Keiko, Outbound to Argentina

Hello and welcome to my first journal! Because my exchange is purpose-driven (meaning that my actions will reflect my initial intentions) I wanted to give a little bit of a background of what drove me to come Argentina as well as share my experience so far. I hope this may inspire or open new perspectives to its readers!

My day of travel from Atlanta to Buenos Aires went extremely smoothly and according to plan; I boarded and landed on time, I had all of the documents necessary to enter Argentina, there was no lost luggage, and I even had two open seats next to me on the plane! Shortly after I landed, I was warmly welcomed with a hug and a kiss from my host family. We sat, ate breakfast, and talked in a McDonald's until it was time for my host brother, Thiago, to depart for his Rotary Youth Exchange in France. His departure definitely reminded me of my own when I saw his mother/my host mother get emotional. These goodbyes are so difficult, but from the perspective of the parents, I can see how it is a complete act of love. Love does not clip your wings, love liberates and allows you to soar.

In this moment that I am writing this, I have been in Argentina for exactly one week, and I have learned how the people here live with so much love and light in their hearts, how welcoming and kind they are, how rich and beautiful the culture is, and also how lucky I am for this opportunity to explore, learn, and grow. In these first few days I have met many new faces (including a woman who's last name is also Ito!), gotten shown around town by a kind people, shared delicious meals with family and new friends, started school, and more.

I think exchange gifts us irreplaceable experiences. On exchange you have countless unique opportunities, you gain so much insight, you grow as a human being, but at the same time, it is not necessarily the easiest thing in the world. The day I left for Argentina I felt a myriad of emotions, excitement, gratitude, and hope, but also a sadness that came with leaving my family. That morning, my grandmother who I had spent a month and a half with, boarded a plane that took her 11,016 km away from me as she went back to Japan. And later that day, I had more goodbyes with my Aunt and Uncle who mostly live in India and Bhutan, my family in Atlanta, and my last goodbye was my mom, who stayed with me at my gate until I boarded. I never expected to feel such heartache when leaving, to cry so many tears, or to have such complex feelings that I can't seem to comprehend. And although these feelings are cumbersome to deal with, I think it is normal. I am just a normal teenager who must accept, overcome, and embrace these emotions to grow as a human being. A few days after I arrived, my host brother heard about how I was feeling, and so he offered to come all the way from the City of Buenos Aires to spend a day with me! The City of Buenos Aires is autonomous and a different entity from the province of Buenos Aires. The commute from the City of Buenos Aires to Chivilcoy (where I live) is about 2.5-3 hours. We enjoyed our time together by eating a lot of food. First, we went out for breakfast, then we came home and ate more food while watching his favorite Anime (it was interesting to see Japanese culture through a different lens), then for lunch we had an asado (Argentine barbecue), then came ice cream for desert, and finally we played chess until he had to leave. Essentially, almost too much food, lots of laughs, and a good weekend. I am so grateful for people like Quimey (host brother) who have held out a helping hand during this emotional roller-coaster of homesickness and culture shock. When you are in the phases of culture shock and homesickness, it is hard to have clarity. But as someone who is seeing a little clearer everyday, I found that it works best for me to be accepting of my emotions (its completely normal to be homesick and experience culture shock), reach out often, try to say yes to everything, and surround myself with people I can trust.

My main purpose and goal in going on exchange was to learn more about other people, cultures, countries, but also about myself. I read a quote that intrigued me about a year ago, it said, "True self discovery begins where your comfort zone ends" (from Pencils of Promise by Adam Braun). His words and stories sparked a curiosity, a yearning, to step over the line where my comfort zone ends. I wanted to feel uncomfortable. Why? Because for me, being uncomfortable breeds growth, learning, and new perspectives, things that being comfortable can not produce as much of. When the idea of exchange was brought up, I knew that living and studying in a country that I knew nothing about was as far away from my comfort zone as planet Earth is to Pluto. So, naturally, I applied! And after one year of hard work, I was on a plane, going 8039 km away from the place I have lived for 8 years. I am a little crazy for doing this at fifteen, and my mind is full of doubts, but also hope. I feel a heavy sadness for leaving my family in the United States, Japan, Bhutan, and India, but also love for my family here in Argentina who have welcomed me with contagious kindness and joy. And I can say, the moment I stepped off of the airplane, I was very, very far from my comfort zone (yay!).

Another purpose that is coupled with going on exchange is to represent responsibly. Every Rotary Youth Exchange Student bears the responsibility to act and behave as an ambassador for everything that they represent. When students go on exchange, they represent their country and culture. People's opinions and ideas form around who they are, how they behave, and how they handle situations. This power of influence comes with a real responsibility. Here in Argentina, I have been introduced as the American exchange student, and while this is true, it is also acknowledged that I represent more than the USA because I am also the daughter of two Japanese immigrants. The person I am today at fifteen has been shaped by both the Japanese and American way of thought, life, and being. Being a bi-cultural exchange student means that I have this unique and beautiful ability to express and share two cultures, that of the USA and of Japan. However, that also means that I carry this heavy responsibility to not only express one culture (like a normal exchange student), but to express two very distinct cultures accurately and respectfully. With that in mind, I knew that going on exchange would simultaneously make me the ambassador of Japan and the USA. I bear this power and responsibility in a particularly interesting time, and I intend on navigating this challenge with love and respect for everyone and the intention to understand as much as I want to be understood. So the next time I don my awesome pin covered blazer, I must have the awareness that I also don the responsibility to represent Rotary Youth Exchange, Atlanta, the United States, Japan, and more.

And finally, I wanted to go on exchange to spread love and light. To meet new people and create genuine and lasting relationships with the people of Argentina. Love is what creates real, life-long bonds, to love others and to be loved is such a powerful force that allows peace and respect to flourish in the world.

Thank you to the members of the Rotary Club of Decatur, Rotary District 6900 leadership committee, and Rotary Youth Exchange Florida. Rotary Youth Exchange is completely powered by amazing volunteers who want to make the world a more peaceful place, and I am so honored to be a part of their mission and grateful for this opportunity to spread love and light, be an ambassador, and grow as a human being.

Thanks for reading! Chau!

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