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