Zoe, Outbound to Japan

Hi there and welcome to my first ever journal entry! It’s been a little over two weeks since I landed in Japan, and my experience so far has been quite a whirlwind. These first two weeks, although challenging at times, were incredible. First let me give you all some background on my exchange. I’m living in Saitama City, specifically in the Minuma Ward. It’s about 30 minutes from Tokyo by train, which is pretty awesome. My current host family includes my host mom and my host grandmother. I also have a host sister but she is currently on exchange in Florida (District 6990). I haven’t gotten to meet her in person since she left before I arrived, but she’s given me lots of advice and really helped me navigate everything. She also connected me to some of her school friends because I’m attending the same school that she went to. I’m really lucky to have such a great host family, and I am already falling in love with my city!

My first few days in Japan were very laidback, which I appreciated being that I had a pretty bad case of jetlag. I visited my school, explored my new neighborhood, went shopping, and got to spend some quality time with my host family. Four days after I arrived was the district-wide orientation for all of the inbounds in District 2770. We all met up August 22nd at Omiya Station in Saitama City, and from there rode a bus to the ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) where we would be staying the night. The first day was filled with mostly logistical things about our time in Japan along with some advice from Rotex and Rotarians about how to make the most of our exchange, and how to best acclimate to life in Japan. The second day we got to walk around the city, going places like Omiya park and Hikawa shrine. After our little excursion we went back to the hotel and got to watch a traditional tea ceremony (called sa ̅do) be performed, some of the inbounds even got the chance to try it themselves. The tea ceremony concluded our orientation and we all packed up our things and headed back to Omiya Station to meet our host families. The whole orientation was great, especially getting to meet and hang out with all of the other inbounds. It’s nice to have people who are going through the same thing as you and who are able to relate to your struggles.

A couple days after orientation, my host family and I went to visit my host mother’s cousin and attend a “hanabi” (fireworks) festival. It was absolutely beautiful, and arguably the best firework show I’ve ever seen. I also appreciated the fact that my host family wanted me to meet their relatives. It showed me how much they care about me and that they’re making every effort to make me feel apart of their family. Two days later I went to my first Rotary meeting at my host club. I was a little nervous given that I had to give a speech in Japanese, but all of the Rotarians were really kind, and afterwards told that I did a good job. After the stress of making my speech was done with, my focus was on my first day of school, which was the next day.

I had no idea what to expect from my first day of school. I had visited it once before and met three girls who gave me a tour around the campus. The moment I arrived it was pretty clear that I would stand out. Not only was I the only exchange student, but my uniform had not arrived yet, so I had to wear my own clothes. After homeroom, one of the English teachers at my school introduced herself to me and told me that I would have her class for first period. After English I had a free period. Two other girls who had a free period introduced themselves to me and asked if I wanted to help them make posters for Bunkasai. For those of you who don’t know, Bunkasai is a cultural festival that basically all schools in Japan have. They’re a very big deal and students will spend weeks decorating the school and preparing fun games, performances, and concessions for the two day event. After my free period was lunch, which I had kind of been dreading. It was confusing trying to navigate the cafeteria, but thankfully one of the girls in my homeroom offered to help me and invited me to eat lunch her and the other two girls in my homeroom.

After lunch I had a few more classes, which I could hardly understand given that the teachers were speaking so fast. Despite my confusion at times, it was a good first day. I expected that there were going be a lot of times when I wasn’t clear what was going on or when I didn’t understand what someone had said. But those are just things that come with living in a new country and speaking a different language. The reason I don’t get discouraged is because I know that if I keep trying hard enough, one day things will start clicking. Eventually, the class I could never understand will finally make sense, what seemed confusing and strange will become second nature, and what I once regarded as a foreign country will feel like my second home.

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