rotary youth exchange

3

Then came our day trip to Venice, where the price tags on everything from t-shirts to food/wine (mostly food/wine) mocked our shockingly apparent lack of money. Venice was absolutely gorgeous and the canal filled streets certainly lived up to the hype everyone has heard above. Unfortunately, such beauty comes with a price, and prices are something broke exchange students don’t cope so well with. So with empty stomachs and tired eyes, we tried to enjoy Venice as best as we could (a lot of dancing kept us energized. ps we had a dance battle with a group from Switzerland and the police shut us down, but hey we won the dance battle so) 

Dear baby exchange students,

Yeah you, the ones who are so excited to fly away in just a few months or weeks. Take a deep breath, this is really exciting - I know! Here’s a few tips from a girl who is not ready to leave her host country, hopefully they are a bit different from the “don’t hide in your room” tips you always hear:

1. Take photos. Of everything. A good meal, your friends, a dog you see on the street. Do not be embarrassed to take selfies in front of random things. The locals won’t get it, but they don’t have to.

2. Eat the scary thing. It might be nasty, it might be amazing - either way you have a story.

3. Don’t take a single moment de granted. Because one day you won’t see that view of the town on your long, rainy walk home. You will miss it.

4. Exchange weight is whatever. Eat all the things. Eat Japanese sweets and Italian pasta with your friends until your stomach hurts from good food and laughing.

5. A good way to make friends is just tagging along. My best friends here, I made by pretty much following them around for weeks until I became a part of the friend-clique. It works!

6. Take a deep breath. Some days, everything will suck. Remember how lucky you are to explore the world.

7. Go to school. But also skip class. Be lagom, as the Swedes say. It doesn’t translate to English properly, but it means not too much, not too little - just right.

8. Remember that you go through 5 years worth of growth in exchange. That comes with five years of emotions in one year. Feel these intense feelings, and roll with them. Let them come. It will make you better.

Good luck, my little exchangers! You’ve got the world ahead of you - go take it all in!

The Secrets of Exchange

Exchange is strange because you live two lives. Not just in the sense of where you came from and where you are now, but something more than that. You have the life you show on Facebook and the wicked pictures you post on Instagram and the fun, PG outings you write about in your blog, but what nobody knows until they get there is what’s beneath that surface. No one back home hears about when you sat in the bathroom and cried on the first day of school because your classmates just blankly stared at you when you walked into the classroom. Nobody knows about the times when your host mom washes your laundry and it takes a week to dry. No one hears about the times when you cry when you wake up and count the days until you’re back home. Nobody hears about the silent dinners with your host family when they aren’t up for talking. No one hears about the times you’re yelled at for things that you can’t even control. No one knows about the nights when your host dad texts you at 11:30, telling you it’s time to come home. See, people don’t hear about each and every strand of hair you have to remove from the drain every time you finish taking a shower, in an attempt to not annoy your host family. Nobody hears about the hours spent studying the language. Nobody hears about the shitty feeling you get when you realize that you were probably only invited to this party because you’re foreign and the boys want to get you drunk. Exchange is hard, and this is what nobody realizes. Exchange is dry skin, terrible breakouts, brittle nails and hair that falls out. Exchange is not always fitting in. Exchange is inevitably feeling pathetic sometimes.

But that’s where the magic lies. This is the reason why we grow. If we weren’t pushed to our emotional limits, we wouldn’t become completely different people. Exchange makes you sympathetic, tolerant, adaptable, more chilled out. The bad things make the good things that much sweeter. Exchange life is life to the utmost extreme, and once you’ve lived it, you’ll never be the same again.

Exchange is learning to deal.

Exchange is gaining grace.

Ugh

Stop asking me when I’m leaving
Stop asking me if I’ll get credit for school
Stop asking me if I’m nervous or excited
Stop asking me if I’ll be homesick
Stop telling me I’m brave
Stop asking where in my host country I’m going… You don’t know of my obscure town
Stop telling me things people do in my host country
Stop telling me about your trip there that one time
Stop assuming I’m not doing any work there
Stop assuming I’ll be a tourist
Stop asking why I’m doing this
Stop assuming I’ll go to an English-speaking school
Stop assuming my parents are rich
Stop assuming I’m not getting my own paperwork in order
Stop asking what will happen when I get back
Stop trying to tell me what I should bring, do, or send home
Stop assuming my host family are creepy
Stop thinking my parents are insane for letting this happen
Stop saying you can’t wait to see me at Christmas… I’m not allowed to come back for some sort of holiday?
Stop asking if my family will come visit
Stop asking if I speak the language

My Daily Thoughts As A Future Exchange Student
  • Me: Holy shit I'm going to another country for a year
  • Me: What will it be like meeting my host family...
  • Me: Oh my gosh what if my host family doesn't like me?!
  • Me: *brushing teeth* *squeals* *jumps up and down* OMG IM GOING TO ANOTHER COUNTRY FOR A YEAR, I'M SO EXCITED, YAY
  • Me: What the heck did I do, I'm leaving for a year.. Oh my gosh *initiate all the what if questions*
  • Me: What will school be like... *nervous/ excited emotions flow through*
  • Me: What will the language barrier be like? How will we communicate? Oh my gosh
  • Me: *giggles randomly out of the blue at least once every hour* HAHAA OH MY GOSH A NEW CULTURE, LANGUAGE, COUNTRY, FOOD, WAY OF LIFE.. AH SO EXCITING
  • Me: I can't wait for the challenge 👊💥 one I've never experienced before. Bring it on.
Hey you behind the screen! I have a few tips for you!

So I just met with an early return from Germany who was kind enough to answer some of my many questions. Here is some of the information she gave me about life as an exchange student, particularly as someone from the U.S.A. in Germany.

Money:
Plan on spending around €200 per month. Her allowance was €80 per month, and mine will be €75 a month. Budget accordingly. Transportation costs add up fast. Do your research and get a student card if possible to save on fares. German teens also tend to get out of school for the day earlier than their American counterparts. This can lead to frequent (and costly) trips to local cafes and ice cream parlors.

Packing:
One big suitcase, a rolling carry on, and a backpack worked well for her. Wear your heaviest shoes on the plane. Shoes are one of the worst things to over-pack. Note: Germans don’t wear flip flops as often as Americans do. They’re nice for the pool, but walking around in them all day on cobblestone streets causes serious pain. Scarves are more popular in Germany. It’s also generally cooler outside than the U.S. (besides Alaska).

The Trip and Customs:
Most exchange students to Germany have a layover or two. Customs are no big deal and there’s no reason to lie.

Host Family Conflict:
If you have a serious conflict with your host family, talk to your organization! Don’t downplay anything. This is YOUR exchange!

Friends: 
Be friendly. Germans tend to be more reserved. The returnee stressed that when they are drunk, they tend to act like they know you very well, but the next day you’ll still be acquaintances. Don’t think they dislike you if they go from your best friend while drunk to an acquaintance when sober. The reality is, they probably do want to be friends, but being upfront is just not part of their culture.

Unsaid Expectations and Norms:
Germans may seem to be much like people from the U.S., but the returnee reminded me they are not. They still have their own expectations that aren’t necessarily voiced. 

  • For example, at home, most Germans expect you to keep doors closed. They believe it is orderly. They’ll even keep the bathroom door closed all the time! Just because Germans have their doors closed does not mean they are avoiding you. 
  • If you’re at a restaurant and order “Wasser,” literally translated to “water,” you will receive mineral water, and it will probably be room temperature. If you want tap water (water from a sink), specify. German tap water is safe to drink, but for some reason Germans normally drink mineral water. If you would like to order tap water, the word for it is “Leitungswasser.” The word for cold is “kalt.” Milk is also sometimes served warm. 
  • Beware: Refills are never free in Germany. 
  • Don’t wish a German happy birthday before their actual birthday. It’s bad luck and they will totally die before their actual b-day. 
  • Older Germans in particular will glare at you if you open a window on a train or otherwise allow a breeze in. It supposedly causes colds. 
  • Places like Walgreens do not exist. You can buy toiletries from a “Drogerie,” but prescription medicines must be bought from an “Apotheke.”
  • If you’re from the United States, don’t be surprised if people sit down next to you on a bus or other public place. People from the States tend to think they need more personal space than people of other nationalities.
  • Also for people from the U.S.: small talk is unnecessary. You’re probably talking too loud for everyone else’s liking, too.
  • Getting your driver’s license as soon as you’re of age is not as common as in the U.S. German teens must be 18 to drive, and they must undergo a rigorous driver’s education course and a fairly difficult written exam, in addition to an in-car exam. Not to mention, for a German to finally get their license, it often costs  €2,500-€3,000!
My First Day of Japanese High School!

9/1/15

{Warning- this is an extremely long post. I apologize for the giant text wall!}

Today was my first day of school here in Japan! Well, almost first day- today I was just there for a few hours to take a tour and give my self introduction. But I still count it as my first day because I am now officially a student of Fujimigaoka.

I woke up at 5:30 (which is the same time I woke up in America) and went upstairs to eat breakfast. After eating I went to get ready. Right now all the students are still wearing their summer uniforms. I will make a video all about my uniforms, but I don’t have everything yet so I will wait until I have all the pieces to make the video. The belt was too big for me, so I didn’t wear that. In the summer you can either wear long-sleeve or short-sleeve blouses, so I chose the short-sleeve one for today (Japan is so humid!). On top of the shirt is the sweater vest, and although it’s cute I don’t understand why it’s necessary in summer! Everything seemed to fit, but the vest was a little baggy around the arms- at the fitting they kept giving me bigger sizes even though I told them that the medium was fine. But the story about my uniform fitting is for another time (^ u ^)

At around 9:10, my host mom and I left the house; but first we took some pictures. I look so awkward (> u <) Of course on my first day it happened to be raining- only lightly, but I was hoping for some sun. Just as we stepped out of the house and onto the sidewalk, my host Rotary counselor pulled up in his car. Even though the train station is only a three minute walk, he offered to drive us there; we were all going to meet up at the station anyways, so we thought that we might as well go together. At the station my host mom charged one of the older train cards my host family had so I didn’t have to buy a ticket every time. This is what the card looks like (it’s a popular train pass brand here):

As you can see, mine’s a little beat up! Oh well, it still works and that’s all that really matters. Tokyo train stations are so busy and crowded, especially in the morning rush. The previous night my host dad explained to me my train route to school. I have to take two trains, but the entire journey only takes about ten minutes. The maps of the train lines are a little confusing, even though all of the stations and routes have the names printed in English. I guess it’s difficult because there are just so many train lines. At the station I also met my counselor’s assistant- she is such a sweet lady. Everyone was commenting how cute I looked in my uniform (I disagree- I don’t think it looks good on me!). The route to my school is so confusing, even my counselors and host mom struggled a bit to navigate the stations. But somehow we finally made it to the right area. From the last station it’s about a five minute walk to my school. My host mom held the umbrella over me so I could film the walk there (I filmed it not only for YouTube but for me to watch it and memorize the route). Everyone here has been so supportive of my YouTube channel- I’m so happy!

When we entered the school, one of the ladies at the desk showed us the cubby slots to place our shoes in. We had to change into these really attractive (can you feel my sarcasm?) indoor slippers which had the school name printed on them. The front mat had the school crest on it (almost everything at Fujimigaoka seems to have the school crest!).

We were all led into a conference room, and in a few minutes the school principle and vice principle came in to go over the basic formalities. They had my Rotary application and proceeded to ask me questions about myself. Some of the questions I could have answered in Japanese, but I was so nervous that my mind blanked and English came out of my mouth before I could stop myself. The principle asked me what I like to do, what my parents do, and if I knew Japanese. When I said my mom is a doctor, he looked stunned. He said I come from a very respectable family. I told them I’ve been studying for six years, and took one Japanese course at school; he almost rolled off his chair in surprise. They told me that I didn’t have to worry about the self-intro speech, and that I could do it in English or a mix of Japanese in English. I surprised everyone, including my counselors, when I said that I was going to do the entire thing in Japanese. The principles said they looked forward to hearing it, and then they took their leave to prepare for the opening ceremony. My counselor asked me if I wrote my speech in romaji (Japanese wrtitten with the english alphabet), and my host mom stepped in and said it was all in Kana and Kanji. I passed them my notebook, and my counselor’s jaw hit the table.

I was getting a little more nervous as I heard the all the chatter of the other students on their way to the auditorium. Soon I would be in that auditorium, in front of everyone, giving my speech. Everyone kept telling me to relax, and I did my best but I was still on edge. When one of the teachers came to escort us to the auditorium, I almost tripped because my feet were unsteady. This was going to be the largest crowd I have ever spoken in front of. The building itself is huge, and it’s six stories high- I barely saw even a quarter of the entire campus. I had seen pictures of the auditorium online, but it was even bigger in person. The bleachers were almost entirely filled; all of the girls were chatting and sharing stories of what they did over the summer. Many of them noticed me standing awkwardly in the doorway. I sat down off to the side with my host mom and counselors; my moment was approaching quickly. But first the principle said his opening words. After him, the two new English language teachers from the UK gave their self introductions. It didn’t sound like they knew Japanese that well; my host mom leaned over and said my speech was much more advanced.

One of the teachers is from London, and the other is from Scotland. They both seem really nice and energetic- I hope I get to meet them in person later. The Scottish teacher had spent a year of university in New York, so maybe I can ask him about that later. They both went through powerpoint presentations about themselves, and the students seemed pretty enthusiastic about it. Finally, after all of that was done it was finally my turn. I gave my camera to my host mom so she could film, and I waited to go up on stage while the principle introduced me. He said a little about me, and the second he mentioned I was from America I heard a squeal from the girls. But the the thing that surprised me the most was the reaction I got when he mentioned my mom is a doctor. There was a loud gasp of awe from the entire auditorium- I think being a doctor is a pretty big deal here in Japan. I was ushered onto the stage and told to go to the podium. Because the indoor slippers had no grip, my sock-covered feet kept sliding out of them, so I had to concentrate really hard on not losing a slipper as I made my way up the stage stairs.

The lights felt way too bright, but as I looked out at the crowd, everyone looked really friendly and eager to hear what I had to say. I took a deep breath and began. There were a few parts I stumbled over, but the crowd was hanging onto my every word. When I said my Japanese isn’t very good, everyone started making sounds of disagreement. I think they thought I was joking, because there was a little laughter too. There was a huge roar of applause when I finished, but when the principle mentioned that I would be studying here for a year one group in the crowd started clapping and bouncing in their seats- they looked really excited and happy that I am going to stay for so long. I bowed to everyone and returned to my seat. Everyone congratulated me on my speech, and I left the auditorium feeling a little lighter. But I wasn’t done quite yet. Later I would go to my class and make another self-intro speech.

We went back to the same meeting room to leave our things, and then I went with the teacher, my host mom, and my counselor’s assistant to a room where I would be fitted for my gym uniforms. There are so many pieces to a Japanese school uniform; I have so much Fujimigaoka merchandise now! I had to change into the uniforms to try them on. Again, no one believes me when I said I needed a size medium, and they gave all larges. But once I emerged from the dressing room looking like an oompa-loompa in the oversized clothes they immediately gave me the right sizes. I have a summer and winter gym uniform, and a separate gym skirt for dance class. Ugh, I hate gym class because I am terrible at sports. Back in America I wouldn’t have to take gym anymore, but it looks like I will never escape PE! I also got fitted for my cleaning apron- in Japan the children clean the schools; there are no janitors. Finally I was allowed to change back into my regular uniform. I hope we have a lot of time to change, because it takes forever to button and unbutton my shirt!

After I changed back we went to my classroom. The room itself is pretty small. All of my classmates were there, and they started squealing as soon as I came in. I gave a very short introduction, because they just heard my long one, and then I said goodbye (I won’t be going to school again until Monday, September 7th- that will be my first full day). In the next class over, there is a girl who will be coming with me on the train every day and helping me out for the first few months. I am so grateful for that- she is so nice! I hope we become good friends. For the next hour or so we were talking with my teacher in the meeting room. My host mom and counselor were asking different question, and because it was all in really fast Japanese I kind of zoned out. I know I should have been more attentive, but I was exhausted and I felt a headache coming on. I knew my host mom would explain everything to me later. I also got my school schedule- I will explain it in another post once my classes are finalized. I was asked what clubs I want to join, and I said calligraphy, flower arranging, or tea ceremony. Because I said I like art, sensei (teacher) asked me to help paint things for the upcoming school festival.

Finally around 1:00 PM we were ready to return home. I bid my teachers farewell, and my host mom and I started our journey back. My host mom got me a nice new train card, and she said we have to find a cute train card pouch for me to keep it in.

 On the way we stopped at the store and picked up some bento meals for lunch; I chose オムライス (omuraisu- omelette rice). Its an omelette on top of a bed of rice with sauce drizzled on it. It is so yummy!

We got home around 1:30 PM, I ate, and I fell asleep on the couch. It was a long, tiring day- but it was a great first day of school. I’m excited to see how the rest of the year goes!

(Video of my first day will be posted soon!)

School Bags

I asked some of the other exchange students in Japan if their school required them to carry certain bags to school. It seems like most private schools have this sort of policy, while most public schools don’t. In any case, I go to a private school, and I have two bags that were given to me to use as my school bags.

Most people carry both bags (like I do), but some people only carry the black one, and a handful of people actually carry more!

My first bag is my backpack. It has removable straps that you can use to make it either strapless, a shoulder bag, or a backpack. Most students either wear it as a backpack, or carry it by the handle at the top without straps. I’ve only ever seen one person use it as a shoulder bag.

The inside of it looks like this:

There is a small pocket on the bag flap that a lot of girls use to put in pictures of their crush, or a small schedule. I have my business card inside:

Here are the contents of my bag:

Notebooks

Textbooks and workbooks

A folder. Japanese folders are different in that they only have one pocket. If I don’t put the folder in my bag with the spine facing down, all of the papers fall out of it.

A photo alum and the copy of my magazine. These are actually really useful because I can show people where I come from without using words.

My second bag:

Since the first bag isn’t all that good for carrying oddly-shaped things, most girls use this bag to carry anything that’s not books or notebooks. I have to carry a little bit more since, unlike my classmates, I have to move from classroom to classroom rather frequently.

This bag is carried on the shoulder with the bag under your armpit. Most girls carry it on their right shoulders, but I found that to be uncomfortable, so I carry it on my left. Since I’ve come here, most of the second years have switched to carrying it on their left shoulders as well.

The school initials.

A little personalization ;)

This holds my train pass. I really want to get one of my own (this is my host sister’s), but they are really expensive! Even small, barely decorated ones are about 1000 yen. One like this would be about 1500 yen.

Swiggity swag, what’s in the bag?

Miscellaneous purse-type stuff!

More books!

More folders!

My regular schedule.

If we have school on Saturday (which I do next week DX), then we get one of these schedules too.

A notebook, my Beauty and the Beast script, and two small notepads.

My new pencil case, which contains all of that stuff on the bottom. Including this:

My name badge! It says “Jeido.”


In a not so bag-related topic, I was using this as my bookmark:

It looks totally fine right? I got it out of a pack of tissues at he train station. Before I got it, I was using a tissue. Surely it was an improvement to that.

But then I started getting weird looks every time I used it. My host brother saw it and said “you’re using this as a book mark?” He seemed to think that it was hilarious. He then explained to me that it’s a list of suicide-prevention hotlines, and I had been using it as a bookmark.

Well, at least it wasn’t a sex hotline. *shrug* XD 

Either way, I bought a new bookmark today that shouldn’t be quite so questionable:

Well, that’s it for now! I think that I’ll make a uniform post soon, once I’ve gotten everything out of the wash.