Thursday, May 11, 2006

**The Exchange Student Story**

I probably should have done this a year ago... or even after I had my interview but anyway I'm doing it now.

Why do I want to be an exchange student? Why do I want to leave the comfort of my home in America to serve abroad in a new and unfamiliar place? Why would I want to skip Junior year, one of the best years of high school, to be an exchange student? Why would I want to leave everything I know and love?

Wanderlust begins.

To be truthful I really don't know. It's not like I've wanted to do this forever or even since I was much younger. In fact, my mom thought I would never end up leaving her, especially during Middle School when I spent most nights sleeping on my parents floor. Maybe the best thing to say is I woke up one morning and said, "Hey I think I'll be an exchange student." 


But no, that's not right either.

Back in middle school, the best thing that could ever happen to me was travel. I traveled with the 
People to People Student Ambassadors to California for 2 weeks in 2002. I'm still surprised that my mother actually let me do it. I was pretty messed up back then and sending me away for two weeks without her was a huge risk. But it paid off in the end I came to the realization that there is life outside of my town and my state. And you know what -- I caught the travel bug. That trip ultimately made me who I am -- a traveler and a citizen of the world, riddled with a bad case of wanderlust.
New friends in Australia.

Then in 2004 I got lucky again and my parents agreed to send me to Australia with People to People- provided that I pay for half. And I was more than happy to pay for it. I was traveling again! The trip was even better than California. And this time I realized that there is so much more than my town, my state, and now my country. I really had the best time of my life and not a day goes by when I don't think about this trip. From snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, to falling asleep under the stars in the Outback, and feeling high class while touring the Sydney harbor. Life couldn't get much better.


So back to the original question. 


Beginning of freshman year, I got another People to People letter and realized that I didn't want to go on an another 3 week trip. I was ready for bigger and better things. I remembered my Mom talking about a friend of hers from high school that went to Sweden as an exchange student. I mentioned it to my mom and she sounded pretty supporting of the idea. But it was just an idea -- not an actual plan. Plus I honestly didn't believe I could handle being away from America for a year. Nevertheless, I looked into some programs, but didn't pursue anything.

And then came International Weekend. 

A bunch of Rotary Youth Exchange Students came to our school to hang out and it was really great! We hosted a French exchange student and I really got along great with her. When she left I ran down to the computer and filled out an initial interest form. It had begun.

So why do I want to be an exchange student? Again, I don't really know. I guess it's just that I love to travel and I wanna see everything in the world. But it's more than that. Much more.
Now for the story about how I really got Japan...

Okay so there is a story behind how, the whitest most-non Asian little American, ended up with Japan. After I contacted the local Rotary club and told them I wanted Belgium. They told me to wait 6 months. So in July I got tired of waiting and looked in to AFS, but decided Rotary was still a better for me. Anyway I still had the idea to go to Belgium when I stumbled across a web site that told me I couldn't go to Belgium because I was too young. So I spent the entire months of July/ August/ September/ October contemplating where I should go and then I settled on Austria. I have always wanted to learn German and skiing the Alps is a total turn on. But even then I really wasn't sure if that was the right place for me and I left open the option for other places. 

In November, I had settled on somewhere in Europe. Europe seemed nice and safe and perfect for me. My parents thought France would be interesting, however I'm too conservative to go to a place like France. Then I realized maybe Europe wasn't the place for me. At the interview I walked in with my head held high and still no decision made. When the lady handed me a country sheet it took me a few minutes to realize that I had to put something down. So I wrote down Austria as first choice. South Africa as second choice. 

And Japan as third choice. 

My theory behind this arrangement was wherever I was going it would be different from the other choices. Plus I just wanted to be an exchange student I didn't care where I was going. My Youth Exchange Officer told me Austria was a no- no and South Africa was definitely going to be it. Okay so I was going to Africa... awesome. In January, still thinking I was going to Africa, my former exchange student Ale from Argentina came up to me and said "If you promise not to tell I'll tell you where you are going" So I said sure and she said Japan. So that's the look boring story about how I Julie got Japan.

And you know what I wouldn't change it for the world.

Matsuyama

Well remember when I posted I was going to Kochi? Well I lied sorry everyone I'm going to Matsuyama! Unfortunately this probably means I won't be going to Yurie's school and I'll be very far from where she lives but that is okay. The website for the city is: http://www.city.matsuyama.ehime.jp/eng/frame.html It looks pretty nice and I'm sure I'll have a good time.
An Update on my Japanese Skills: Well there is nothing to update actually although I think I have steadily gotten worse because I haven't had any time to practice. Oh well!
Until next time! Sinara!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Orientation Yay!

Hey long time no post... not that anyone is reading this which is okay...for now.
So this Outbound just went for her first Orientation at Madison YMCA with Rotary International! yay!
Friday April 28: When we arrived, like an hour early, we went up to this big spacious YMCA room. It was pretty good and then we sat and waited for like a hour while more Outbounds arrived slowly. They went off Insurance and Travek arrangements and a little bit about Rotary International, which is actually a pretty cool program. A Rotex lady who went to Brazil in the 80's talked and stuff and Mr. Krisanda talked alot. Then the Rentz left us and we had to do some Ice Breakers. I sat with named Ariel, who I learned was going to Taiwan for next year, which is pretty awesome. We had to write down some problems we might face so we chose the typical textbook answers, languages, not fitting in, bad host family. All the groups did the same. After that we had Ice Cream Sundaes and I stood alone for awhile because I didn't know anyone. But I ended up talking to Brit, a Rotex student that went to France the year prior. She was in the French Alps...10 minutes from Chamonix. We talked about exchange and then I went over to talk to Rachel, who I had met at Yuries party, she was in France two years ago. She introduced me to some of the other Montclair exchange students, Ben to unknown, and Sarah to Argentina. I also talked to Daniel to India, Molly to Italy, short term. Then we ate pizza... thus began a weekend of nothing but food. Brit and Rachel representing Rotex came and spoke about what it really is like. It was pretty informative even though I'm not going to France. Also Aleksandra of Serbia spoke to us about living in America. And a Rotarian named Camper came and talked to us about his many many many travels and culture shock and how he met a conductor named Mr. Sony... better known as the President of Sony electronics. Haha it was so funny. After we got some free time so we set up sleeping bags in the gym rooms on hardwood floor which was very uncomfortable...ah well. I met up with Lauren, shirt term to France, Melody to France, Meghan to France, Lindsey to France, Julianna to Germany (yay not France..haha) and we played Volleyball. After free time we went up to bed. Everyone fell asleep pretty quickly except for me... yeah I didn't sleep at all.

Saturday: Got up and ran to the shower and saw some creepy 90 year old lady dance around naked... then we had breakfast BAGELS!= the all American breakfast and one thing I'm really really going to miss. We then had more orientation where we were taught about Goals that we need to set. My major goals for the exchange are: Learn Japanese, Make friends, learn kendo, see Kyoto. Another girl Named Julia going to Argentina joined us at this point. Then Mr. Krisanda showed us a movie about abuse and harassment... well it was pretty bad but it is nice to know how much support we have with Rotary. Then YAY! we got to meet up with the exchange students! Judi and Yurie and Ale all came together and it was so great to see them. Also Kasia of Poland, Marie of France, and Thomas of Germany were there. We split up, the exchange students went down stairs to talk about the next district conference and we sat around and listened first to Kasia talk about Poland and the Judi talk about Germany. "Ello Im Judi from Jamany" It was a cute little presentation and Judis town is beautiful. I hope one day I will get to visit her there. We then went to lunch and had subs outside of the YMCA. They were really good and I sat with Yurie, Meghan, Melody, Ben, Julia, and Daniel. The reason I mention who I sat with is because of what we talked about. Julia mentioned that she wasn't wuite sure she would end up going... the orientation was going to be her deciding factor. We all kind of attacked her and she revealed she was most definitely going to Argentina. And then we talked about how lucky we were. But seriously we are lucky. We get to go abroad and experience another culture and show the world the truth about Americans. And from what I've heard this experience changes your life and everyone around you. We are lucky and there is no doubt about that. After lunch we had Rotary Jeopardy. Pretty comical actually. We split into 3 teams and they asked questions. I did amazing on the flags... I actually knew every single flag. My team with me, Melody, Julia, Ale, Thoma, and a couple others got 2nd place. We then watched the worst movie in the entire world: Who Moved My Cheese? I think the title is self explanatory. But I gotta admit it is something we are going to joke about. After we had a little cultural awareness class. It was really interesting to see what the world percieves Americans as. Pop culture really does askew the American image. And Judi mentioned the question posed on her at International Weekend and Camper agreed that exchange students should keep quiet. He also said that as an exchange student you represent America and although you may not agree with it, you should defend your government because it is part of your country. I think that is a great point. Then we talked about toilet mishaps...haha. Did you know that many Japanese toilet seats are heated and there is a good chance that they will have radios on the side. Yes. Ariel to Taiwan is going to have squat toilets and i'm going to have a warm butt. hahahahahaha
They then split us up into groups on where we were going. Japan/Argentina/India/Taiwan/Brazil , Germany/Poland, France/Italy
I of course was in the Asia/S. America crew. We couldn't think of anything and then we came up with 3 skits. But they were short so we had to made them longer. Eventually we had to go down to dinner where we had a great spagetti meal. Yurie and I sat with the French Rotex girls and they discussed exchange. After dinner we did our skits.
Germany/Poland: They danced to YMCA with bananas while Thomas walked with a fruit crate and ate a banana.
France/Italy: Exchange telephone
My Group (Asia/South America): Me,Ale, Daniel did this supermarket skit where daniel was buying cheese to spite that damn awful video. It was soooo funny
Yurie and 2 others did a crazy host family skit
Sarah, Ariel, and Georgia Brown (Rotary lady) did an awesome skit about the perks of knowing rotary in an airport... the skits were a hit. We had an awesome time. We then got to have alot of free time and I went to swim and play air hockey. I hung out with Ale and Yurie most of the time. When we finally went to bed no one else wanted and they talked all night and kept me up.

Sunday: We woke up super early and packed. Breakfast consisted of bagels and fruit. Aleksandra talked to the inbounds about reverse culture shock and how everything will have changed. Camper then took us in another room and asked up to write our fears and goals on a block of wood. Then he told us to break it. Yeah if you are thinking what I was thinking you must have been thinking "no way in hell!" I tried to escape- I cried bathroom. I even write under Fears: Break this piece of wood. It just made it worse. Camper saw how scared I was an called on me. He made me the example. He practiced with me and showed me how to chop and I kept screwing up. He finally told me that I just had to hit the wood and it he would pull it back so it wouldn't break. liar. I Broke the wood anyway! Haha. I was so happy. If I could do it anyone could do it.
Unfortunetly the weekend was officially over after that. Parents kept picking there kids up and it was kind of sad to see very one go.

But now I'm really excited for June 11 at the next and last orientation before departure