Blaine, outbound to Japan

みなさんこんにちは!As I am writing this it marks the one-month point of Being in Japan. How crazy is that… It’s something that everyone tells you but time really does fly by.

I have been in school now for four weeks and it is going pretty well, however I was having doubts at first about whether I was really having fun. Let me explain what that means. It is true that everyone here is fascinated with the exchange student but that doesn't mean they actually really talk to you. Even though they may want to, At least in my experience, is that they will most likely stare at you and maybe say hello. So far in school I have had to get very used to being stared at and watching people kind of laugh as I walk by. The girls are all really funny because they will say hello and then run away laughing.

School was my first real wake up call on exchange. I realized that not everyone would come up to you and want to be your friend right off the bat. It takes a lot of effort to try and communicate with them and show that you want to be their friend too. Of course knowing the language would help A LOT but thats coming along as well. I am about to start my fifth week and my classmates have just started to greet me in Japanese and not English. My club activity is where I feel most confortable in school because those are the people who are not afraid to talk to me in Japanese. Even though I don't understand much of what they are saying now, we still laugh a lot together but that’s probably because I just nod and smile a lot. My club activity is also where I feel confortable trying to speak some Japanese with people outside my host family. When I came here I thought that overall making friends would be a little easier but it just takes time.

In school itself I have all the classes that my classmates do and a couple self-study periods. They do not really expect me to do much of the work because of course I don't speak enough Japanese yet. In class I just study my verb lists and other material and listen to the lectures and try to pick out the words I know. For being here one month I feel I have already learned more Japanese than I ever did in a year of French in my school.

A TIP TO FUTURE EXCHANGE STUDENTS: If you are reading this and have already been accepted, and possibly know your country then I have a couple tips. I think most of these will probably apply to anyone but of course to anyone going to Japan. The first and biggest is do not study material that is obviously to advanced for where you are in the learning process. This comes from me trying to do compound sentence structures when I had been here only a week. I didn't even know enough words to make one sentence really, much less an advanced compound sentence. Even now at one month I’m still in pretty basic sentences. My next tip would be to just study verbs, Lots and lots of verbs. I noticed even though I wouldn't get the full sentence, knowing the verbs and being able to pick those up has helped a lot for understanding them.

Japanese is a hard language without a doubt and so is any other language. I never though I would ever be able to understand anything in Japanese and not already I am able to understand the gist of the conversation when we are all eating dinner. I think that is just crazy.

Another thing I noticed when I first got here, or the first couple weeks is that I would get very frustrated when I would study. I felt like I had to learn the whole language in just a couple days. Again going back to not trying to study ahead of where you are. Even now there are sometimes where something just won't make sense and the more my host mom tries to explain to me its like my brain just overloads. After a few minutes I will go back at it but sometimes you just have to take a few breaths and realize you have time to learn.

I had to get used to feeling like an infant and being like I was being treated like a 10 year old. But when you step foot into a whole new country with a completely different set of ideals and you cant speak the language and you have no idea how to get anywhere except to your school you basically are an infant. Just a few days ago my host mom let me and another exchange friend to go Takao-san by ourselves. That was an amazing experience. I was able to transfer trains 3 times and meet him at another train station to then go and climb a mountain. That day was the first time I had been anywhere by myself. That day was the first time I ever tried to speak to someone in Japanese. That day was also the first time I ever ordered food in Japanese. Granted it helps a lot where there are pictures of the food on the menu but still. It was absolutely gorgeous going up the tree-covered paths with them all starting to turn to a yellow and red tint, and then stopping to overlook Tokyo and Saitama. Had it been a little clearer that day we would have also been able to see Fuji-san. I still find it so hard to believe that every day I wake up and say おはようございます instead of good morning, And that when I look out my school window I can see the Tokyo Sky Tree.

It's only been one month here and I am already so in love with this beautiful country. I’m in love with the people with how nice and willing to help they are. My host mom is starting to feel like she truly is my mom. When I came home from Takao-san she was waiting outside for me and gave me a hug when I reached the door! I had the biggest smile on my face and I felt so at home and loved! She also showed me her family shrine and showed me pictures of her mom and dad and we had a short payer together and it was so amazing to share that experience.

Most people lose weight when they come to Japan but she showers me with so much candy and ice cream and other delicious food I can just never say no. She has already given me so much and taught me so much. Even though she can't speak English I love listening to her ramble on and on in Japanese, and I love the fact that one day I will be able to come back and have a full conversation with her. My other host mom who is her daughter living at home is the one who really helps me with the language. She speaks really good English, which sometimes I think is a bad thing because it is just easier to communicate in English, but I always tell her to speak to me in Japanese and she does. She is amazing and very patient because I ask her about 200,000 questions a day.

Rotary tells you before you leave that you should never have any expectations, but of course that is impossible. As so as you start thinking about exchange you start thinking what it will be like. When you get your country forget about it. As soon as I found out I got Japan I started to formulate ideas of what it would be like. It’s simply impossible not to.

The best thing about exchange though, reality is so much better than anything you can imagine. Everyday when I am riding my bike to school and see a bus pass by with an advertisement in Japanese that I can partially read, I can’t help but smile a little. It really is hard to believe. I never in my wildest dreams though I would be able to understand any amount of another language but here I am having small conversations in Japanese.

Rotary has already had such an impact on my life and it has just been one month. To anyone who may be on the fence about exchange they only thing I can say is that you would absolutely regret not taking that opportunity. Of course I would recommend doing it through Rotary. Rotary offers such a large support system, and they prepare you so well. The volunteers for our orientations were so helpful and nice.

Exchange has opened my eyes to so much about how the world is so different and how that is such a good thing. The diversity on our small planet is so fascinating. I’m looking forward to learning all that I can about Japan and applying it to my future. I still do not really know what I want to do with my life; all I do know is that I want to see the world and live in as many different countries as possible and become fluent in their languages and cultures too. Exchange shows how strong you can really be and it shows you how hard life can be. The mix of emotions is something I think only other exchange students can really understand.

Japan so far has been amazing and hard, but all the hard work pays off. I plan to write a journal every month or so to keep anyone who reads mine up to date. So until next time さよなら。