Jade, outbound to Japan

It's been a while since I last posted. I tried making a post back in October after my school trip to Hokkaido, but I had some issues posting it and, unable to save as a draft, I totally lost the post when my computer rebooted. After that... I just forgot about it. I know that I, as well as other current outbounds, harassed the Rotex about how little they posted in their journal. They took it like champs, and always responded with "you'll see." Well, I certainly do see what they mean now! I used to follow all of the posts on Facebook of the 2014-2015 outbounds, and after a while, I started to wonder if it got tiring. If they got bored of living somewhere abroad, just living out a normal life... but now I realize that that's exactly the point. The only way to get "bored" of living abroad is to become bored of living in general. Sure, going to school, coming home, studying, eating dinner, going to bed, waking up and repeating isn't exactly riveting stuff, but that's not what people live for. We live for the moments that make us feel: The moments where we smile, where we cry, where we feel like we have a purpose. It is no different being abroad. I won't deny that it is hard, and I also won't deny that this is the loneliest I've ever been, but I also know that if I can make it through this, then I can do anything. Except fly, I still can't do that. Unless...

I could go on in great detail about what all I've done in the first third of my exchange - yes, I am actually that far along! - but I have a blog for that (if you haven't seen it yet, it is easy enough to find.) I feel like that would be just skimming the surface. I will, however, give a quick recap so you can get a feel for what I've been through.

I have gone to all four major islands of Japan: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. I have been on airplanes, bullet trains, in taxis and cars, and on more trains, buses, and streetcars than I have any desire to record the number of. (Now, the different types of streetcars I've been on, I've kept track of. There are three different companies fighting for the same track. Let's just say that, in order to stay competitive, they have some interesting designs.) I was in Hokkaido during a typhoon, and I went to Kyushu on the day of the earthquake that I'm sure you all have heard about. Everyone is fine, in case you were wondering. I didn't even know that there had been an earthquake because I was too far away, but other exchange students who were able to feel the quake have said that it really wasn't all that bad. In fact, it wasn’t even on the news here. I asked my counselor about it, and he pretty much said "this is Japan. We get earthquakes." I guess it's kind of like how Floridians feel about hurricanes.

In Hokkaido, I climbed a snow-covered volcano, stayed at two onsen (hot springs/ public baths), learned about the nature and wildlife of Hokkaido, and visited Japan's most famous zoo, Asahiyama Zoo. The promotional video for said zoo being so outlandish that I am sure that, had it been a shorter video, it would have gone viral, followed up with comments to the effect of "oh, Japan!"

In Kyushu, I watched sumo wrestling, went to a very old Japanese restaurant where women in kimono serve you, visited caves out in the middle of the ocean, ate raw squid (not bad, by the way! I was a bit nervous about it though), and visited a temple at night.

I've done many other notable things as well. I've visited many temples, I played a role in my class's play for the cultural festival, I am currently practicing to play a role in Beauty and the Beast, I've been to the zoo in Kobe and Osaka Castle, and I recently was able to view a beautiful light display in a Japanese garden.

That should pretty much tell you what I've done up until now. In my free time, I usually knit, sew, translate manga (Japanese comics), or practice my new hobby, crochet. I had tried, and failed, at crochet in the past, but I finally understand how to do it. I've successfully made a blanket, a snowflake, a teddy bear, a stocking, a scarf, and dragon slippers. Am I going to far? Absolutely not! Do you know how satisfying it is to be able to actually wear the things I create? In Florida, being able to knit was a lovely way to fill my closet with things that I would never get to wear, but here, I am expanding my wardrobe. It's a good thing that I'm able to to too, as I only brought one suitcase of clothes (I wanted to ensure that I could bring back a lot of stuff and I knew that I would have to wear a uniform most of the time) and I'm not exactly "Japanese-sized," if you know what I mean. I never felt so big before I moved to Japan. Now I spill over my seat, and fill up the isles at grocery stores. It's rather inconvenient, but I'm just glad that I'm not any taller, as I already hit my head on things all the time!

I am beginning to understand why people have such a hard time reconnecting when they go home. Even at one month in, I felt that few people back home would understand what I'd been through. And how do you sum up exchange in a word or short phrase? You can't just answer "good," like when you come back from camp. It just doesn't work that way. There is no phrase that so perfectly sums up what you go through on exchange. If anyone finds one, let me know.

I got lost for the first time, which, thanks to my training, felt more like a milestone than a catastrophe. I was taking the bus home from my Japanese lessons for the first time. My host family told me to take the bus from platform 9. They neglected to tell me that multiple buses come to platform 9, and that they go in different directions.(Something similar happened when they told me to take the train from platform 2 to get to school, but it is actually platform 1! It's a good thing that we wear uniforms, otherwise, I would have got on the wrong train!)

As I'm sure that you have figured out by now, I got on the wrong bus. Of course, I kept holding out for my stop, telling myself that it would have to come up eventually, until we reached the very last stop - Saidaiji. I knew that there was a place in town called "Saidaiji-cho, but we had been driving too long to be there. I was beginning to feel a bit panicked, as it was late at night, and most buses had alread y returned to the station. I sat on a bench and decided to take some time to think. I, rather optimistically, wondered if I was perhaps within walking distance of my house. I quickly took my phone out and asked Google "where am I?" It turned out that I was about 45 minutes away from the stop that I was supposed to get off at. At this point, I resigned to telling my host family what had happened. After some investigation, I realized that there was one more bus heading back to the same place that I had just come from. I at least knew how to get close to home from there. I told my host mother where to meet me at, and it was quickly settled. Other than a loss of time and money, I got out of it rather well.

I feel like I am a much more capable person these days, even though I have spent most of my time feeling like a child. I don't know that I'll ever get to the point where I'll have a desire to stay that is strong enough that will make me unwilling to go home, but I do know that going home will be a whole new kind of culture shock. I wonder if anyone has gone home feeling as though they didn't really fit into their host country, but because of how much they've changed, they no longer quite fit in at home. It reminds me of the song "Giants in the Sky" from Into the Woods: "And you think of all of the things you've seen/ and you wish that you could live in between/ and you're back again, only different than before..." Just some food for thought, I guess. Recently, I've been rather certain that in the highly unlikely event that I get to choose a superpower to gain, I would choose, above even the ability to instantly learn a language, the ability to teleport anywhere at will. I've heard a lot of other people that are living abroad say this as well.

I've gotten a lot of good advice from expats on how to navigate through Japanese culture. Talking to them has made me realize something about culture, and that is that, while a native can live a culture, only an outsider can explain it. This may seem backwards and a bit presumptuous, but think about it. How many of your daily actions are done consciously, and how many of them could you defend? I don't know why I'm irked by the slurping of noodles, but I do know that by slurping noodles in Japan, you are less likely to burn your mouth. Yet, if I ask a Japanese person why they slurp noodles, they will almost always answer "because that's how you eat noodles." When you do something for so long in one way and have never seen another person do it in a different way, you come to believe that the way you and "everyone else" does it is the only way to do it. By believing that there is no other option, you forget the reasons why you do things the way you do them. That is basically culture in a nutshell.

Hopefully, I will post again sooner next time. I'm not exactly sure though, since I've been told that my next host family's wifi may be a bit spotty (not sure if it's true of not). Either way, I'll find a way in time!

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