Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dear Rotary

Dear Rotary District 7470,

I hope this letter will find it’s way into the right hands.

On August 13th, 2012, I will ‘celebrate’ 5 years since I returned from the best year of my life in the Far East Asian nation of Japan. July 2nd will mark 3 years since I returned from a year in France, where I truly grew up and became the person I am today. My name is Julie, and I was a Rotary Youth Exchange student from District 7470.

Most of you might not know or remember me. Those of you that do know me might remember as Julie in Japanland, a 15 year-old kid with an insatiable curiosity and head-over-heels adoration for Japan. Or perhaps, you might remember my tales of France, with a fantastic host family and the ability to travel all over Europe. I was a Yo-Yo, a term commonly used to describe students who have gone on two exchanges.

Not a day has gone by that I am not thinking about my experience. To illustrate this, I need to tell you that I am writing this letter when I should be making lesson plans for class tomorrow. I am currently student teaching at a High School in South Carolina, and loving every moment of it. Besides the fact that I am currently teaching East Asia, and am infusing all my experience of Japan into the lessons, I must also inform you that this career path is a direct result of my exchange in Japan. My Japanese High School gave me several classes a week to teach English to middle school students. I fell in love with teaching in Japan, and have never looked back.

Perhaps you are surprised that I am writing to you today. But I wanted to take the opportunity to let you all know, just how much these experiences have meant to me. I cannot imagine where I would be at this date and time without Japan and France, Rotary, my host parents, and the things I have learned. You should also know, how thankful I am that you all gave me a chance. I was 15 years old, much younger than the typical exchange student. Perhaps I did a good job at hiding it, but I was also emotionally broken. My home life was certainly less than perfect at that time. For me, even though I had wanted to live abroad most of my life, the fact that a year abroad was an escape certainly helped.

My year in Japan, with 3 fantastic host families and the best friends I could have asked for, taught me that it was okay to be loved and to love in return. And I thank you all again for giving me the second opportunity to travel abroad as an exchange student, as I realize now I was not done growing up. In France, I learned about family. My host family, the R's, all but adopted me. I also learned the importance of being confident in myself and to trust other people. These life lessons have molded me into the person I am today, 21 years old, a successful junior at Clemson University in South Carolina. I cannot even begin to describe how thankful I am for all of this.

Throughout the years and travels, I have come to know that family is relative. When I think about the people I love, I think about my host mother, L R, who became my mother. Or I think about Naoko M., my older sister, who would take ever opportunity to make fun of me, give me fashion tips, and serve as the older sister I never had. I think about my friends; the ones that welcomed me home from France, the ones that said goodbye on the other side. When I think about family, I think about my Dad and younger sister, as well as 3 families in Japan, and one family in France. A family portrait would be interesting, I imagine. Hopefully one day.

So I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all of the opportunities you have given to me, to past exchange students, and future exchange students. Rotary truly is a wonderful organization that changes lives everyday. It changed mine, a 15 year-old bright-eyed dreamer with hopes of changing the world.

I have one concluding thing to tell you all. I opened this letter with the date, August 13th, the anniversary of my return from Japan. I can remember the day clearly. I wore my Japanese school uniform as I trekked through the Kochi regional airport, tears streaming down my face, and my little host sisters begging me not to go. I turned around and said, “itekimasu,” which literally means, “I will see you soon.” It will be 5 years since this day. And so it seems only fitting that I will be celebrating this 5 year anniversary back in Kochi, Japan, surrounded by family and friends.


Julie Garner

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Just so ya'll know

... I have two tabs open on my computer right now.

1.] This blog
2.] Expedia

Why Expedia?

My country needs me. Japan is calling.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Best Friend Break-up

Oh finals. I know I should be immersed in the wonder that is philosophy. But I'm not.

I'm too busy thinking about my life and everything else.

When I was abroad, I learned that perfection was an imaginative concept. I had the most wonderful year in Japan and France, and yet everyday had something wrong with it. I know that sounds exceptionally pessimistic. But it's true. I would have this perfect moment where the sun was shining, my Japanese was fluent, and I could not imagine being anymore happy than right there. And then, boom. I would crash my bike into a scurrying Japanese man on the bustling street. I would enjoying a delicious dinner at my amazing host families house, laughing and giggling about my day, and boom. I would stumble over my language skills and embarrass myself.

But I was okay with that. I was used to being brought back to Earth when things got too too good. I become immune to it. It made me stronger and more appreciative of the good times and less distraught about the bad times.

But when I came to Clemson, I forgot about the good and the bad times and how to appreciate them. Things just always seemed good my freshman year. My roommate and I became instant best friends, and together we took on the world. That is honest to God the best way I can sum up my Freshman year in a nutshell.

And then things changed.

It is weird to think of a best friend breakup. Since it has never really happened, I never would have thought it could hurt as bad as it did. Even though she and I had only been friends for a year, it was a year that I had made the decision that she was to be my maid-of-honor, the godmother to my hypothetical children. It was our freshman year of college and together we embarked on a journey to learn about college boys, frat parties, how to live with someone whom you had nothing in common with, and how to navigate a new grown-up world.

Google “break-up” and you'll see a slew of websites and articles devoted to getting over an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. What you won't easily find, however, is information on a type of split that experts say can be just as devastating, maybe even more so, than the dissolving of a romantic relationship—the best friend break-up.

We had a falling out that took its toll — mainly because these relationships are much more impactful than we realize. It's been almost a full year and a half now, and though I have long recovered I can not help but think about it all from time to time.

The impact is devastating not just because of the break-up itself, but because women lose much more than a friend in this situation. We are raised with the idea that friendship is supposed to be forever, and they are often judged by their ability to stay friends, so there is a lot of stigma involved with friends who break up.

I guess the underlying moral of this post is that people come into your lives and also people go. You just have to trust in yourself and think there's some overall plan for you. As Carrie Bradshaw would say, "People come into your life and people go. But it's comforting to know the ones you love are always in your heart. And if you're very lucky, a plane ride away."