Julia, outbound to Japan

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Hello all, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I don’t remember the last time I wrote a journal, so I’m very sorry for that. Anyways, things have been a challenge here since the earthquake (which I’m kind of certain was my last journal). I will have had 7 host families by my departure date, which is currently scheduled for June 1st. Moving around so much has made for a unique experience for me. Among the places and people I’ve lived with were an elderly couple, a single mother, an elderly single mother, a college aged older brother, an 8 year old brother, a 10 year old sister, an apartment above a restaurant, in a Buddhist temple, in a shared bedroom, and in three different cities. I’ve ridden trains for the first time, and have walked so far that I wore a hole into the bottom of my hiking boots. I’ve sang in karaoke bars, bathed in public hot springs, climbed mountains, partaken in traditional green tea ceremonies, and traveled to Kyoto and Osaka. I’ve done so many things that I never would’ve thought possible before coming here; and yet, with only a month and a half left living here, I still feel like I’ve barely seen or experienced anything in Japan. There’s just so much to experience on exchange. Not just in Japan, but anywhere in the world. I’ve found something interesting behind every corner I’ve looked, and was almost never bored when I went out to do something. 

What memories I treasure most here of life in Japan are these small things; walking underneath paper lantern illuminated cherry blossom trees at night, watching a sumo match on TV with my first host father, the stray cat that lives near my school sitting on my lap for the first time, the views from the many hiking trails I walked up, the heat of the natural foot baths in my host city, the heart shaped beauty mark on my sixth host mother’s face. To me, these memories are what make u p my life here in Japan. I never got to go to Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyushu, Niigata, or Hiroshima. I never got the chance to ride the Shinkansen (bullet train) or a crowded subway car, or see Mount Fuji. I never even saw a cosplaying person (“otaku”) or a tanuki. And yet, despite all of these things that I had so hoped to experience during my exchange, I do not feel bitter or wronged. Not because I lost the desire, but because I am content with the way I have lived my life here, with the situations given to me. So even though I never saw or did all of these exciting things, I have come to accept the fact that I was never guaranteed those opportunities to begin with, and that it just wasn’t meant to be. I suppose that would be my advice to the future classes of exchange students; to never keep expectations of how you believe your exchange life should go. Although it is an exciting thought to have, all the places you will possibly go and see, what you should keep in mind is that the life of an exchange student isn’t the life of a tourist. You will most likely live with a normal, average family (who travels to big, gaudy tourist traps about as much as your own family does) and lead a life not too different from the basis of your current student life. Of course, everything is unique for each student, but these are constant factors into the life of a Rotary Youth Exchange student: you will go to high school, have host family home responsibilities and obligations. In short, you should learn to love the small things in your exchange life -the sound of your friend’s laughter, the way your host family’s cooking tastes, the neighbor’s cute dog- and not be bitter about the things that you can’t do. Because your life on exchange goes by so quickly, just ask any Rotex. You don’t have time to sulk, only to go out and experience life as it truly is in a different country. With such a small amount of time left, I find myself regretting not what big cities I couldn’t go to, but the way I acted when I didn’t get my way. As I’m sure many Rotex in the past have said, I really wish that I had truly listened to my Rotex when they gave me advice and not just sat and filled my head with unrealistic fantasies. Nevertheless, I am still grateful for the experiences given to me by Rotary, and will probably live the rest of my life trying to give back to the world that has already given me so much.