|I have been very lucky to try on many|
kinds of kimono this year! This kind is
called a furisode.
So, to wrap things up, let me treat you to my kansou (remember this? If you don`t, refer to my previous entry).
Things that have been awesome/unforgettable:
(There`s a lot I could list, but let`s try to keep this post under control)
1. My host families.
This has been my number one factor in making this experience so great. I`ve had three awesome families in the Tokyo (now I`m living with my last one in Yokohama), one in Nagoya, and two in South Korea. All of them have been different, all of them have been amazing. Getting to make that real, person-to-person connection is so crucial to understanding a different culture. Because of it, you can see the commonalities, and demystify the differences. It also helps language skills improve by leaps and bounds. Thinking back to my Japanese skills before I came...and seeing where I am now, it`s incredibly different. Immersion truly is the most natural method to acquiring language! I want to express my deepest thanks to my host families for welcoming me into their homes, showing me different aspects of Japanese/South Korean daily life, and becoming true family members of mine!!
|Final MFP for our group of interns|
This year, not only have I made many wonderful Japanese friends, but also with people from lots of different countries (Taiwan, South Korea, Mexico, France, Thailand, China...to name a few)! Because of them, my perspective has broadened as I reflect on my own culture and experiences in Japan. Furthermore, I`ve been able to connect with friends from the U.S. who are either living in Japan or visiting! While goodbyes are hard, I feel all the more richer knowing that I have people I care about all across the globe.
3. The food
|Cooking class with Meaw (Thailand) and Yeppi (S. Korea)|
4. The camps/visits to other areas
Hippo has sent me to all sorts of places this year, Snow Camp and Nature Camp in Nagano, Nagoya, South Korea...as well as all sorts of camps around Tokyo. Recently, I went to English Camp for Hippo high school students heading to the U.S. to study abroad for 10 months. There I gave daily lectures, instructed games, and generally helped out. What a week! Before going, I was worried I`d be really tired and, I admit, bored. Let me tell you, that was the exact opposite of what happened! Okay, yes, I was pretty exhausted by the time it was done, but I also felt so accomplished and revitalized. The teens? AWESOME! The alumni who were also volunteering at the camp? AWESOME! The activities? SO DARN AWESOME!!! Working with these teens, giving presentations, playing skill-building games...it truly reminded me of my passion for exchange programs, and why I want to continue this sort of work in the future. I want to thank Hippo for giving me this chance to really light an inner fire and get pumped for the future!
Things that have been tough, but made me stronger:
|My little host sister, we went camping|
as a family
1. A lack of wide, green space.
Now, in actuality, Tokyo incorporates a lot of green space very cleverly. Parks, gardens, rooftop greenery...for a mega-city, they do an excellent job. It`s just that I am from a small, Wisconsin town that has a ton of wide, easily-accessible nature. Even my university`s city, Madison, WI, is built around two lakes, and is just a skip and a jump away from countryside. Here, I have to work to become "surrounded" by nature. While I have sometimes looked at the cityscape and longed for trees, I have become all the more appreciative of the times I get to experience Japanese nature! There are a lot of beautiful spots here, and I hope I can find even more in the future.
2. Dealing with bad news from the U.S. from far away.
I think that we feel the same way every year: "things are so awful this year, we`ve never had anything like it!" Shootings, racism, police/civilian conflicts, intolerance...presidential elections (cough cough)...it`s really awful, scary stuff. The fact is...terrible crap happens everywhere, all the time. Also...GOOD stuff happens everywhere, all the time. And it`s really hard to pick out the latter when you are looking at the situation from a distance. I`ve had some moments when I felt very doom-and-gloomy about the state of the U.S. However, while it is SO important to recognize the bad, and strive to change it, it is also necessary to realize that`s not the whole picture. Growing up, moving out of our comfort zones...it exposes us to the messy reality of life. But that cannot stop us from moving forward, and striving towards making the world a better place. AND, it should not stop us from enjoying the good things in life! I think I have been able to realize this lesson better this year, and while I still sometimes fall into that gloomy pit, I can pull my self back out, enjoy the now, and look towards the future with hope.
3. A lack of good cheese
|In the mountains, near Nagoya|
So...finally, did I achieve my goals? Writing down one`s goals is something that has been ingrained in me from 4-H, and is one of the pieces of advice I always pass on to youth going on international exchanges. In my planner, I have a page dedicated to my list of goals. I`ll try not to throw too much at you, but here are a few:
- Understand the "exchange student perspective," by putting myself in a similar scenario.
- Demystify Japanese culture and appreciate the "human connection."
- Speak Japanese naturally and comfortably.
- Gain new friends and family.
|Sakura blossoms back in March|
How have I done? Well, I think I can say that I have been successful in achieving all of them! This year has pushed me in ways I would never expect, and because of that, I have grown all the more!
Finally, I would like to say thanks to staff and members of LEX/Hippo Family Club in Tokyo, Nagoya, Seoul, Daegu and Boston, all my wonderful host families, WI 4-H International Programs, my friends from all around the world, and last, but certainly not least, my natural American family. Thank you for all your support, patience, and love. I wouldn`t be where I am today without it.