My Experience as a Foreign Exchange Student

My fellow exchange students and I dressed in kimono. 

Partaking in ikebana with my host-sister and exchange student, Saki.

This was the experience that truly determined the path my life would take me.  I remember the moment I heard about my high school's sister school in Japan as if it had happened yesterday.  It was the first day of my sophomore year in high school, and a friend mentioned to me that the application to partake in a Japanese foreign exchange was due in several days.  I had signed up to take Introductory Japanese that semester, so my interest in the language and culture of Japan was already piqued.

Not knowing where exploring this option would lead me or if it was even a possibility, I talked with my mom about going on this trip.  I was absolutely ecstatic when I was given the go-ahead, and got my application in at the last second.  I was accepted, along with eight other students, to be a part of a two-week trip to Chiba, Japan, where we would each stay with our own host-families, and in turn, host a Japanese student for two weeks in America.

Traveling to Japan blew my mind at how diverse the world truly was.  Everything about the culture seemed so different and I was in awe every moment of the two weeks I spent there.  Japanese students wore uniforms to school.  Everybody, even strangers, were always genuine and friendly.  People bowed to each other, rather than shake hands.  I experienced a Japanese tea ceremony, calligraphy, ikebana (traditional Japanese flower arranging), visited Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, tried strange foods, and even had the opportunity to try on a kimono.  Hurdling over the language barrier was difficult, but the challenge it presented was fun.  Everything about this experience was incredible, inspiring, and life-changing.  When those two weeks had ended, I was not ready to go home.

The foreign exchange was not over though.  My exchange student, Saki, visited my family and I only a month after I had left Japan.  This was just as fun as traveling to Japan because it allowed me to see how American culture and norms can be perceived by others.  Saki was interested in what I had considered to be such normal things.  She was appalled that my family, consisting largely of hunters, ate venison (as she related this to 'eating Bambi'), she thought dill pickles were disgusting, and while visiting a dairy farm, the smell almost made her throw up.  Through interacting with Saki and witnessing her reactions to various aspects of my daily life, I was able to understand that 'normal' is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

Though this was a relatively short experience, I learned so much about the world, and more importantly, that I'm not at the center of it.  The world felt a lot smaller to me after traveling to Japan.  It was because of this amazing experience that I was inspired to open my eyes, broaden my horizons, and pursue similar experiences.

Looking back on it, my foreign exchange to Chiba, Japan was the catalyst in determining where my life would take me.  It is because of this experience that I am where I am today.


Below, I have posted a video that I made shortly after I returned from my exchange in Chiba.
It is a compilation of pictures and videos, all of which are some of my most favorite memories from my trip

 
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