Julia, outbound to Japan

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Hello from the Kurayoshi-Higashi high school’s library! The first of October marked my first month here in Japan, and so much has happened that there’s just no way I can fit it all into a journal. But I guess I should start with a little bit about my exchange and current situation... Well, I am living in Misasa, Tottori, a very small town with a population of about 6,000 people. It is very rural here and extremely mountainous, which also makes it pretty isolated compared to most other areas in Japan. My high school is in the nearest city, about a 10 minute bus ride from my current house. It’s a fairly normally sized high school; each of the three grades has 5 classes of around 30 students. Grades are by age, with 1st grade being from 15-16, 2nd grade from 16-17, and 3rd grade from 17-18. I was placed in 1st grade, due to the fact that the higher grades focus almost entirely on studying for college entrance exams. I’m the third ever exchange student at my school, the second American, and the first female. I’m also the only exchange student within a 40 minute drive of my area, so this means that I am unlike most other Rotary students in that I am without any “exchange friends” to fall back on and to relate to. But being alone isn’t so bad; I don’t have anyone to compare myself with and I also have an entirely fresh, new slate to work on in terms of my school life. Speaking of which, I am very pleased with my time spent at school. The students at my school are so shy that it’s borderline comical, the boys being significantly more so than the girls. I really enjoy complimenting people and seeing them happy, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love getting complimented? The boys at my school. To the point where if I even make eye contact or say their name, they flinch, hide their face, thank me, and pivot their bodies to face opposite of me. They are not unfriendly, or even like that on purpose, they just culturally unadjusted to an outgoing girl, forgetting the fact that I’m also the only person in the entire school who is significantly physically different from everyone else. Earlier today, I was talking with my friend who sits in front of me in class, and I asked her how Japanese people get their elegant face freckles (Have you seen them? They’re like literal artwork), and in the conversation I mentioned the boy who sits two seats away from us. He looked at us when I said his name, and I told him that he has a very tasteful beauty mark on his cheek, and this was his reaction in this exact order: he glanced from me to her a few times, put his face into his hands, did a 180 in his seat, took an unintentionally audible deep breath, fixed his hair, and did not turn back in our direction the entire morning. No, really. The girls are much easier to talk to and are generally less shy now, but the first two weeks I was in school was intimidating, to say the least. For a while, absolutely no students talked to me or attempted to approach me because of shyness, but none of them were too shy to group together and stand in my classroom’s doorway to stare at me from across the room. It happened routinely every day, as if it were a part of their agendas. Sometimes I still catch people staring as they walk by, but thankfully it’s mostly dissipated. Now, most of the girls in my school run up to talk to me, their favorite question being, “do you remember my name?” Allow me to elaborate on this: the Japanese language is not tonal, meaning every letter sounds the exact same no matter where it is in a word, very unlike English. It also means that many words sound the same, and it’s no different with names. I have yet to meet anyone with the same name as someone else, but the similarities between them are pronounced and seem to swim together inside my head. By no means do any of my classmates look the same, but matching Yuna and Yano to their faces is difficult, especially when communication is difficult to begin with. However, luckily for me, some of my classmates go by seemingly random English nicknames, so remembering Twiggy, Grandpa, Nosy, Queue, Mantis, Noodles, Muscle Man, Baseball, and Kitty is easy for me. Anyways, some of my teachers have names for their faces, but I find that most of them pay me no mind either way, which is nice because it makes me feel more like a student than an exchange student, if that makes any sense. My English teachers are some of my favorite people I’ve met here so far. The English conversation teacher, Emma, is kind of like my best friend here. She’s from Minnesota and has been teaching English here for two years. Her class is my favorite so far because classes are nonexistent for me; I spend most lectures studying the writing systems or doodling. I’m also not expected to do any classwork, tests, or homework, so that is a huge relief for my brain, because can you imagine doing calculus homework in Japanese? Neither can I. School lasts from 8am to 3:30pm; many students stay later to participate in clubs or study sessions, but I haven’t joined any daily clubs yet so I just get on the bus to go home. Here, home is my sanctuary. I love my host family, which consists of my mother, father, and older brother. My host parents are amazing people, both very funny and caring people, but my host brother goes to college far away, so my contact with him is limited. My current host family is friends with my next host family, who lives down the road, so I also have a host sister who goes to school with me. She will be leaving to go on a non-Rotary exchange in Chile in a few months. Oh, speaking of which, I can’t believe I still haven’t written my thanks to Rotary. Without all of you, I wouldn’t be here in this amazing country writing this. So thank you, for giving me and all of us out on exchange this opportunity. I hope that someday I can repay the world for all that its given me in this experience, and Rotary for believing in me. Again, thank you all so much, and I hope I can live up to your expectations.