japanese and Charades. We didn't
talk after that for about six hours.
Japan after the longest, most bladder-wrenching flight, I made my way
through Haneda airport, greeted by Olympic banners written in Japanese and
cute advertisements everywhere I looked. Luckily, I was also able to find
the restroom (the sign is pretty universal, thank goodness!). Figuring out
the toilet was, well, interesting to say the least. It was high tech and had
more buttons than a television remote. All of the buttons were written in
Japanese so, having no idea what they did, I left them alone. After a few
minutes of inspecting all of the devices, I finally figured out that to
flush you had to wave your hand in front of this thing on the wall, kind of
like the motion sensor thing at the movie theater bathrooms in Brandon,
Next came immigration. What was supposed to be swift took a good hour or
more (I lost track of time after the first hour). Apparently, none of the
residency card printing machines were working when the immigration workers
took me to them, so they took me into the back room where I waited while
they messed around with the main computer. They're English was about as good
as my Japanese, but we were able to communicate that I was an exchange
student from America. Showing them my book of Emergency contacts full of
everyone's name, number, and address that I could possibly need, they were
able to take down my host family information and my counselor's number and
let me through immigration with a simple "We will mail this card to you in a
month". Thank you, Rotary, for stressing the importance of carrying an
Emergency contact list.
Picking up my baggage, I
made my way to the terminal after a short Monorail ride and sat for the next
few hours doing nothing but people watching and typing (rapidly) an email
home on the 100￥/10 minutes computer. The plane ride to Yonago was fine
other than my sitting in the wrong seat at first, and then having my carry
on bag be too big for the central overhead compartment due to the fact that
I was able to watch a Pokemon movie. I had no idea what they were saying,
but at least it was entertaining.
Arriving in Yonago was rather interesting. Everywhere were little figurines
and statues from a famous local Mangaka's manga. They were little eyeball
creatures with bodies, or strange looking people with crazy hair, and were
apparently absolutely normal. Walking out toward where my host mother and
sister were, I was given a big hug and rushed over to the Rotarians to take
a picture. Unfortunately, I was so frazzled that I forgot to hand them MY
camera to take a picture on, but I have the feeling I would have looked like
a ghost in that picture.
Over the next month I visited Mount Daisen (an
active volcano with the best tasting water and best tasting soft ice cream
I've ever had) been all over the city, celebrated Bon Odori by going all the
way to Matsue to clean gravestones, and seen myself on the news as they
showed clips of the dancing part of the Bon Odori festival. I also started
school (which I absolutely love) and gave a speech at my Rotary club.
My speech was quite possibly the worst Rotary speech in the history of
exchange. What had started out as a fairly good length outstanding speech
I'd had memorized ended up with me being told I had to shorten it to about a
minute long right before I walked up to the podium to speak. Oh boy. I don't
quite remember what it was I said, but I do remember apologizing profusely
to the club President and my Counselor for the poor quality of my first
speech. What a first impression. In my own defense, though, trying to come
up with a speech on the spot in a foreign language you'd only been speaking
for less than a month is a pretty difficult thing to do.
That speech was the same evening I'd started school, which, lucky for me,
had gone 100x better. My speech for the teachers and for my class was
flawless, and everyone was very kind. I met many people and the teachers
were all very helpful. I also have a schedule with many art classes, so
needless to say, I was excited about the week to come.
In the next week, I made many friends and helped my class prepare for the
school Bunka-sai (Culture Festival). We ended up doing a Purikua class
thing, which is basically giant pictures of whatever that people stand in
front of and take photos of themselves. Our Purikua was anime themed, so I
helped paint the giant 'One Piece' set. When all was said and done, everyone
was very happy with what we'd accomplished and we were able to have a great
The Bunka-sai was the most fun I've had at
school so far- there were food stands, bands, plays, haunted houses, and
indoor pool, tea ceremonies, martial arts demonstrations, and much more. I
even had my drawing of my art teacher displayed in the stairwell for
everyone to see.
After the culture festival, we had a day of
cleaning followed by a long home-room. It was fun to clean with everyone
because everyone helped out in some way. I climbed on top of the bookshelves
and took the black curtains off of the walls, and other people prepared the
cardboard displays for recycle, took the paper chains off of the ceiling,
scrubbed the floors, or changed the curtains on the windows. It wasn't too
difficult because of how many people there were working, so for most of the
day we were able to simply sit in the class and decide where to go for
dinner tomorrow and who would do what events at the upcoming Taikusai
(sports festival). We decided on ShabuShabu (beef dipped in boiling water)
and I volunteered for the tug of war, relay race, and Dekapan (two people
wearing one pair of huge pants and race other couples in huge pants)
The next night, everyone went to
Jasco (a huge shopping center) and played in the Arcade and ate dinner. It
was loads of fun, and surprised me at how close this class is compared to
homeroom classes back in America. I don't even know the names of half of the
people in my old homeroom in Florida, but here was my Japanese homeroom
class, all spending some of their free time together to simply have fun and
congratulate each other on our successes at the Culture Festival.
Lisa- Outbound to Japan
October 19, 2012
My last journal couldn't even come close to describing what my everyday life
is, but I think part of that may have to do with the fact that every day is
different. I rarely have the words to describe to someone what it's like
when they ask me how I feel about being here in Yonago, Japan, or when they
ask what my favorite food is or where I want to go this year. Being here is
amazing- some days are the best days I've ever had in my life, other days
can leave me feeling like I still have such a long way to go to make the
kinds of friends or speak as fluently as past exchange students recall.
People have a hard time understanding the fact that my favorite food can
change everyday simply because it's all so different and new. While I may
not know the name of a dish, I can love it all the same, and while one dish
may be more delicious than another at a certain time, I simply answer the
question of my favorite food with "I love everything!" because this is the
most honest I can be. Being asked where I want to go is probably one of the
hardest questions. I'm already here in Japan, so anything else is a bonus.
Of course there's always the usual, touristy answers- "I want to go to
Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, and Sapporo" or "I want to see Shibuya station" and "I
want to get a picture in front of Mt. Fuji"- which would be fine. I would
love to visit any of those places! However, I would enjoy going pretty much
anywhere here. The kids my age are the ones who find this hardest to
understand because of the fact that this city I'm living in is in the
countryside and thus, not very exciting. Yeah, I wouldn't mind being closer
to places I can just go hang out with friends at or being able to have a
wider variety of stores to browse through and things like that, but this
place is still so eccentric and has so many secrets that I can't wait to
discover t hat even the most boring days can end with excitement. Just today
I discovered a small park near one of my bus stations that I can go to if I
want to swing or climb the climbing tree. There are so many vending machines
here in Japan that I've thought of spending an entire day just walking
around and trying the most random things I find in them- hot carmel
milkshakes, ice cream, hot cocoa, milk tea, Japanese sodas- there's so much
that I honestly think I could spend my entire allowance at vending machines!
Luckily, I have enough self-control to make sure that doesn't happen.
The majority of my time is spent at school, and I'd be lying if I said I
don't love school. The students there are so nice to me and my schedule has
so many art classes that I enjoy most everything. The ladies in the 食堂（"shokudo"-
cafeteria) are also very sweet and make the most delicious food I've ever
eaten (except for my Grandmother's cooking- I know my mom will read this and
show her, so just remember that your cooking is still the best, Grammy!).
It's still so weird that I've gotten used to the fact that instead of
mystery meat, fries, and pasta being served in the cafeteria I'm able to
order curry, udon, soba, ramen, and a bunch of other stuff that I can't yet
It still hits me that I'm in Japan or that I had a conversation in Japanese
without thinking too hard about it or having to pull out my dictionary every
time. I still feel as though I'm speaking too much English because of how
much I already understand, even though I know that's not true. I've given up
simply translating in my head because that wasn't working before and instead
have realized that I don't need to understand every word to understand the
meaning. Listening like this, I've learned so much more and amaze myself
when I can start to use the things I learn correctly. The grammar is still,
by far, the most difficult part of the [spoken] language, but I know things
are slowly working themselves into place every day.
When people teach me a word in Japanese I'm always so surprised at the
various words they can also translate to English (on the occasions they do
decide to translate for me instead of explaining in Japanese). For instance,
one of the boys in my Kyuudo club taught me the word for grasshopper- "batta"-
and I couldn't help but wonder when and why he learned that "batta" meant
"grasshopper" in English. Thinking back on my ten years of Spanish in
school, I don't recall ever learning what "grasshopper" is.
The weather is also something very new to me. It's starting to really feel
like Autumn here in Yonago. Even wearing long sleeves inside in the attic
(my bedroom, 4th floor, and the hottest part of the house) I can still find
myself feeling cold. I wear high socks every day and still wish I had an
extra pair of socks to put over my feet because of how little protection the
school slippers we have to wear at school give. I dread to think of what it
might feel like at kyuudo practice (after school until 6 o'clock- outside)
when Winter finally comes around.
I would write more about everything I've done and all of that stuff, but I
intended for this journal to be more on the introspective side. Next week is
the Sports festival at school as well as my next district orientation, so I
will save all of the "what I've done" jazz for my next journal next month. I
will also submit my photos with the next journal :D
As always, none of this would have been possible without the enormous
combined efforts of Rotary, my Family, and my Friends. Thank you! :D
Before I went on exchange, I made a promise to a Rotarian that I
would be the student who wouldn't fall behind on their journals. Obviously,
I haven't kept that promise, and I won't try and make an excuse for that.
Rather, I will say that I have learned a few things from it. I've learned
that my schedule on exchange is much less my own than it ever was before-
just as there are so many things I want to experience in this country, there
are twice as many things others want to share with me, teach me, and allow
me to see.
I am at school almost all day long (until 6 at night) and even go to
school on the weekends due to club activities. I study every day in order to
improve my Japanese as much as I can before the end of this year. My current
host family and I spend almost every minute that we are not busy working (or
studying/ shooting stuff at club practice in my case) together watching TV,
trying out old restaurants in the a rea, or going to see amazing things that
my part of Japan has to offer. We've climbed into an almost-invisible room
on the underside of an old bridge high in the mountains so as to view the
duck-like birds (called O-Shidori) that my prefecture, Tottori, is famous
We've gone to public bathhouses (called Onsen) where I experienced for
the first time exactly why the Japanese are so in love with hot springs,
even if it means standing outside, butt-naked in the coldest part of winter
while snow is falling as you wait to climb into the pool. I've discovered
that I'm actually very good at skiing simply because my family decided that
my sister and I should go since neither of us were working/studying. I've
done so many things in these past few months I never would have dreamed of,
so many things I wish I could write down. It's not that I won't write these
things down, however- I would love for everyone reading this to be able to
experience eve ry moment of pain, joy, sadness, and happiness I remember as
I look back on these past months because of how wonderful the outcome has
turned out to be. The truth is, I simply can't write these memories down.
Nothing could capture the magic that I've found in simply living, in
being able to walk home through farm fields under the widest, most beautiful
starlit night sky as I return home from school every evening, or in being
able to know that there are people you've made friends with who have watched
you grow and learn, and who have no choice but to know you by actions rather
than words. Writing down the countless days I've spent here on exchange may,
for some, seem like a thing that needs no questioning, something that to not
do would be a serious mistake. For me, however, writing down my memories
would be to belittle them so as to force them to fit into the restraints of
language, taking with it their fragility and ephemerality that I have so
come to appreciate. I have confidence that I will remember these things long
after this year, so while having no permanent record may seem intimidating
at times, I am no longer afraid.
My year is almost over, and as I look back on how I've spent it, it seems
both unextraordinary and amazing at the same time. I keep hearing that these
months, when added together, are simply life in a year. All of the emotions,
the struggles, and even boredom are all parts that make this so. So it is
that when I see pictures or watch videos of other exchange students doing
amazing things, I realize that, while I've not hung out with friends as much
as I'd have liked, nor done as many exciting things as I could have hoped
for, I, too, have had a wonderful experience. As normally as I have spent
this year, this, too, is life.
I have changed families three times in the past year and come to know
four completely different lifestyles. I have improved in the language in
great degrees, to the point where I feel as at home in Japanese as I do in
English at times. I have struggled with the different definitions of
friendship in America and Japan, finding out that being good friends doesn't
mean always being together or knowing everything.
I have discovered that "goodbye"'s that I have no right to share tears in
can be even more painful than the "farewell"'s that I have had to say
myself. It was surprising to see just how much realizing that there are
memories and bonds I can never share in can hurt, and this taught me that
there are times when anyone can be an outsider.
I've been stared at every time I step outside of my door. I've had people
assume I can't understand, watched their expressions change when they
realize I can, and watched them struggle to find the words to communicate
I've had the most precious words a person could wish to hear spoken to
me. I've realized that there are some things said best without words. I've
learned that communication does not guarantee closeness, and that's okay,
because I've come to realize coming out of this year with one person I can
say I know now, I've accomplished more than many do in a lifetime.
I've learned some of the most amazing things this year, and that is what
has made my exchange a success. I hope that, by the time I leave here, I can
have impacted someone as much as this year has impacted me.