Zoe, Outbound to Japan

Well hi again. It is so surreal writing this and knowing that I only have two weeks left until I’m back in the United States. This last month has left me feeling a whole range of emotions. One minute I am loving life and laughing with my friends, and the next I am heartbroken by the fact that I have to leave all of this behind in such a short matter of time. While I am excited to see my friends and family in the U.S. I am dreading saying goodbye to my life in Japan. In just one year Japan has become my home. I’ve met amazing people who have supported me and shaped me as I went along this journey. I’ve gained invaluable experiences and life lessons, a new perspective, and new found sense of self. As the end of my exchange draws nearer, I have begun reflecting on how this year has impacted me. Most exchange students will tell you that their year abroad changed them into a whole new person. While I understand this sentiment, I found myself struggling to relate to it. The way I see it, exchange didn’t throw out my old personality and start from scratch. Instead, it tore down the walls I had put up and revealed who I was at my core. Because of my exchange and the challenges I faced, I learned that I am resilient, and caring, and confident. I believe that these traits were always there, but had gotten lost in a sea of fears and doubts. My life in America never required me to step out of my comfort zone, but going on exchange meant challenging myself in ways I never had before. Every day of exchange I pushed myself to try new things, to work hard, and to persevere despite the difficulties I encountered. I believe that these traits lay inside all of us, but sometimes we have to struggle and take ourselves out of our comfort zones in order to discover and utilize these qualities.

While my exchange year ending has been sad for the most part, I’ve still made incredible memories and continued to bond with my family and friends here. One moment that stands out was when I went to karaoke with my whole class. They told me that we were going to out to celebrate how well we did on sports day the day before. I should have known something was a little odd since we lost almost every competition that day 😂. They ended up surprising me and turned the evening into a small goodbye party. It was so much fun to be with all of my classmates laughing and singing. They also got me beautiful wooden frame to put a photo of our class in. The whole night was filled with so much love and happiness, but still my heart began to ache knowing that this may be one of the last times I would hang out with my classmates. I’ve had moments like this a lot this past month, whether I’m with my family, my Rotary club or my friends, it keeps hitting me that this could be the last time I get to spend quality time with these people. Pretty soon I’ll no longer have the opportunity to go to art museums with host grandmother, or go to Purikura with my friends and take silly photos. What I am trying to do now is live in the moment as much as possible, focusing on where I am and the people I’m with. However, when I start feeling really sad I find it helpful to think of what I have to look forward to when I arrive back in the U.S.. Maybe it’s going to eat at my favorite restaurant again, or going to the park with my friends, or singing along to the radio with my mom. As difficult as it is to leave my friends and family here, it’s comforting to know that I will be greeted by a whole other group of people who love and care about me.

This year has allowed me to grow in so many different ways. I’ve learned so much about myself and my capabilities and my hope is that I continue to use the lessons I’ve learned on exchange even after I return. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience so many “once in a lifetime” kind of moments. Looking back on this year I feel a sense of fulfillment. As I’ve said before, I am truly grateful to the Rotary Youth Exchange Organization for giving me and countless other teenagers this incredible experience. Going on exchange was nothing I expected, and everything that I needed. I am in awe of how the world is simultaneously so vast and complex, but so closely connected and intertwined. While we are all so diverse and unique, there are still fundamental things that bring us together and bond us as human beings.

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