Monday, December 10, 2012

Confusion and Listening

Learning Japanese is very difficult. It's probably one of the most difficult languages in the world. But that doesn't mean it's impossible to learn. I just have to work very hard to understand what people are saying and to be able to speak.

When I arrived in Japan, I had the basics. I could express wants and desires through my simple vocabulary and bare basic sentence structure, but that was about it. I needed more to function through daily life. My rotary club has been gracious enough to pay for Japanese classes for me.

A tutor comes to my school twice a week to help me improve my language skills. These lessons last about two hours each. My teacher patiently explains new words and teaches me new sentence structures. With her help, I've been able to improve my Japanese considerably, but I still have a long way to go.

I can have a basic conversation with someone, but I can't spout philosophical words. I'm afraid I even have a hard time interacting with my friends at school. They speak very quickly and I often can't understand what they are talking about. When I do understand what they are saying, I can't formulate a sentence fast enough to join in the conversation. By the time, I am ready to say something, my friends have moved onto a different subject, so I tend to stay quiet and listen.

When people communicate, they do it through many different means. Not only do people talk, but they use facial expressions and gestures to add more meaning to their words. But when people talk to me, I have to focus very intently on their words to find meaning in the strange sounds. ONLY on their words. There are times when I can't even look at someone’s face, so I walk away from a conversation and think, "Now who was I talking too???". I have focus so hard that I cannot even begin to watch for gestures or facial expressions. This means I get less information than normal out of a sentence, leaving even more room for miscommunication than language barriers already create. If you add in cultural differences to the language barrier, you have a very confused exchange student. But the confusion is just part of being an exchange student. Once in a while a light bulb goes off, and it's a moment of pure bliss. There's nothing like finding understanding in what's normally complete confusion.


When you're honest about your language abilities:

   pic source: whatshouldwecallme and blazersandpins

The Rabbit on the Moon.

Rabbits and bunnies are everywhere in Japan. Now, I don't mean I see them hopping down the street and around my school. I mean bunnies are a popular icon in Japan. There are adorable rabbits pictured on obentos (lunch boxes), chopsticks, dishes, and other objects. Sometimes even food comes in the shape of a rabbit.

The Japanese believe that if you look closely at a full moon, you can see the image of a rabbit in the shadows. This lone rabbit is supposed to be making Mochi, a sticky, smashed rice delicacy. This rabbit is also supposed to be a symbol of weath.

I, myself, have gotten into this "bunny" mania. While I've always considered rabbits cute and cuddly, I've become quite obsessed with these furry creatures during the last 4 months in Japan. My poor exchange student friends have had to endure more than one outburst on the cuteness of an object bearing the picture of a rabbit.
For more info on the history of rabbits in Japan and through Japanese culture visit:

Friday, November 23, 2012


Though it's Friday (and technically not Thanksgiving anymore) in Japan, I celebrated Thanksgiving by myself while hanging out in Nagoya. It turned out to be an amazing Thanksgiving because I was forced to truly be thankful for what I have, not just because I was participating in what has become a big commercialized holiday.

I was kind of down in the dumps this morning so I decided to take the subway to a random spot in Nagoya. I was too lazy to change lines so I just ended up at the last stop on the opposite end of the line that I live on. This isn't a popular stop at all. I was basically the only person left on the train by the time I reached my destination.

I headed out of the station and choose a random direction. The cloudy weather matched my mood perfectly. Not long after I set out, it began to sprinkle. I found a river and decided to follow it for a while. Soon, I stumbled upon a little park meant for very young children. I decided I needed to swing for a while. As I contortioned myself on the swing so that I could use my long legs to propel myself forwards despite the incredible low swing, I noticed lots of people staring at me as they drove by.

A man and his small dog soon appeared at the park. He was obviously staring at me in bewilderment, but I just kept on swinging. The next thing, I knew he was talking to me (in Japanese) and we're having a whole conversation about America, where I'm from, and the fact that I was a little homesick. Just as I thought our conversation was winding down, an older lady and her two grand children came down to the park. He introduced me to them and we all begin to talk. It was so nice to have someone talk to me in complete Japanese and be totally interested in me and why I'm at a random park in the middle of nowhere. The kids and I began to play together and we talked the best we could. They were so excited to have made a foreign friend.

As we were all talking, the weather cleared up and the sunshine lit up the beautiful red leaves on the trees. It was then when I realized that though my family and friends are thousands of miles away, they are safe and happy, which is all that matters. As I looked around me, I was suddenly so thankful for the beautiful day God had blessed me with and all the friends I've made in Japan. My Thanksgiving didn't have a turkey or lots of pies and I wasn't surrounded my family, but it became of day of true thanksgiving. God has blessed me with so much: family and friends on two continents, a chance to experience a new culture, and so much more. It would be impossible to number the amount of blessing bestowed upon me. This is probably the best Thanksgiving I've ever had because I've come to realize what it truly means to be thankful.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I'll smile more tomorrow than I did today

Today, started out terribly. I was feeling rather down facing what looked like it was going to be another boring day at school. There are times when I have absolutely nothing to do at school except study, alllllllll day long. All the second years (my grade) had exams today so I got kicked out of the classroom for the entire day.

But since the Japanese don't believe in central heating systems, only certain rooms in the school have heat. I was supposed to go the library, but since the windows are always open there, I decided to try out one of the study rooms. It was cold there too. So I killed two hours, while suffering through the chill, before heading to my cooking class. As this class started, I was ready to cry. I was so sick of cold rooms due to no heat, not understanding what is going on, not being able to have a normal conversation with my friends, and also being completely bored at school. Now that the initial excitement of my exchange as worn off and things are no longer new, I've been experiencing my first bout of culture shock. I'm afraid I've recently sunk into a depression like state. Nothing has able to catch my interest. I've started going to bed early and can barely get myself out of bed in the morning. No matter how much I sleep, I can shake feeling exhausted and I walk around in a fog. I've given up trying to speak in Japanese and barely talk to my friends at school. Things that are differently from the way they are done in the U.S.A. sometimes annoy me. I want my mom's cooking. I want to be warm. I miss my family and friends. I just want to go home. I can't remember why I came or can barely come up with a reason to stay. The only thing that makes me feel better is my nightly run.

My cooking group gave me things to do and I started to feel a little bit better. Plus, all the gas stoves running and the steam we produced while cooking warmed up the room and I finally got warm. But I still wasn't quite usual enthusiastic self.

After this class, one of the girls in my cooking group introduced me to a friend of hers who studied aboard in the U.S. This new friend and another girl from my cooking class, who has also studied aboard, went up to the roof to talk. I ended up telling them, in a mix of English and Japanese, what I've been experiencing lately. Not only did were they sympathetic, but they understood because they themselves have experienced the same thing. It was so refreshing to talk to people who truly understood what I am going through.

The next thing I know, I'm being invited to one of the girl's P.E. classes since I didn't have another class to go to today. We had to stop by the teacher’s room and get permission, before we dashed to my classroom to get my P.E. uniform. While I was changing in the bathroom, I realized that I'd forgotten to grab my gym shoes and my head band, but I couldn't go back to my classroom since the exams had resumed. My friend offered me her shoes so we ran up two flights of stairs to her classroom. These shoes ended up being at least two sizes too small, but I managed to jam my feet into them. My new friend also lent me her P.E. sweater since the air outside is currently rather chilly. We raced down four stories and eight flights of stairs while trying to beat the bell. No dice. The bell rang before we were even outside. I was carrying two school bags and my uniform wadded up in a messy bundle, all of which wasn't helping a speedy decent to the first floor. When we finally made it to the tennis courts, I had already missed the stretching session. The gym teacher immediately commented on my rumpled appearance. I had forgotten to tuck in my shirt and my pants were on backwards. Everyone got a good laugh about it, me included.

It was my first time playing tennis, but it turns out I'm not too bad at it. But the best part was talking to my new friend and her classmates. It was the most fun I've had at school in a while and brought me out of my sleepy state.
I studied in the library for the last hour of school before heading to English club for a while. I managed to leave school at the perfect time and found my bus waiting for me at the bus stop. As soon as I got home, I went for the longest run of my life. While I ran to an unknown portion of Nagoya, I realized I'm fine. Being an exchange student isn't easy, but it's worth it. The friends I've made here and the things I've gotten to experience make this difficult time completely worth it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bus Schedules

I hate bus schedules.... As I headed out to meet friends about a week ago, I managed to read my bus schedule wrong in three different ways. Needless to say, I missed my bus. My host parents always tell me that if I miss my bus there is another bus just a block away headed to a different subway station so I started walking in that direction. I saw bus stopped at a bus stopped at what I thought was the right bus stop so I jumped on it thinking it must be headed in the right direction. Forty minutes later, I`m at random bus stop, somewhere in the 4th largest city in Japan, completely lost. Suddenly, I saw a bus headed to a familiar station so I decided to take that. After that bus and a subway ride, I finally met my friends at our meeting spot, miraculously only ten minutes late. I was sweaty, tired, and slightly wind blown after running all over place, but I got to see a good portion of Nagoya, exercise, and renew my hatred of bus time tables.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Taikusai (Sports Festival)!!!!

The morning of the sports festival was two days after the school festival. The sky was a deep blue and the sun was baking everything in its intense heat.

Everyone was so excited for the Taikusai (sports festival). Two classes made up each team. My class was proud to be a part of the dark blue team. That morning, every high school student filed on to the large outdoor sports field. We began with an assembly. Each team stood in straight military style rows in front of our team flags and the podium. Standing side by side, we formed a giant rectangle. We listened to several speeches, including one from our principal. Before and after each speaker, the students had to bow to show respect. We sang the school anthem as the flag was raised and then we all began stretching. Schools in Japan have a certain routine for stretching. Typically, this routine is set to a rhythm kept by leaders counting. This time, the rhythm was kept by the school orchestra playing upbeat music. I couldn’t believe how perfect the song was for the rhythm.  After stretching, the games began!

There were foot races, relay races, and all types of amusing competitions. I complete in the 1,000 meter relay, Kani Kani replay, Taifu no Me, and several other events.  In the 1,000 meter relay, we had to run half of the large arena and then pass the baton to one of our team mates.

I was surprised to complete the Kani Kani relay without a broken bone or at least a sprained ankle. In this event, teams were divided into pairs. These pairs stood back to back with their elbows intertwined and their ankles tied together. The object was to be able to move sideways in a systematic and synchronized hopping movement. We had to perform this odd movement while racing around a cone and then towards our team mates on the other side of the arena. Once one pair crossed the line, the next pair could go. The team who got all of their pairs across first, won. I can’t express how difficult this can be, especially when you are as uncoordinated as I am. (In gym class, as we were practicing for the festival, I managed to fall on the same poor girl twice and roll my ankle several times.)

In the Taifu no Me, a team is divided into 2 groups of 16 people and then these two groups stand on opposite sides of the arena facing each other. Each group of 16 people then stands in a formation of 4 rows of 4 people. A long pole is grasped in each hand by the first row of one of the groups.  They hold this pole out in front of them while running around a cone and then towards the other group. When the group gets close to the other group, the middle two runners  fall out of formation and the two runners at the end of the pole lower the pole close to the ground while still running. The other group must all jump over the moving pole while still standing in neat rows. The pole is then brought back over the entire group’s heads and then sat down in front of the first row in the new group of 16 people. This first row takes the pole and repeats the process. The 4 people who just ran then falls back into formation in the new group, replacing the people currently running .The game continues in this manner until each row has run with the pole.  The first team to complete the relay wins.  (“Taifu” is Japanese for “typhoon”. “No”  is a particle that acts like an “ ‘s ”. “Me” means “Eye”. Therefore, the “Taifu no Me” means  “Typhoon’s Eye”.)  

At one point, I noticed how well my team (Blue) seemed to be doing in all of the competitions. By lunchtime, we were in first place! The afternoon was filled with amusing relays and races. There was an obstacle course relay; a relay in students had to dress teachers up in costumes, and a student vs. teacher relay race.

The entire day was great fun. We were all covered in sweat, but happily raced and cheered for friends and team mates all day long. We had another assembly as the day came to a close.  It was time for the winners to be revealed. My team (blue) won!!! Everybody went wild. People were jumping, cheering, and crying.  The class leaders went up to the podium to accept our certificates.  Hugs and taking lots of pictures was definitely in order.  After the award ceremony, as the flag was lowered, everybody in the school linked arms and swayed to the music, while singing the school anthem.

I’m afraid I had to leave early due to a Rotary event (my Welcome Party).  I changed from my gym uniform back into my school uniform in a frantic hurry.  I met my homeroom teach just as I was racing out the door. He shoved a celebratory Popsicle in my hands as I ran by. I dashed down the hallway and skidded to a stop, managing to just barely avoid crashing into a teacher coming around a corner. I stumbled by with several bows and many “Gomenasai’s” and ran down the stairs as fast as I could and out to the school gate where my Host Mother was waiting to pick me up in her car.

I reflected over the entire day throughout much for the night. It had been such an amazing day. I am so proud to have been a part of something my classmates wanted so badly. I was sad to have to miss the after party, but one of my friends took pictures for me. Apparently, there was a baton twirling club swirled long string like devices with the ends lit on fire and the teacher band also preformed.

Friday, October 12, 2012

School Festival (Bunkasai)

I'm afraid I have been too busy to write lately. Two weeks ago my school held our sports festival (Taiksai) and our school festival (Bunkasai). You may have heard of these before as they are events often featured in Japanese dramas, TV, and anime. They are an integral part of school life in Japan.

My school takes both of these events very seriously. The Bunkasai was an extravagana held over Sunday and Monday. For these two days, Parents, Grandparents, students from all of Nagoya, and other visitors swarmed the halls of our highschool.There were so many people that navigating the wide hallways became rather challenging. Everyone packed themselves into the brightly decorated classrooms to observe the handywork that we had slaved over for so long.

Our classrooms had been transformed from the ordinary to a cardboard walled maze with posters plastered everywhere, bearing information on themed topics. My class had choosen the theme "Gamble". Our room became a maze of gambling parafanilia and addiction information.

The first day dawned rather rainy. Many of the elaborate outdoor decorations had to be taken down in an attempt to save them. Rainbow colored banners had been hung hign above the courtyard and even the staircases had been decorated. The main staircase outside had colorpaper stuck to the inside edge of each stair so that when looked upon from a distance it showed our school's insignia in a colored rainbow.

On the big stage in the courtyard, students preformed various routines much to the audiances great delight. Bands played traditional Japanese music as me as today's trendiest hits. Dance groups captivated the public with amuzing or complicated routines. Whole school clubs preformed their craft in complicated showcases. There were even displays of Ikebana (traditional flower arrangements) and Shoudo (calligraphy).

Many class rooms sold food to the visitors. Theses food stalls were a big hit. Long lines of people stated assembling even before they opened for bussiness. Delicasies like "Kuraage" (fried chicken), "Curry rice", Takiyaki", and "Ramen" were sold at extremely cheap prices. Girls stood at the back of each line with advertising signs. They would often jump up and down, shouting, and wildly waiving their signs to coax hungry people in their lines.

I can't possibly discribe the atmosphere. There was excitement and and competition all bound together with delicious food. Smiles were plastered on the students faces as they wove through the crowd.

After the two days ended, we all filled into the big gymnasium to hear the results of the competition. The teachers had gone through all of the classrooms and voted for the best ones. Each winner was revieled by a scroll casted out of a window on the far wall. As each scroll unraveled, a great roar would come over the student body. The sound of cheers, screaming, and clapping filled the air. Something else was reavieled at this moment, but only to me. I came to realize how important this day was to them. A good portion of the gym was in tears. Whether in sadness or triumph, the tears streamed downwards. To me, this was a fun, cultural event with delecable food. But to them, it was so much more. It's one last day to have fun before exams. It's also a day to bond with classmates, show off your school, and have a study break. So much time and energy went into organizing, and creating every aspect of the school festival. Every heart desired to win.

My class did not win any rewards or certificates, but we had fun anyways. My homeroom/English teacher treated us all to popsicles and sugary drinks. It was surely a day we will always remember.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Meanwhile in Nagoya....

Everyone in the Nagoya area is currently experiencing the effects of the Typhoon that hit Okinawa. One moment is it sunny and the next it is pouring down rain. My class and I had Taiku (P.E.) in the outdoor area this morning. It was interesting to look up and see blue sky and then have it start raining a few minutes later. Thankfully, the heavy rain held off until this evening. Unfortunately, it started not long before my commute home.

My class and I are currently preparing for our school festival. After class, we change from our uniform to our school T-shirt and our P.E. pants and then begin painting, cutting, and taping until school closes. My classmates have chosen the theme "Gamble" for our room. I've noticed them making educational signs about addiction and a mural that shows where casinos are legal throughout the world. I've helped make the walls, the floor, and some other projects that don't require too much explanation (since I often don't understand what is being said). I'm afraid I don't understand what all they have planned. I just kinda go with the flow and wait for instructions that are simple enough for me to understand, or directions that are translated or mimed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hana Bi (花火)(Fireworks)

Last Saturday, the Rotary Exchange gang met at Nagoya station. We traveled to a town called Toyohasi, where we made several presentations to students at a high school . I did a speech on what I thought about Japan before I left American and what I think now that I am here.

Afterwards, the students split us up into groups to teach us about calligraphy or origami. I was in one of the calligraphy groups. It`s a terrible feeling knowing that each ink stained stroke becomes a permanent fixture on the thin paper. But with paintbrush clutched in hand, I managed to write several decent looking Kanji.

Next, we boarded our bus and traveled down the road to a firework festival. We watched people dancing and singing as a shrine was carried back and forth through the crowd. It took a lot of people to carry the tall shrine and the men posted on top of it.

We then went to the fireworks area and sat on a low wooden platform only a few inches off the ground. There was a tatami mat spread across it, but it didn`t help with the discomfort that comes with a hard seat. There was a large stage off to the side of the fireworks area where we watched traditional Taiko drumming and a dance group preform as we waited for dusk.

As soon as dusk came, fireworks lit up the night sky in irredescent starbursts. Various other pyrotechnics began as well, including fireworks that wizzed sideways, guided only by a string stretched across the the arena. But it was the traditional Japanese fireworks that stole the show.

Men stood holding a tatami object that greatly resembles a cannon. It was pointed towards the sky and then the fuse was lit by hand. Soon a blaze of fire shooted upwards, over the men`s heads, with a roar. An entire line of these fireworks went off at once, creating a nearly solid wall of fire. Finally, a great boom pierced the air as each firework blasted upwards. Smoke filled the air and some of firework`s debris rained down on the crowd.

During the many intermissions, we watched in utter facination as Taiko drummers beat their instruments with wooden sticks. The drummers changed drums with elaborate spins and colorful flashes of clothing. The bass was as great as any I`ve ever experienced before at a concert. It swept over the crowd and captivated young and old alike.

By the end of the festival, the Taiko drums and fireworks began to go off at the same time. The rhythm of the drums and the great boom of the Hana Bi became one. No one knew whether to watch the wall of fire or the drummers. Both were equally captivating.

Then something new began to happen. Carried on the shoulders of many people, about 6 shrines were brought through the crowd and down the aisleways . Men posted on top of the shrines blew whistles and waived sticks with white material attached to them. An large entourage of people followed each shrine. It created a great roar, as the whistles blended with the shouts of the crowd and entorage, and the Taiko drums. Each shrine made its way inside the firework zone and was paraded around.

I`m afraid we had to leave a bit early to catch our train back to Nagoya, but we watched the last of the fireworks from a distance as we waited for our bus.

It was a night that none of us will ever forget.

Three Week Anniversary

Yesterday marked my three week anniversary in Japan. Somehow, it doesn`t feel like three weeks has gone by. It doesn`t feel as if it has been a long time, but it also doesn`t feel like time has flown by. It`s an odd sensation.

I can`t help but look back and and be proud of how much I`ve accomplished. I`ve been able to achieve so many of my dreams in such a short time. I`ve been able to attend a Hana Bi Matsuri, watch traditional Taiko drumming, start school, go to a K-pop concert, travel to the mountains and also to the ocean. I`ve hiked up to Inuyama castle, figured out the bus and subway system, and sucessfully managed to to learn how to text on my Japanese cellphone (who knew spaces could be so difficult).

But is looking in to the future, when I realize how special my year will be. According to my schedule, I will rarely have a free weekend for a long time. I have many exciting events that will be happening over the next few months and I will be posting about them as often as possible.

When I am able to get internet on my own computer, I am hoping to be able to add photos into all of my blog posts.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


I`ve been so busy that I haven`t had the time to write.

Friday after school, I rushed out after class in a blur of excitement because I was going to see one of my favorite K-pop groups, 2NE1, in concert. Otousan and his car were waiting outside the school gate for me. He drove me home to where my friend from New Zealand was waiting for me since she finished school earlier. We quickly got ready and were driven to the other side of Nagoya  to the concert venue.

The two of us bought T-shirts and suvenirs and took pictures with the tour trucks before we joined the long line waiting to enter the stadium. We ended up with perfect seats. They were angled to the side with an amazing view of the stage and the big screen.

We were both surprised to find that we were seated next to an American who was in Japan to teaching English. The changes of be seated next to another foreigner in a crowd with so few Gaijins were slim.  It was wonderful to pass the time waiting for the concert to begin talking to our new friend IN ENGLISH!!!

The concert was fabulous!! 2NE1 gave an amzing preformance of some of there most popular songs like, "I Am The Best", "I Don`t Care", "Fire", "Lonely" and their new single "I Love You". Each member also performed a solo.

The entire concert was a whirl of neon colors. From the stage clothing and lights, to the brightly dressed crowd. The bass pounded through the stadium and pulsed through your body. The lights flashed and blinked in an a blinding rainbow. The entire concert twinkled from the blinking pink and blue lightsticks that were being waved to the rythym. Under the bright lights, the four members and their backup dancers danced in their neon clothing to the intricate choreography in perfect sync. Occasionally, fireworks and other pyrotechnics would burst forth from the stage, wowing the crowd.

At the end, the entire crowd was reluctent to leave, wishing that the rush would begin anew.

My friend and I made our way back to my house by JR and subway, talking over the details and special effects. We stopped at Sakae subway station to grab some icecream, food, and drinks to sooth our slightly hoarse throats and growling stomachs. We finnished up the night by talking until 3AM since she was spending the night at my house.

It was a truly fabulous day!     

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

School and Friends

Today was my first day of school. It was sooo much fun. I meet all of my classmates. Everyone of the girls I met, tried their best to include me in all of our classes and activities. I have so many friends here!

Today had a special schedule because it is the only the second day of the second term. Tomorrow, we are supposed have a normal schedule although I don`t really know what that means.  

In Gym class (Taiiku), we decided what events each of us will be competing in for the Sport`s day that we will have in three weeks. I signed up for four events. I know one of them is called "Taifu no Me" or "Typhoon`s Eye", but I don`t remember what it is. Actually, I don`t remember or know what I signed up despite a having a friend of mine translating for me. She was just as confused as I was and she speaks Japanese!

I sat through a Japanese class, but studied my own Japanese lesson at my desk. I was completely lost during Health class, but the girl sitting next to me pushed our desks together so I could try to follow along in the textbook.

English class was intresting enough. Most of it was in Japanese, but I tried taking the English exam that the students took yesterday. It was easy enough, except for a question concerning the usage of "Whoever" and "Whomever". There were multiple sections that I could not complete because the directions were in Japanese.... 

We had two homeroom periods today. We spent them working on decorations for our school festival. Each class room puts together an elaborate theme to show off our class to our parents and teachers. It`s great fun. My class has choosen the theme "Gambling". They were trying there best to explain it to me, but couldnt come up with the English words. I got the general idea and meerly said, "Ahhh Pachinko!". Everyone around me was estatic that I knew what Pachinko was. (Pachinko is a gambling game that has something to do with ball, tokens, and prizes. When I find out more I`ll write about it. It sounds like an interesting game.)

My classmates put me to work painting walls and cutting cardboard for the floor. Afterwards, I happily took the subway to Fujigaoka with a new friend and then boarded bus (the right one, surprisingly enough!) home with my hands stained yellow, paint splattered up my legs, and a smile plastered to my face.

I went for a run by the river to practise for the Sport`s day, ate a Thai dinner with my host parents, and then figured out my schedule for this weekend . The rest of the week will be quite exciting. I have two speeches, school, a Hana Bi masturi (fireworks festival), and it looks like I may be going to a concert as well. :)

Monday, September 3, 2012

School Daze

Today, was sorta (?) my first day of school. It wasn`t a full day. I met some of my teachers, my homeroom class, and did several speeches at the high school and junior high school assemblies. I only sat in on part of my homeroom class and all of the Senior`s Academic English class. English class was slightly embarrassing because I had to ask what "Intrinsically" meant. I still can`t believe how advanced the class is.

Tomorrow is my first full day of school. The day starts out with an hour long commute by bus, subway, and my own leg power. My first class is Gym (Taiiku) followed by a study hall. Then I have lunch :), another study hall, and then two home room periods. I have no idea what to expect or where each class is. I can`t remember the names of my teachers and some of my classmates. I walk around slightly dazed due to lack of sleep and confusion.

I don`t think this is my normal schedual. I know I have Chemistry (Kagaku) in the high school and cooking class and calligraphy at the junior high, but I have no idea when. Actually, I don`t even know what club I`ve joined or when it starts....     

Rotary also bought me my Taiiku Sefuku (Gym uniform) today. AND I`m now the proud owner of four new pairs of school shoes. I have outdoor shoes, indoor shoes, indoor gym shoes, and outdoor gym shoes (I think. I`m not sure about the outdoor gym shoes).

I`m slightly proud my student status. Not only an I an exchange student, I`m probably one of a few select students who is of university age, but attends high school AND junior high school. :)  

Friday, August 31, 2012


Last night, I got back from a three day trip to the ocean. Okaasan, an exchange student from New Zealand, and I traveled by train to the seaside town of Toba in the Ise Prefecture. The name, Toba,  means bird wing.

We stayed at a hotel in a tatami room and slept on futons. We went shopping in town and went swimming in the Pacific ocean. The water was a deep sea green and was really deep not far from shore. There were tons of fish swimming about. Some were large and grey, but others had beautiful yellow and black stripes. My friend and I layed out on a floating platform and watched them swimming around. There were a few pieces of garbage and some dead jellly fish floating about, but it was a wonderful beach.

On the last day, We took a bus to see Meoto-iwa or Wedded Rocks. These two rocks jutting out of the ocean are connected by a large, long rope draped between them. The larger of the two represents the husband, while the smaller one represents the wife.

We then took another bus to see the Ise Jingu Outer Shrine . It started pouring rain as soon as we got off the bus. We had to buy umbrellas, but still ended up rather wet. The Shrine was located on sprawling, wooded acerage. It was a long, wet walk down a wide gravel path in the rain. There was a large river, many creeks, manacure gardens and lots ferns. The cedar trees had impressive girths that would take at least five men with linked arms to match their circumferences. We made our way to the shrine, but could not go in because only monks can enter. I managed to slip in my flip flops on the rock stairs. I only fell a short ways, but my camera was in my hand. I`m afraid the poor device ended up in the water logged gravel with me sprawled on top of it. Somehow the camera managed to survive and still works perfectly. And if your wondering how I faired through the ordeal, I ended up with a slightly muddy leg, but that`s it.

We ate Curry and Rice before we took a taxi to the train station. I love riding the trains, but it was hard to stay awake during the two hour trip due to exhaustion.  

Monday, August 27, 2012


The toilets here never fail to confuse me. They are so complicated and high tech that they belong in a futuristic sci-fi movie.

When you sit down, it powers on automatically. Off to the right side, there is a control panel that looks almost like an arm rest. This panel contains brightly colored buttons that controls the bidets, the water pressure, seat temperature, water temperature, ect.  Japanese toilets can do almost everything imaginable. I found a toilet in a department store that made running water sounds when it detected use.

In public bathrooms, there is a long intricate poster/manual describing each toilet function and its button location on the control panel. Thankfully, there is a small portion of the manual written in English for Gaijins like me.  Without that English portion, I would be even more confused that I already am.

I still have not figured out how to use the Eastern style squat potty. I have stood there staring at one for quite some time, but I still don`t know which end is the front and which is the back.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

I`m in Japan!!!!

I am in Japan!!!! I`ve been here for six days already, but it feels like a month. I`ve been very busy registering my address with the government, applying for health insurance, and ordering my school uniform.

Last weekend, I had my first orientation. I met all the other inbounds from all of the world, the Japanese outbounds, and Rotex. Together, we traveled to a town called Inuyama. We went to an onsen (public bath house), an Inuyama Rotary Club meeting, hiked up to Inuyama castle, tried hawaiian dancing, set off fireworks, and went to Little World (a park dedicated to exhibits of houses and cultures from all around the world).

I have alread given my first speech to my host Rotary Club, Nagoya Osu RC. It seemed to go well. I have to do another speech on September 6th.

I am going to start school around September 3rd. I am supposed to give a short speech to the teachers and students. I have the cutest sailor uniform. It has a navy blue, pleated skirt that goes down to my knees and a light blue blouse. The necktie is sea green.

I am having abit of trouble sleeping due to jetlag. I can`t sleep past 3 or 4 AM. I walk around in a daze and have trouble remember things. Hopefully this will pass soon.

I have not been able to get my computer to connect my host parent`s internet. I am currently borrowing their computer. I will upload pictures as soon as I can get my computer online.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Guarantee Forms!

My Guarantee Forms finally came!!!!
Here's what I found out:
I am going to be living in Nagoya, Japan, Rotary District, 2760. It is a large city in the Aichi prefecture and it is sandwiched between the capitol city, Tokyo, and the large sea port of Osaka. In Nagoya, I will be living in the city limits. It will be very different from the American Midwestern countryside that I live in now. It will be interesting to be a city girl for a while.  

I have been told that I will be attending a girl's high school. It is supposed to be one of the best girl's schools in Nagoya. I finally found the school's website and with help from "Google Translate", did some interesting research. The high school is connected to a university and has a new, modern building. They also have numerous after school clubs, which I am very excited about joining. I think I saw the back of the school uniform in a picture. I think it will be sailor suit style with the cute bandanna around the neck.

I didn't have to contact my first host family. They contacted me first via email. I was so excited to hear from them. It has been several weeks since their first email, and they seem so kind and considerate. My host mom has told me a bit about their daily life and some of their hobbies. They have asked me to call them "Otousan" and "Okaasan" which is Japanese for "Father" and "Mother".

Otousan plays golf and a Japanese board game called "Igo". He has promised to teach me how to play it, but I'm not sure how well I will do since it is all about strategy (I can't play any game that requires strategy of any kind. It just doesn't happen.). Okaasan enjoys doing SUDOKU. She said by the time I leave I will be able to solve them. I'll try, but I'm not sure that is possible considering my skill with numbers.

I think this upcoming year will be an interesting and I will definitely learn a lot. I am getting more excited and terrified everyday. I have about two and a half weeks left in the USA. I can't believe it.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Time of Change is a Privilege

Senior year of high school always brings change. I knew it was coming and I thought I could prepare myself, but I was wrong.

At first, the changes were slow and easy to adapt to. These slow changes promised excitement and a new future. But now, it is as though these changes have met with a super charged catalyst. Large changes have come and major changes are still approaching. Thus far, I've learned there is no avoiding change. All one can try to do is endure and adapt.

I've moved my horse to a different barn, my mom retired, and I graduated from high school, all while I prepare to move to a different continent. I have one month to say goodbye to loved ones and friends, finish up projects, and begin packing.

 When life brings change, it has to pry my fingers off the past. Why give up what is comfortable now? However, one of my friend's posts on facebook brought everything into perspective. This quote will always stay with me-

""Do not regret growing older, it is a privilege denied to many". ~ Unknown

One thing is certain in life: time is a priviledge. For so many people, the future never came and their dreams and asperations were left incomplete. When I dwell upon this fact, the changes I face don't seen so difficult and overwhelming.   

But every morning, I wake up to the realization that everything I have ever known is coming to an end. I will move to another continent and when I come back, things and people will be different. I will be different. And then, shortly after, I will be moving to college.  I can't help but shutter at the changes, but at the same time I welcome them with open arms. Most people dream of traveling and studying abroad or going to college, but so many have lacked the opportunity or had these dreams brought to a sudden halt. I've been granted a rare privilege. A privilege that will affect the rest of my life.

The changes looming in the future have made me appreciate the things around me. I find myself trying to soak up the smell and taste of my mom's gourmet cooking, the fluffiness of my bed, the surrounding Indiana landscape, and the laughter my friends and I share.

I look forward to my time in Japan. I am excited to meet new people and learn a new way of life, but I am not rushing towards this change. I am taking my time, revaling in the present, absorbing every American sight, sound, and smell. As much as the future is a gift, so is the present. I will not take either for granted.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Acceptance Journey: Part 2

About two weeks after my interview, I received a phone call from my District Chairman late one evening.  I was informed that he had loved my interview and had decided that I needed to be boarding an airplane come August. He had done some rearranging and I officially received the status of a 'primary'.

This phone call will forever live in infamy as one of the most exciting events in my life. I managed to keep from squealing in delight, but failed miserably in keeping a mature, composed mannerism. I was scattered brained and breathless from all the excitement. After thanking the chairman, I hung up and bounded upstairs. I told my mom and older brother the news. After congratulatory hugs and exclamations of how amazing the turn of events was, we burst my unsuspecting/sleeping father's room. I received more hugs from my very groggy and slightly bewildered father, before I bounded back out of his room to let him continue his beauty sleep. Such news deserved a celebration with chocolate, so my mom, brother, and I broke out our 'hidden' stash and began our cocoa feast.

After this phone call, the waiting game began. Little did I know that my patience would become less than of a virtue and more of a necessity. I began to check my email every day waiting for news of my country assignment. There was no specific date on which I would receive it, only a vague time frame.

My daily email checks became an hourly occurrence. Soon, hourly examinations left too much time
in between and I began checking my email account every ten to twenty minutes. Sometimes, my obsessive investigations were even more frequent. Hope would flood through me each time I logged into my account to find a new email waiting, but disappointment aways hit hard when I discovered it was not "the" email. I was driving myself insane with the process of checking, rechecking, waiting, and then checking again for "the" email. 

"The" email finally came in December. Because I was visiting one of my best friends at her university, I had decided to put my obsessive email checking habit behind me for the weekend. That night, I went to sleep on the hard dormitory floor without checking my email once. I was terribly proud of over coming my addiction. However, the next morning I had a few spare minutes in which I commandeered my friends computer and gave in to my addiction once again. "The email" from my district chairman containing my country assignment was there waiting for me. I nervously read it, squealed, and then began hopping all around the dorm room. "I'm going to Japan!", I announced to my friends who then joined me in squealing and hopping. What a sight we must have been. To bystanders, we must have seemed like a passel of pigs imitating crickets due to all the hopping and squealing.

I had received my first country assignment choice. My dream was becoming a reality. The hard work my mom and I did filling out the application and preparing for the interview had paid off.  I was could not have been more estatic. Little did I know, more work and preparation was needed before my departure to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Acceptance Journey: Part 1

My acceptance into the Rotary Youth Exchange Program was a long and slightly unique journey. I grew up hearing exciting stories about my mom's exchange year in Japan. I had known for a long time that I wanted to be an exchange student, but never thought I'd get the chance since I didn't have a Rotary club in my county to sponsor me.

It all began in September of 2011 when I stumbled across the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. This scholarship program sends college students abroad to study in their field of interest. I was so excited reading the website that didn't realize it was for only for college students. I sent emails asking if it was to late for me to apply. Three days later, I was informed that it was only for college students.

Not long after that, I received an email from the District Chairman of my local Rotary district letting me know that you did not have to be sponsored by a Rotary club in your county and that I could apply to the Rotary Youth Exchange (RYE) program - despite the fact that the application deadline had already passed. I bounded up the stairs from my room in the basement, laptop in hand, while shouting, "Mom!" "Mom!".

My mom, who continuously talks about her exchange year, was just as excited as I was. The application was daunting from the first glance. But within minutes, I was printing the application out, making doctors appointments, and writing emails to find a sponsoring Rotary club. The most exciting part of the application was the list of forty prospective countries I could be assigned to. Under each country was a list of regulations that a student was required to meet in order to receive a placement in that country. (i.e. Dietary restrictions or language requirements). I had to preference each country in order of where I wanted to be placed.
After I filled out my country preference list, I was excited. I was too old for many of the countries, but I met all the requirements for my top two choices: Japan and South Korea, respectively. My other top countries were not the most popular choices, but for me, they were perfect. I could already see myself exploring exotic countries and learning difficult languages.

Two stressful weeks later, I was driving across the state to be interviewed by the District Chairman. The interview seemed to go extremely well. In one of the questions, I was asked if there were any countries I was not willing go to. I replied, "I will go anywhere you want to send me". I meant it.

Because I was late in applying, I walked out of the District Chairman's office as an 'alternate'. In the Rotary exchange program there are two positions a student can hold: 'primary' and 'alternate'. A primary is a student who is guaranteed a placement in a foreign country. An alternate is a student who will receive a placement in a foreign country if the primary is suddenly unable to go abroad or if there there is an extra position available. Even though I desired a guarantee that I would be sent aboard, I was content with being an alternate.

To be continued....

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The beginning

Hello! I'm Katie. I'm an eighteen year old high school senior. I'm very excited to be graduating this spring. One chapter of my life is closing and another chapter is beginning.

This new chapter began last November when I was accepted into the Rotary Youth Exchange program. This summer I will be moving to Nagoya, Japan to be a high school exchange student. I will live with several different host families during my year abroad while attending a Japanese high school.

I will be using this blog to update my family and friends back home about my adventures and daily life and to create a record of my time abroad. I also wish to inspire others to become exchange students