Friday, December 23, 2011


Today is my first day of christmas break here in Germany. In a few hours I will be taking a train to Innsbruck, Austria. I will be spending a week outside of Innsbruck with my host family. We're going skiing :O I've never gone skiing before and I'm excited to give it a try. I'm also really looking forward to seeing the Alps.

Friday, December 9, 2011

13 Weeks in Germany

It's been about 3 months in Germany and the longer I stay here, the more I'm liking it. Everyday I get to do the things I came here to do: meet people from other countries, backgrounds and who are different from me live in a new country, learn a different culture and speak a different language all the time. I couldn't even count the number of nationalities I've met and gotten to know in my time here. I've met people from Latvia, Russia, Finland, Danemark, Norway, Turkey, Poland, Estonia, Kosovo, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, China, Thailand, Korea, Brazil, Venzuela, Honduras, Mexico. I'm happy to say I have people from these countries as friends. I've been in a room of people where everyone speaks a dozen different languages. I've practiced my Spanish, my French and learned some new words in other languages. I've also met other Americans from all over the US. All that is in addition to the myriads of Germans I live with and attend school with. When I reflect on it, I am so happy to think about how many different people I can engage with. In the US, in my Catholic prep school its about 99.9% American. I interact mainly with people in the my grade. The fact that now I associate with people from all over the world, in varying age groups, from all over the world makes me grateful to be here.

It finally clicked in my head that I'm in a foreign country, a country with people who think a lot different from me. I can't expec them to change their behaviour or way of thinking because of me. I'm in their country.
My German has gotten a lot better in the last 3 months. I've started reading a lot in German. I can understand almost everything that people say. I've read a lot of full books in German. I've started reading, which is something I only do for school in the US. I've read Harry Potter 1, The Alchemist, and I'm almost finished the Golden Compass in German.

I like school in general, but I like it here since I get to do everything I do at Prep in Philly, in German. These last 2 Weeks we've been taking our end of term exams since winter break is coming. It's fun to take them in German. I do all of the questions just like my classmates. I do get to use a German-English dictionary for the tests though :)

Everything is looking up here and I can only see it getting better. I'm glad to spend the next 6 1/2 months here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

1/4 Wegs

As of today I've been away from home for about 11 weeks and I'm about anquarter through my year. It really has gone by quickly. After we got back from Paris things went back to usual, the boring routine of school. If started to finally settle in in school and just get down to work.

On a normal school day I have to wake up around 6:30. I usually sleep in a bit later then I'm forced to put my clothes on at lightening speed, grab the lunch my host mom packed me and run out the door to the bus stop. It's a nice wake up. After taking the bus to Osnabrück Altstadt, where my school is its about 7:40 and I'm just there for class that starts at 7:50.

School here is different from American school in so many ways. Instead o 40 minute classes, they have an hour and a half straight of class followed by a 20 minute break. They don't get a lot of homework like we do at Saint Joe's Prep.

Before I came here I never was a very patriotic, and I didn't have an overwhelming love for my country, but the longer I stay here, the more I begin to appreciate my country, and the way American people behave. Americans are kind and welcoming. We're warm and we are welcoming. We're pretty friendly. I miss that. Germans are very reserved and they aren't friendly until you know them, in a lot of ways. Americans are friendly to people even if we don't know them.

The German Stare

One of the things I've noticed about German people is the stare. When I'm in a bus, or the train or in public I notice people staring at me. Once you notice people staring at you and look back, they keep right on staring. They don't smile or look away, they just dead stare you back. In the US I was always taught that staring is rude. I can't just death stare someone and keep a straight face, but apparantly Germans can.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


We left Osnabrück and after an hour on the Autobahn arrived at Düsseldorf airport. After about a 45 minutes of flying from Düsseldorf we arrived in Paris.

Theres a lot of immediatley noticable differences between Germany and France. As soon as we landed in Charles de Gaulle airport it hit me that it wasnt as clean as Düsseldorf airport.
Germany is cleaner and more orderly. I sort of felt like I was leaving Germany and coming back to Philly, it was that dirty lol. Paris is pretty and crowded. Its sort of like San Francisco but dirtier and more full.

After a 2 hour taxi ride from Charles de Gaulle we arrived at our hotel, the hotel st merry in the Marais. It was actually an old monastery that was refurbished into a hotel. It was a bit small for 21st century people. I had to do a lot of ducking and bending over. Howver, I wasnt gonna let a small hotel room ruin our Urlab in PARIS! We hopped on the paris Metro and spent rest of the night at my host dad's nephews place who's married to a French girl and lives in Paris.

We woke up around 9 and ate a light lunch of croissant and cafe au lait and then took a cab to Versailles. Alojg the way Westward we passed along the boulevards of Paris and even went through the tunnel where Princess Diana died, as or cab driver pointed out. Once we got to Versailles we waited in a 2 hour line till we could also see the Palace that receives millions of visitors from around the world. It was an amazing place and to think it was built over 3oo years ago, older than the United States of America. We finished up around 5 and headed out to Versailles train station and took the train back to Paris.

We woke up around 9 and relaxedly made our way to the Louvre. The Louvre is one of the most famous musuems in the world and a main tourist destination in Paris. It was packed. The whole musuem used to be a palace and was constructed under Napoleon and as a result, it is, as my host sister described it 'the most illogical museum in the world'. We had spent about an hour trying to find the mona lisa. You have to go down a set of stairs, walk a long a few corridors, go up a flight of stairs, walk down another corridor etc...Once we found the Mona Lisa, it was flocked with tourists eagerly taking pictures to prove they were there. We looked at the different collections in the Louvre until 5 o'clock and then walked around the Tuileries gardens and the Seine waterfront and finished the day off with lunch at a French restaurant near our hotel.

we woke up early and got onto the Metro and took it to the Champ de Mars where the Eiffel Tower is. We had a 9:00 am appointment to ascend the tower. It really is huge. It's huge. We got to the base of the tower around 8:45 and already the line of tourist was already a decent size. We climbed the top and could see all of Paris. Its a huge city and extends as far as the eye can see in every direction. After an hour or so at the eiffel tower we descended and ate lunch near it. Then we took the metro the the Champs D'elysees which is like the 5th Avenue of Paris. My host mom wanted to look at the shops there. It was lots of luxury good stores. Like we walked by the original Louis Vuitton store. It had a line of people waiting to get in. Its a neat stretch of shops and when you look up the stretch of shops you can see the Arc de Triomphe menacing in the distance along the boulevard.

We had a 6pm flight out of Paris and we didn't have a full day in Paris. We walked around the Marais and made our way to Notre Dame and the Latin district, one of the oldest parts of Paris where the Seine passes through and you can look along the banks. After spending a good half hour in Notre Dame we picked up our luggage from our hotel and took the train back to airport and we were back home in Osnabrück around 8.

If I could go back a year from now I never wouldn't have believed all the places I've been in the last 5 months or so. I've been to Japan, (Tokyo and Okinawa) Frankfurt, Bremen and Osnabrück and Paris. Japan, Germany and France in less than 5 months. I never would have believed it and it's still pretty amazing to me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

German high school vs US high school

I've been in Germany for a little over 4 weeks. In all of these 4 weeks I've been going to school. German high school is very different from high school back in the US.

In both American and German high school, there are required classes. Germans are particularly skilled in foreign language. From 6th grade on they usually start taking English, and then in 8th grade they are required to take another foreign language, usually French or Spanish.
They then take both foreign languages till 12th grade. Leaving most Germans with at least basic knowledge in 3 languages.

Class is run a lot differently here also. While in America the teacher gives a lecture for the full class time, I've never had that happen in my 4 weeks here. German class contains a lot more interaction between the teacher and the students.

In my school in the US, we usually have a test every week or close to that. In Germany, we usually only get one test per month for each subject. There's never multiple choice or true false in German schools. All tests are always essay or short response.

German school is in general more relaxed than American school.

It would be extremely hard for me to say which system I like better. I am used to the American system and I still miss it. It's more regimented and strict and I sometimes miss that orderliness.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

First Week in Germany

It's been a little more than a week since I've been in Germany. This first week has been well-great-nerve wracking-full of firsts-that about sums it up. School in Germany is a lot different than in the US. I'm taking a lot of the same classes as in the US. I have bio/chemistry/physics, trigonometry, English, Spanish, German, politics, art and philosophy. I would have taken similar classes in the US. For the most part I understand what the teachers are saying. German classes is the hardest class for me. It's a literature based classes and there's lots of text reading. Physics is also hard but I probably wouldn't understand the subject in English either.

I'm really glad that I've learned German prior to coming here. I've been studying it intensely since 7th grade and taking private lessons since 8th grade and I can speak it really well. I'd be totally lost without that previous study.

It's really fun to speak German here. Sometimes I can trick people into thinking I'm German. Someone in my math class thought I was a transfer student from Germany. It's really unusual for Americans here to speak German let alone fluently. I can' wait till I'm really fluent.

My classmates and teachers have been really nice to me. They've explained words I don't understand, given extra help, let me look on their text books, lent me things and included me in group work. It's been a great first week in Germany!

Monday, September 12, 2011

First day of German school

I was woken up by my host brother around 7. I got my things together and we made sandwhiches to bring to school. Then we ate cereal for breakfast and headed out the door. My host dad drove us but normally we take the bus. I was really nervous at first. The school is really big, slightly bigger than my school in America. My host brother showed me my classroom. My first class is Spanish. It's beginner's Spanish. I actually know more than the class which helps given the fact that I'm learning to foreign languages at the same time in the same class. Then I had Chemistry which is hard. I probably wouldn't understand the subject in English either. Luckily they're learning about valence electrons which I learned Freshman year in Physical Science. Then we had History class but it's a lot different than American history class. There's lots of discussion and not much lecturing. That was my first day. I got out around 1. All of the classes are 2 hours long. Every day you have different classes. My host brother's friend drove us to downtown Osnabrück and I bought a bus pass for the month that'll I'll use to get to school. We got home and just hung out for a while. Basically we just hung out at home the rest of the day.

Getting to Germany

We were woken up around 8 and we all ate breakfast. Around 1 we all boarded the buses to Dulles DC airport. As a group we checked in all our luggages at the United airlines desk, all 91 students going to Germany. As you can imagine, quite a lot of luggage. It took us about an hour to check all of our luggage in. Then we proceeded to security which took about another hour for all of us. We then had to take the airport tram to our gate. By the time we got to our gate it was 4:00 and the plane boarded at 4:38. I called my family and bought a frosty from Wendy's, my last purchase in America for a while.

I sat next to Claire on my left and Kati on my right across the aisle. We talked a lot and I spent most of the ride awake and only slept an hour. When we arrived in Frankfurt I was freaking out and totally excited. We arrived in Germany at 7:20am so basically we all had to stay awake for a day with no sleep. All the AFS students were brought into the same room where we waited as more AFS students from all over the world arrived. There were Bolivians, Danes, Brzilians, Italians, Ecuadorians, Vietnamese, Belgians and most excitingly, Japanese people! I was so happy to get to speak Japanese. I even got to interpet between the Americans and the Japanese. Most of the exchange students didn't know English or very much German. I look forward to the time at the end of the year when we meet again all can speak German and communicate with each other. Once all the exchange students arrived we were divided into groups and put on trains with the other students heading in our general area. We left around 3. I was on the train bound for Bremen and there were about 10 other AFS students. Once we arrived at Osnabrück 3 of us disembarked. An Italian girl, an American girl from Connecticut and myself. I didn't know how I was getting picked up. It was dark. I was in across the world in a city where I knew nobody. I'm surprised I wasn't scared but I suppose I was so jetlagged that I wasn't. My host family met me on the platform and it wasn't so awkward. We walked out to the car outside the train station and drove to my new home. My host family showed me around the house. I unpacked my things and passed out. I woke up the next day around 10. My host mom told me I slept 11 hours. I guess I needed it. I was still titred the next day.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day of Orientation

We had non stop culture workshops today. Americans who have gone to Germany gave us lectures on what to expect.

This was my last day full day in America. It's insane. I've been waiting for this day for almost a year. It doesn't seem real. I can't believe this really is happening. Good night and goodbye America! I'll see you in a year. Next blog post will be from Germany.

A Day in DC

We all received a 6:30 wake up call, picked up bagged lunches at the front and boarded buses. We took a bus to the Department of State to meet with the Educational branch which funds our scholarship. We had the head of the Europe desk at the state department speak to us as well as a foreign service and a civil service officer.

We left the Department of State around 12:30 and boarded the bus again to Union Station where we hung out and ate lunch. We would have done a walking tour of the National Mall however, due to the rain we were forced to remain in Union Station.

At 5 we took the bus to the German American Heritage Museum. The curator, a real German spoke to us about German Americans and their influence on the US. Then we had a woman from the German embassy come and speak to us at the museum. She worked for the German embassy here in DC. She was an American and actually a n alumna of the same program we're doing now. She went to a town not to far from where I'm going either!

At 7 we loaded the buses and went to Café Mozart, an authentic German restaurant in DC. I got Chicken Schnitzl with potatoe salad which was really good! Maybe even better in Germany. We got home around 10 and I collapsed and fell asleep nearly on the spot.

Leaving Philadelphia (8/6)

My mom and I left Philadelphia around 10 and arrived at DC around 2. We ate lunch ate a very somber lunch at Bertuccis and finished up before 3 and checked in at the desk at the Crowne Plaza hotel where our orientation was being held. The ladies at registration told us that I couldn't register till I said goodbye to my mother. We stepped back from the desk and bid each other a teary goodbye. With puffy eyes I checked in, got my room key, moved my luggage to my room. I hung out for a half hour or so in my room and waited for the redness around my eyes to go away. I was full of regret, sadness, uncertainty. I wasn't sure I had ever wanted to go on this exchange. I left my room and started talking to other AFS students and felt better and better. We had a light night as other students arrived from different parts of the country and I got to make some friends.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Blog is Back

I finally found out my host family! I'll be living the Konyas in Osnabrueck. My host dad works at a hospital and my host mom is a school teacher. I have to host brother's, Mete and Emre. Mete is a year older than me and in high school. He just got back from a year in America and speaks flawless English. Emre is in college and studies at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. Hopefully we get to go visit him ;).

Osnabrueck is a small city (170,000 people). It looks really old, in a good way! I can't believe this is really happening. It seems so much more real now. I'm going to Germany for a year! A YEAR!

This month I've been doing an SAT prep class for the Oct 1st SAT I'll take in Germany. I've been preparing and taking it easy this month. I practically bought a new wardrobe to take with me, and got my documents together for my visa.

I've also gotten to see a lot of my friends and family. I only have 13 days left in Philadelphia and 17 days left in America. It still hasn't hit me. It probably still won't till I'm on the plane to Frankfurt.

I leave Philadelphia and go to DC on September 6th and I have orientation until the 9th. Then on September 9th all us CBYXer's fly to Germany and arrive there the 10th. Since my scholarship is gov't funded I get to visit the State Department and my local congressperson. I feel so important. haha

I'll write another post about DC and getting to Germany in 2 weeks!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Leaving Japan :'(

After the party Soya and Suguru stayed overnight so they could come to the airport to with me off. We ended up playing around and talking till 2am. I stayed up till 2:30 or so and cried and couldn't sleep. I felt bad. My stomach didnt feel well. Okāsan woke me up around 7:30 so I could shower. I made my bed, packed up my belongings. Luckily I was so tired that I didn't cry. Katsuumi and Katsurou helped me with my bags. Norihito's mom was out to take Soya and Suguru to the airport since we all couldnt fit in just one car and she was wishing me off. I didn't cry during the car ride. Once we got to Naha airport we met up with other YFU people and waited to everyone arrived so we could check in as a group. It took a while and I kept my mind of leaving talking to the other Okinawa YFU people and my host family. After we checked our bags and got our tickets to Tokyo we went downstairs to the security area at the entrance to our gate.

Suguru, Soya, and my family was there and then Shiori, Serika, Rino & Ayame came. I took some pictures with everyone and was fine. I started tearing up as we waited and hung out at the security gate. I gradually became more and more tearful. The speaker announced that the plane was boarding. Then a guy from YFU waved us and compelled us to go to security and get to the plane. The YFUer's started crying then. I started bursting into tears and hugged my host mom who was also crying. Then I went over to my the girls and gave them each a hug and I think a couple of them were crying a little bit. I shook Soya and Suguru’s hands and then I shook Katsuumi then Katsurou’s hands and walked to the conveyer belt security thing. We hurried to security and boarded the plane just in time. I stumbled unto the plane and received looks from people (I'd probably give a weird look to a crying kid on the plane. Brie sat next to me and tried to get me to stop but I couldn’t. I opened up the one piece tissue box ichi kumi, my classmates gave me and it end up being an amazing gift. In an almost fit for a movie event it came in handy right when I needed it. When I got it I wondered how I would ever use it and now it all makes sense now. What a crazy work of fate.

Once we arrived at Narita airport we went through immigration and proceeded to the United Check-in. We saw some other YFU students from JPDO. (e.g. Taylor, Zahrah, Kiven) and we got in line at the United counter to get our tickets. We received our tickets to San Fran, and I got my ticket to Philadelphia. We went through security, and proceeded to the international gates. We had a 4 hour layover and spent most of the time reunited with or friends and chatting it up. I was on the same flight to SFO as Taylor, Dimitri, Brie, Alana, Alex, Sim, Spencer, Kima, Sasha and Katherine. I sat next to Sim. I tried to sleep on the planen ride but only managed to sleep for about an hour. It's too uncomfortable! I listened to the airplane radio a lot and then Sim, Brie and I went to Taylor's seats and talked until the flight attendant made us move back to our seats because we were being to loud. Sim depressed me by pointing out that we will never see some of the YFU people ever again. The flight back was sad. It wasn't exciting like the flight to Japan. Life isn't fair to have us make such relationships, friendships and then separate us from those people we bonded with. Once we landed at in SF we went through customs and immigration and headed to baggage claim. (trills Back in America!) We had to claim our bags then recheck them for domestic flights. At baggage claim I bid goodbye to Sasha, and later Sim, who both live in the bay area. (no tears though, just feeling sad) I hugged them both. Then we proceeded through security (for the 3rd time that day) and checked in with the YFU volounteers. Everyone had different flights all over and all leaving at different times. Again it was sad to think that Ill never see some of these people ever again. I had one of the latest flights (3:10), or so it seemed.

I still really miss my host family and my friends from Japan. Luckily they have Skype! ;). I'm forever grateful to my host family who took me , taught me so much, and loved me. We'll meet again!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Last day in Okinawa

My host mom said that today we shouldn't travel far from home. We went to the mall and the supermarket where I bought some last minute gifts, and some Japanese grocery goods. I bought green tea, mugi cha, soba cha, calpis water, cc lemon (all drinks) these chocolate pretzel candies, this rice snack, and senbei to eat on the plane ride. I spent the last of my cash money. My host mom took me out around chunjun to say goodbye to different people. Unbeknownst to me my host brothers were cleaning the house up and setting up for a party. When I got home I found out my family was throwing a goobye party barbeque for and they invited my friends from the high school. My high school friends brought some drinks and most importantly icecream! I am so touched by everyone's thoughtfulness. I can't believe I'm actually leaving Japan. I dont want to go! I'm comfortable here. I can get around. I can talk to people. I feel comfortable with my host family. I'll probably tear up at the airport when I have to say goodbye to my host family.

This has been the most memorable summer of my life. I cant think of a better way I could have spent my summer. I'm indebted to my host family for taking me in and I'm so grateful for the kindness the Japanese people showed me.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Back to America

Monday's Itinerary
I have a long journey back to Philadelphia

August 1st:
Depart Naha 10:40
Arrive Tokyo @12:40
Depart Tokyo (Narita) 5:25
Arrive SFO @11:00am CA time
(10hr flight)
(4hr layover in SFO)
Depart SFO 3:20pm
Arrive PHL 11:30

I spend over 24hrs flying and in airports. :/

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wednesday and Thursday

In the morning around 8:00 okāsan woke me up. I got ready to go snorkeling! I packed a change of clothes and a towel into a bag, ate a quick breakfast and headed out to the car. Okāsan, Katsuumi and myself went. Katsuro had to go school. From home we drove to Onna, a 40 minute drive North on the West Coast of Okinawa. In the ocean front parking lot we met up with Takuma(a friend of Katsuumi) and our snorkeling tour guide. The tour guide had a difficult time finding flippers??? that fit my feet. We were outfitted with life jackets, and snorkeling gear and hot dogs. From the parking lot we headed down steep stairs to the ocean. There was no beach, no sand, just rock walls and coral reefs. The stairs were cut right from the rock. We carefully climbed into the water. The flippers were really hard to use! difficult to manuever in! I feel over a couple times and had to balance my self on the tour guide when we were getting in the water. The tourguide lead us out further into the water and along the rocky shore till we reached a cave, grotto worn into the rocky wall of the shore. It was really deep, 20meters and very cold! The tourguide brought one of those underwater cameras and we could see schools of fishunderneath us. After we left the grotto we swam out to the reefs and feed the fishes with the hot dogs. The fishes would come up swim right near you. You could here them swimming. There was a rainbow spectrum of colors! Fishes of every color.

At 4 I met up with Shiori and Ayame in Chatan and went to the beach! Lots of time by the ocean Wednesday. We spent about 2 hrs swimming at Sunset Beach, Chatan's take on Waikiki beach. Then we ate McDonalds in the mall food court. We looked around the shops in the mall, took Purikura and around 9 my host mom picked us up dropped Shiori and Ayame off.

Thursday: I woke up around 10. My host mom planned for Katsuumi, herself and me to meet Ayako-san, Chiemi-san and Hayato to meet up at the bowling alley. In Kitanaka the bowling alley and the karaoke bar are connected and you usually do karaoke and bowl together. We played 3 games and then headed over to the karaoke bar. You (as a group) are given a room equipped with a karaoke machine. It's no rinky-dink machine either. Theres a wireless touch pad where you choose the song you want to sing and then the lyrics come up on the screen on the wall. It was fun! We Ayako knows a lot of American music, well old music and we ended up singing lots of Beatle's songs, Journey, ABBA, and Michael Jackson along with some Japanese artists but they were thoughtful and tried to pick stuff I knew. At the end of every song the machine tells you how many calories you burnt! I thought that was really amusing. I burned a whole 7 calories singing We Are the World! Haha. We finished up around 7 and went home.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Day in the City

Blog post: A day in the city
Today we left the house around 8:30 and headed to Naha airport. We were going to wish Norihito goodbye. He's studying for a year in the US. We were joined there by Gray sensei and a some classmates and naturally Norihito's family, his mom, dad and grandmom. When the plane boarded he bid us all goodbye. In his departure I noticed something that distinguishes American culture from Japanese-they gave no hugs or kisses. He didn't hug his friends or hug or kiss his family goodbye. No one cried either. Japanese people usually only hug or kiss when they're boyfriend or girlfriend or "rabahs" (lovers) as my host mom said. I think Americans express their feelings more outwardly than Japanese. It's just a cultural differenc I guess. Right before I went on this 6 week trip I remember hugging and kissing my mom goodbye. Norihito's going away for a year!

After we left the airport we headed to the Okinawa times (the prefecture newspaper) building and my host mom had an interview for her sanshin playing. (A sanshin is like a 3 stringed ukulele and beloved by Okinawans.) She's going to be in the newspaper for her playing! That's a big deal! Right?
After that we eat lunch and headed to Shuri castle. Shuri castle is a world heritage site and over 500 years. It was the seat of the Ryuku Kingdom. Honestly, it reminded me alot of Mulan. It was built in Chinese style and used to welcome the Chinese traders.

After that we went and did some shopping around Kokusai dōri. I got all my gifts for everyone back home and some things for myself ;). We also went to Naha-D which is largest bookstore in Okinawa-I'm a book lover and I was extremely impressed by everything they have. They had a whole section devoted to miscellaneous foreign books. They had a whole shelf o German books, and I bought Momo by Michael Ende, I have to have something to do on the 20hrs of flying I have coming back. They even had Harry Potter in Irish and Ancient Greek-I'd be surprised if Philadelphia's Barnes and Noble had all those books. My host family also gave me a shirt they made that says `将来大者‘. That means `future big shot or future VIP`! I am always freshly astonished by everyone`s thoughtfulness here. The down side to all this hedonistic pleasure is that I'm almost out of money.

We went back to Kitanaka, picked up Katsuumi's new glasses and headed back home. We had pizza for dinner :))). At 8 okāsan drove me and Katsuumi biked to Katsuumi's English class. After the English class Katsuumi told me to ride on the back of the bike since okāsan wasn't picking us up. It's pretty common here for 2 people to ride the same bike. I'll say right now that it was terrifying! Flying up and down the hills and having no control over anything. I clinged to the seat for my life. It was kind of fun and exhilarating, like a Disney ride but scarier!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

First Day of Summer Vacation

I woke up this morning around 9. My host mom told me that there was an earthquake around 3 in the morning. I didn't even notice it. I slept right through it. Haha. I emailed some people, went on facebook and then at 11 me and okāsan drove to Naha airport to wish Rina goodbye. Rina is a Japanese classmate of mine from Kitanaka hs and she's going to be an exchange student in Germany.Today was her last day in Okinawa. A bunch of her classmates Maki, Sayuri, Serika, Shiori, Ayame, Katsuumi, Norihito and myself all came along with Grey-sensei. Once the plane started boarding the girls started weeping and tearing up. I never really thought about all the tearful goodbyes that must happen in airports. Once Rina boarded, the girls started eating chocolate! I remember being told chocolate and ice cream always make you feel better when your sad. I guess that's universal!

After that we went to Ginowan to go shopping. My host brother Katsuumi is studying abroad in the Netherlands this year and leaves in August right after and he needed to do some errands for his trip. We went to the shoe store, clothes store and the eye doctors. The eye doctors is exactly the same as American ones. However, Japanese people pay out of pocket for everything. I dont think insurance covers eye wear.

We went home, showered, ate dinner, went on facebook and then went to see the last Harry Potter movie, in 3D! Japanese movie theaters are exactly the same as American movie theaters, maybe a little bit cleaner, but really the same, even down to the layout. The only difference I noticed is that Japanese people actually wait till the very end of the movie to leave. They like to read all the credits. Americans usually just get up and go as soon as the movie`s over. Most major movies in Japan are released in English with Japanese subtitles and that`s how Japanese people watch their movies in theaters.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Last Week of School

Monday was a holiday and I spent most of it confined in the house by the typhoon's rain and wind.

Tuesday I woke up and ate only a little bit and was pretty sleepy. I listened to my ipod on the walk to school. Once I got to school I met a new addition to 一組 (my homeroom). Her name is Natsuno. She was an exchange student in Omaha, Nebraska and she spoke fluent English. I talked to her the during homeroom and during Japanese class. In English class I took their endterm vocab test just for fun. Some of it was really easy and other parts where sentences you had to translate from Japanese into English(easy) or from English to Japanese(very hard). I'm hoping for a pass! After the test we headed over to the science room (セミナー) and set up for the goodbye party. We moved tables around and just dilly daleed??? Next period we had to go to the floor above the セミナー because another class wanted to use the room. The floor above was just bathrooms and a giant 畳 (tatami) floored room. We goofed off and just talk unattended by a teacher. I taught my classmates about some gestures American teens might make in pictures ;) and taught them about group hugs, since they don't do them here. Once Gray-sensei came up to our room we played charades, in Japanese. It was harder in Japanese especially because my vocab is so small. After charades we went back downstairs and ate a feast, truly a feast. Everyone brough in some kind of food and or drinks so we had a lot of things to consume. We talked talked talked and took a lot of picures. Towards the end Shiori and Gray sensei gave me a card signed by (almost) everyone in 一組, a pair of Okinawan sandals (I'm not exactly sure what makes them Okinawan sandles but everyone said they were Okinawan sandles) and a bag full of senbei, Okinawan sweets, candy, rice cakes and a folder for the calligraphy I did. I was so overwhelmed by everyone's kindness and thoughtfulness and at the same time about to cry faced by the fact that I will have to leave these people who have been so amazing to me. I started reading what everyone wrote and felt even more sad. I hung out with everyone till about 4 and then left, knowing I would see everyone the next day.

Wednesday: I woke up, forgot to eat breakfast and hurried out the door. My host brother and I slept in late and we had to power walk it to school so that we wouldn't be late for homeroom. Tuesday was the official las day of school but Wednesday was moving day and cleanup. My high school recently built a brand new building (new classrooms) fully equipped with air conditioning. Go figure. I only get to enjoy the air conditioning on the last day. Oh well, I survived. We spent most of the day moving desks, tables, books and bookcases to the new building. That was of course interspersed with lots of idling and chit chat. At 11 we all met up in the gym for a send off-summer break assembly. The principal opened. A faculty member who won't be returning after break gave a speech, followed by Ann-sensei, who's returning to America August 5th and then there was me. I was really nervous.
Here's the speech: 皆さん親切に 私 は とても 感謝 している。ありがとう。 みなさん は やさしかった,北中城高校 大好き。沖縄 大好き。ゴヤ まま。みんな と お別れ することが かなしい。皆さん は facebook を つくって. また 話せる から。あなたたち を わすれない。I stumbled over the last word (wasurenai)
translation: I am very grateful for everyone's kindness. Thank you so much. Everyone was so kind. I love Kitankagusuku high school. I love Okinawa. I like Goya* so so (that garnered lots of laughs) Leaving everyone makes me sad. Everyone make a facebook! That way we can talk again. I will never forget you guys. We finished up with a graduation for the (2) people finishing this year and after that we returned to the (new) classroom. The students were given some summer homework and we finished up. My last day of Japanese high school. I'm really sad and thinking about how I will never see some of the people ever again makes me sad. It makes me sad to read the card they gave me. I am so grateful to all my classmates at Kitanakagusuku koukou. They were unebelievably kind and welcoming. They all took the time to listen to me and try to understand my broken Japanese. Whether it's saving a seat for me or sharing a snack with me, I feel so grateful and blessed to have been with them all and thinkin about leaving makes me sad. I want to cry thinking about it.

At 7 my host mom drove me to Nakagusuku beach to go to a little end of school party/celebration. Only a small part of ichi kumi came: Maki, Shiori, Katsuumi, Norihito, Motoki and myself. Motoki brought fireworks to use on the beach and we waited till the sunset to use them. They were small, minor things. Firecrackers, sparklers, roman candles and this thing similar to a roman candle, funny story. Motoki gives me the candle and asks me if I understand, I answered tellin him that we have fireworks in America. He gives me a lighter and I light up the end wick and wait for it to burn down. When it does burn down the stick starts smoking, embers start flying out and the top of the stick flies off. Apparantly your supposed to stick the thing in the ground or throw it once the the wick burns out. I did something really dangerous apparantly. Lol. I guess thats exactly the reason why firework sales are so strict in the US. I'm really glad they inited me to the beach party! Time is flying by here.

*goya is a bitter green melon that Okinawans often like but foreigners usually can't stand

Sunday, July 17, 2011

YFU Reunion

This weekend was a whole lot of fun and I got to speak English, German and learn a little Japanese. YFU Okinawa organized a meet up for all YFU students, past, present and future. There were Japanese students who had gone abroad, us Americans and Japanese who are going abroad. There were about 5 students who had went to America, 3 who went to Holland, 1 who went to Belgium and one who went to Basel, Switzerland. That was the coolest by far. I got to practice/speak German this trip.

The girl who went Basel's name was Ayane and was also my translator for talking to the Japanese students. I would tell her something in German, and then she would tell them in Japanese.

There was also a girl who went to Sacramento for a year and spoke perfectly English. I didn't even no she was Japanese at first. I thought she was an Asian girl from America. I told her she was my role model.

YFU organized the event at Nago youth center, kind of like camp site. We had lots of activities to do. We started off with a choice between basketball and volleyball and I chose basketball. After that we showered and had dinner. After dinner we went to had a taiko& esah performance. Then we had a 'dance party' in the terrace. Honestly, I have to say all my school mixers and Soph hop were a lot more fun and Americans can dance better than Japanese. After the dance party (9:30) we went to our rooms, which were a little different than what I expecting, they were just big open tatami mat floors and we all slept together on the floor. Us American guys shared the room with some Japanese guys. However, the American girls came from their room and we all stayed up playing ten fingers and talking until about 2-3 in the morning. The girls just passed out in our room. That was my first coed sleepover. Haha. We woke up around 7 and ate breakfast. After breakfast we listened to the returnee exchange students talk about their experiences, then after that we cleaned up our rooms, packed up and ate lunch. Then our host families picked us up. In all honesty the most fun part of this weekend was getting to socialize.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Okinawan Flora and Fauna

Okinawa is near the tropics and has some interesting animals and plants. In daily life there are some interesting bugs. Okinawa has a lot of giant bugs. One thing thats most noticeable is the cicadas. There are tons of them. They are most noticeable in the night and in the early morning when you can here them making a cacophony of noise. It`s pretty obnoxious. Sometimes they land on you. That freaks me out. This bugs are at least and inch long and an inch wide and they land on you. My host mom laughed at me when I started shaking myself frantically to get the cicada off me. There`s also a lot of mosquitos and they seem to particularly like me. They don`t bother my host family, maybe they like foreign blood. Apparently they don`t use bug spray very often here. I looked up the word for spray in Japanese and asked my host mom for bug spray and she gave me Raid. Amusing now but I wasn`t very amused at the time. There`s also these giant winged cockroaches that come out at night, but I haven`t seen very many of those. (Thank God). There also a lot of geckos that come out at night. They are ALL over the place. I walked out my door one night and one fell on me from a tree. I saw one on a vending machine last night and decided to poke it with a stick and then it sprung from the screen and ran up my arm. My reaction would probably make it on America`s Funniest Home videos.

Okinawa 101

Okinawan culture is distinctively different from mainland Japan. Okinawa is to Japan as Hawaii is to the USA. That`s the best comparison I can think of. They're both island states that have a very different history and culture than the countries they're now part of. Okinawa wasn't originally part of Japan until the late 1800`s when Japan took over the islands. Okinawa used to be its own Kingdom, (the Ryukyu Kingdom) with its own language, customs and culture.

After 130 or so years of Japanese control Okinawa is very Japanese and everyone speaks Japanese. There is a language called uchinaaguchi that the older generation speaks but is mostly being replaced by Japanese and most young people cant speak it. There's a lot of Okinawan pride and everything Okinawan is adored by Okinawans. If there's J-pop singer from Okinawa, you bet the Okinawans listen to him/her. Okinawans have a lot of pride in their homestate.

Okinawans are really laid back and live life at a slower pace. Everyone here is on island time. My host mom told me it's normal for Okinawans to be late, which is not normal for mainland Japanese. I'm still getting used to the island time as an uptight person from the East Coast, and someone who goes to Catholic school!

The Weather in Okinawa

I thought I`d make a post just devoted to how the weather here is. All over Japan it is the summer and it`s hot and humid. Japan`s rainy season is coming to a close this month and hopefully it will become less humid. Okinawa is sub-tropical (HOT). It`s also really humid here. Sometimes reaching over 80% humidity. It doesn`t rain a long time here. For instance, a rain cloud will pass by and it will pour rain for 15 minutes and then it stops. All in all its usually sunny with deep blue skys. Okinawans are much more tan than mainland Japanese and you can tell the difference between the Tokyo people and Okinawans. I've gotten more color from being here. The temperature here is extremely consistent. If you checked a forecas for Okinawa it would probably say a high of 85 degrees for the whole week and a low of about 80. Its always humid. The rain actually brings some relief by blocking out the sun. At night it cools a couple degrees but still it's very hot. I've gotten use to the heat for the most part and the weather here is still nicer than a Philadelphia summer. I can literally see the ocean from my house and that provides a nice sea breeze.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Japanese culture

Some notes on Japanese culture

Somethings about Japanese culture: some things about Japan are strickingly different than the US.
In Japan you always take your shoes off before you enter the house and in school you also take your shoes off when you enter. One time I walked into my house and forgot to take off my shoes. I was horrified when I realized I forgot and was worried something was gonna happen. My host mom just stared at me but didn't saying anything.

Ive been asked some really funny questions by Japanese people, especially my classmates: heres a sample list of the most interesting ones:

"Why do American people have such white teeth?" "Do you have a girlfriend?" "why not?" "what type of girl is your type?" "do you like fat girl or skinny?" "do you like western or oriental?" "do you like any of the girls in this class?" "I saw a girl in a picture with you on facebook, was she your girlfriend?" "At what age do you want to get married?" "Do all Americans have pools?" "Do all Americans like hamburgers?"

3rd week in Japan

This week was really the best week I've had here in Japan. I'm familiar with my surroundings, my Japanes has improved and I'm building stronger relationships with my friends and host family.

This week day by day:

Saturday: My host family took me to Nago again. This time not to visit family. They took me to expo park, which was created for the 1975 World Expo which was held in Okinawa. There's a huge aquarium, and a planeterium. The planetarium is the largest one in Asia and one of the biggest in the world. In the planeterium we watched a video about Okinawa on the huge screen. It showed lots of pictures of Okinawa but was in Japanese so I didn't understand most of what was said. After the planetarium we went to the Nago-shi Civic center for a show. It was a huge theater. A theater group from Okinawa was performing. It was some kind of satire-situation comedy and it must have been really funny, since everyone was laughing. I could understand the situations and understand a few words but not enough to find the show funny. Nevertheless, I'm grateful to my family for bringing me and including me.

Sunday: Sunday we didn't leave Kitanakagusuku. My host brother's part of an エサ(ehsah), which is a traditional Okinawan dance/music group. The closest American equivalent I can think of is a marching band but totally differnt music, costumes and dance. Anyway, my host bro's エサ was asked to be part of an Orion (Japanese beer company) commercial and we all went to see the エサ get filmed. It must have been, especially for the adults since they all got free beer curtesy of Orion. Who doesn't like free stuff!? After that my host family took me to a sushi restaurant, a kind of sushi restaurant I dont think they have in America. You are seated at a bar like table in a square with all the other people, and in front of you a conveyer belt moves and on it all different kinds of sushi are available. You just look for the kind of sushi you want and take it from the conveyer belt. At the end of your meal the waitress comes around
and counts the number of plates youve had and charges you a certain amount per plate.

Monday, Tuesday were regular school days

Wednesday was a regular school day but after school I arranged to meet with Brie, a fellow exchange student who lives in the same town as me, only 30min walking. I was very excited and glad to meet an American and an English speaker and someone who understands my situation. I left school excited and got ready for my 5:00 rendevouz with Brie. I walked home from school, changed out of my uniform and headed to Brie's part of town. However, I went the wrong way and got completely lost. I didn't know where I was and ended up walking about 2 hrs. I laugh about it now but I was really upset and on the verge of tears. If you've been completely lost in a foreign country where no one speaks English, you can empathize. I eventually looped back and met Brie albeit a half hour late.

Thursday &Friday were fun and offered a diversion from my school schedule. Grey-sensei arranged for me to spend both days in art class. Wednesday I did traditional Japanese calligraphy, and Friday I made and painted an uchiwa (fan).

Saturday was lots of fun and I even got to go to a new part of Okinawa. Shiori invited me to go to the Kitanaka high school game and I eagerly agreed. We met up at Kitanaka high school and her dad took us to Chatan to the baseball game. There we met up with Maki, Rina, Rino and Serika. Japanese people are very enthused! My school had a lot of people and a lot of school pride. One of my classmates is on the team too. After the game we went to the mall (Aeon) and had udon noodles for lunch. After that we did purikura! Purikura is like a Japanese take on photobooth and its super popular here. We bid goodbye at the mall an Shiori's dad drove me home. I'm glad I get to see them again. Saturday night my host mom took me to a ムーンライト コンサト (moonlight consert).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Japanese High School

I just found out some sad news today. My high school only goes till July 20th. That means only 14 more days of school! I like school here! I mean I dont study or do any homework but I like this school. Every day's a party!

Japanese students have a very different school schedule than Americans. Japanese start school in April and go until Mid to late July. Then they have a summer brake of about 7 weeks. Usually they get a summer job during summer break (unlike me!) Then they begin again in September. Then they have school until Christmas/New Year when they have a 2 week break. They have a 2 week spring break in March and finish school up in late March.

My school starts @ 8:40 and ends around @4:00
In general school is a lot more relaxed than in America. Classes are 50 minutes each and there's 10 minutes in between. They have 5 classes each day plus lunch.

One HUGE difference about American high school and Japanese high school, at least to me, is that it's OK to sleep in class. Its completely ok. Talking in class is also ok. It seems to me that in Japan, more onus is put on the student and students are taught to responsibility. Its on the student to pay attention in class. The teacher's isn`t going to make you pay attention. That's up to you.

Friday, July 1, 2011

First Week in Okinawa

First full week in Okinawa
This week was exam week in my high school. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were test days. Monday was just a regular school day.

Tuesday was exam day and I spent the whole day in the library on the school computer. It was pretty boring. My host mom asked me if I wanted to go to work with her instead and I eagerly agreed. She works at the Kitanakagusuku city hall/municipal building. She had a half day or something and around 12 we left her work and drove to Nago-shi to visit her parents.

Nago is in the northern part of the island and the drive was beautiful. You have small vegetation covered mountains on one side, and on the other you have the beautiful blue-green ocean. We stayed in Nago talking to okasans parents till about 4.

We drove down the Okinawa high way and got home around 5. I did some chores around he house (hanging clothes, cleaning dishes and set the table for dinner of delicious dumplings, kind of like dim sum. I spent an hour on facebook and emailing people and went to bed after that.

Thursday my host mom didn't have work for some reason, and she took me out sigh seein around Kitanaka. We went to Nakagusuku castle, a UNESCO world heritage site and made a tour of the castle ruins. It was about an hour long hike up to the main ruins of the castle and well worth it. The castle sits at the top of a hill/mtn and you can see the ocean on both sides.

While we were walking up, I saw a little catarpillar crawling on the ground and bent down and let it crawl in my hand. All of a sudden my host mom freaks out and slaps the bug out of my hand screaming "abunai! Abunai!" (Dangerous! Dangerous!) Then she said that the catarpillars bite is poisonous. I'm glad I didnt get bit! Now I know not to just pick up bugs from the ground when your in a foreign place! After we climbed down back to the car and drove to Nakamura house, a completely preserved 18th century Japanese estate. We went to lunch afterwards and hung out at home until Katsuumi came home from school. Then we had dinner. After dinner my host mom sort of forced me to go to her zoomba class and she insisted that it wasn't just girls. I tried my best but boy was that class intense. Those Japanese ladies can really move. I can't imagine it's as intense in America.
I went home showered and went to bed afterwards.

Friday was just a normal school day.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

First day of high school (6/24)

I woke up around 6:30. I woke up thinking only about friends and family in America. I started tearing up but I tried to conceal it. I didn't want my host family to see me weepy on only the second day. Okasan (host mom) made obento for Katsuumi and me. I changed into my school uniform, grabbed my back pack and headed out to school. It`s so cool. I get to walk to school! No crazy bus ride or subway ride, just a 20 minute walk! By the time I got to school I felt fine and wasn't sad at all. I was very nervous though. I walked up 4 flights of stairs to homeroom, where I left my lunch and backpack.

All the students headed off to the gym for an assembly. The principal awarded the students for something, I think for some achievment in English but I couldn't understand most of it with all the Japanese. Then I was called out of the blue, unbeknownst to me to stand before the entire school (800 students) and give an introduction. I tried my best in Japanese: I'm very glad to be here in Okinawa. I'm excited about this. It's hot isn't it?. I said something along those lines. I went back embarassed and waited for the end of the assembly. From the gym I walked with Katsuumi to the science room. From what I understood it's a physics class. I don't understand anything that's going on, even if it were in English I probably still wouldn't understand! So I sat there for an hour, eagerly awaiting the end of class. When the end of class came I was greeted with a humorous surprise, the class bell is fur elise, the Beethoven song. At most American high schools it's just a ringing bell or a beep of some kind. Classes are about 50 minutes with about 10 minutes in between each class. From science we headed off to chemistry, up the winding stairs to the chemistry room. There were only 4 kids, including myself in the class. When I asked why there are so few kids in the class from what I understood the class isn't very popular. It was fun though! They were balancing equations, which I understood, but the teacher only lectured for about 10 minutes. The teacher was very welcoming which was nice. I appreciated it a lot. The teacher gave a brief lecture and then the rest of the class we made popcorn in a beaker with with a bunsen burner. たのしい ね⁉

From there we headed back to the homeroom classroom for some kind of government/politics class. Apparantly even the Japanese students think it's boring. Pretty much the whole class the teachers is just lecturing in rapid Japanese. I took out my Japanese grammar book and studied and just zoned out. Then we proceeded back to the physics room for some science class which no one knew the English name of. In this class they're watching The Day After Tomorrow (with Jake Gylenhall) dubbed in Japanese. It was nice to have something I'm familiar with. Everyone is really engrossed by the movie, however at one of the action scenes the bell rang to the outcry of the students and we headed back to the homeroom room for lunch. I ate my obento lunch, (rice and some kind of meat), but didn't finish it. My host mom packed me some fried fish thing that tastes like fried chicken, I ate and didn't think about what it really was. This was around 2:30. Their lunch is around 1 hr long. I got to meet one of the English teachers during lunch and speak English with an English speaker which felt amazing. She's Brown~san from California and she finishes teaching August 1st, the same day I return. I learned a lot about the school from her persepctive. Apparantly my school is one of the least academic schools in the area. The students don't get much homework and most go to technical school and not university. The school is also really lax about uniform. Girls have earrings and piercings and boys don't have belts and leave their shirts untucked yet nothing happens. Next week is exam week and she promised to take me out to lunch for AMERICAN food one day! There's not much for me to do during exam week and she told me to bring a good book.

I guess due to the non-academic-ness of the school few students can really speak English. I asked them about what music they like and they really like American music. One girl in my class is OBSESSED with Miley Cyrus. She has a Miley Cyrus backpack, a Miley pencil case, a lanyard, and camera case. Another BOY had pretty much every Beyoncé song I know exists. I don`t think I`ll be judged for my Britney Spears collection here!

They were all really friendly. Then we went to the science room for a 'welcome party', for me! It was so sweet. They had coke, ocha and jasmine tea. They also had cheesecake and German cake. German cake is the same in Japanese! (Jyaman Kaiku) We played a game called fruit basket. In the game, there's one less seat than there are people. Everyone is assigned a fruit: melon, orange, and apple. One person without a seat stands in the middle of the circle of chairs and calls a fruit, and everyone with that fruit switches seats. One person is always left without a seat. If the person in the middle calls 'fruit basket', everyone must find a new seat. We played that for about a half hour and then we took a group picture. I walked home with Katsuumi and his friends and we played game cube. We just hung out until okaasan came home. Then we got PIZZA for dinner! It made me so happy, just to to eat something I'm familiar with. We ate and I felt exhauated by 8. I forced myself to stay up till 9 but I was still exhausted. I quickly fell asleep in bed after my first full day with my host family.

Flying to Naha, Meeting my host family! (6/23)

I woke up at 6 (via wake up call) but ignored it and slept till 7. I went over to Brie's room and Brie, Samantha, Sim and I headed to the buffet breakfast. There we me up with all the people from last night: Samantha, Dimitri, Sim, Sabria, Taylor, Max and myself. We finished a social, laughter filled meal and all went to our rooms to bring our luggage to the lobby and check out. All us JUSSE& Okinawa Peace scholars waited for 8:15 check out and took many pictures. Most of the JUSSE people were taking trains to their families and all us Okinawa people were flying from Haneda airport. We said our goodbyes and I felt sad, knowing I wouldn't ever see some of these people again. We boarded the bus to Haneda airport and said our final goodbyes. I skipped lunch, which was this a smoked salmon& ham sandwhich. We did the usual ticket print out bag check in and went through security. Narita is mainly the int'l airport and Haneda is mainly for domestic flights. Security here is so lax. You can even bring liquids on the plane with you. The plane ride was 2 hrs 7 minutes precisely and went by quickly. I sat in the very back with Spencer and Nicole (schumacher) and listened to my ipod and chatted it up. Our flight landed in Naha airport and I felt overwhelmed with nervousness. I was going to meet my host family. Would they like me? What if they don't like me? I was ruminating over those questions in my head. We walked to baggage claim and I almost didn't want to walk out to the exit were my host family would be. I did though (peer pressure) and saw my host mom and brother with a banner that said "Welcome John". I used my basic Japanese to introduce mhself. Then we all took a group picture of the Okinawa YFUer's. I said my goodbyes to all the YFU'ers, not realizing I might never see them again. I headed out with my host family, Wakako(host mom), Katsuumi (host brother) and my host brother's friend to the parking garage. Then we proceeded on the ride from Naha to Kitanaka which took about 1hr and a half with all the city traffic. I made simple conversations with my narrow vocab e.g. "Do you like American music?" "Oh what kind?" "What else?" "Is Okinawa always hot?" etc. My host mom complimented my on my Japanese with "Komunikashon godo" (translation 'communication good') I'm getting used to hearing everything spoken with a thick Japanese accent and trying to decipher what they're saying. We arrived in Kitanaka and came to the house. I carried my suitcase up to my room, which I share with my host brother. My host mom indicated to me a closet saying "John-san no space" (John's space). They showed everything around the house, e.g. the toilet, the bathroom, kitchen, etc. In Japan the toilet has its own separate room and the shower and bath and washroom are also their own separate room. Around 7 we ate dinner of onigiri(rice balls) pork and Okinawan udon noodles. I tried using chopstickes but failed, to everyone's amusment and my host mom ended up asking me if I wanted a fork. I ate really slowly, I always eat relly slowly now. It's weird, I was always a quick eater, maybe it's due to the foreigness of the food. My host mom asked if I was up to going to school tomorrow and I eagerly said I was. At about 8 I was exhausted. I couldn't stay awake and fell asleep.

A day in Tokyo (6/22)

I woke up around 5 AM completely awake. I got dressed and walked around the shops around the hotel even though they were all closed. I went and bought a drink from the vending machine Around 6 I ate breakfast with my roomate. It was buffet style and mainly American, well Japanese take on American food. The "breakfasts sausages were hot dogs and the scrambeled eggs were watery and seemed undercooked. They had french toast which was exactly the same. They also had "pancake". Which IS similar to pancakes, but they make an enomrous single pancake and cut it like a pizza. They had home fries, which were my staple! I dressed up in slacks, collared shirt, tie and dress shoes and grabbed my passport and camera and went downstairs and boarded the bus. We visited the embassy (for JUSSE and Okinawa Peace Scholars-the US embassy funds our scholarships) and met with 4 foreign service officers for an info session about life in the foreign service and later a Q&A session. We left the embassy around 11 and took the bus to the YFU Japan headquarters. There we met with the Chairman of YFU Japan Yoshio Ogawara, a cool guy. He's 92 and he still chairs the organization. He was the Japanese ambassador to the US and the Japanese ambassador to Australia. We ate lunch with him at the YFU office. All Japanese food. I ate the best sushi I've ever had in my life. I used to think I didn`t like sushi, but maybe the sushi I`ve had just wasn`t as good as the real Japanese thing.

I also made some progress with chopsticks. I can't use them. I fail at that. I just can't pick things up with them, to the laughter and amusment and laughter of the YFU workers and my fellow exchange students. After lunch we boarded the bus for a tour of Tokyo! We saw Tokyo Tower, the National Diet building, the Imperial palace and most of the famous sights. We also visited the Tokyo-Edo museum. A museum dedicated to Japanese history, specifically the Edo period. There were lots of samurai exhibits and even a life size replica of a traditional Kabuki theater. However, the coolest part of the museum was the students. There were Japanese high school students visiting the museum too. We spent a lot of time talking with them, over an hour. With my limited Japanese I managed to talk an hour with these Japanese high school girls. They were sweet. They spent a good 5 minutes talking amonst themselves about how tall I am. I'm a giant here (6'). Some random high school boys asked to take a picture with me too! I felt like a celebrity! Haha. We got on the bus and headed back to the hotel for dinner of soba noodles. I finished up my meal quickly, and then went out with Samantha and Spencer and explored Tokyo. We only walked for about 30 minutes and came back to the hotel. There we picked up Brie and headed out again, but in a different direction. Tokyo is packed. There's just people everywhere. I'm glad I got to see the commuter traffic. We wondered around stopped at one of the amazing vending machines here and stopped in about 3 コンピ二 (convenience stores) which are fascinating. They even have 7-11 here in Japan. They also have Denny's, Outback steakhouse, and of course McDonalds. After wandering aimlessly we returned back to the hotel around 9. I took a shower, and then headed to another YFU student's room were I found about 9 other YFUer's talking. We talked and talked up a cacophony for 2 hours or so, all hyper and jet lagged. The hedonist pleasure of the moment eschewed concerns of how early (6am) we had to wake up the next day. We knew this was our last full day together and we soaked it up. I ended up going to sleep around 11:30

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Leaving America, getting to Japan (6/20-21)

Monday morning started out busy from waking up onward. I woke up at 6 and called my friends and family. I packed up my last minute things, brushed my teeth and got on the elevator with my luggage and headed to the dormitory lobby. There all the other Japan kids brought their luggage and it got really packed quickly. Imagine 60 kids` luggage, at least one suitcase each and a carry on. We were hurried out to a bus and given a bagged breakfast which I ate during the ride to SFO. (A yoghurt, a milk carton, and a muffin) I enjoyed the scenery as we passed from Berkeley to SFO. San Fran is a beautiful city with the bay and the rolling hills. I want to go back there sometime. All 60 of us schlepped our luggage to the United Airlines check in area and checked our bags and got our tickets. After EVERYONE (all 60) checked in we proceeded to security. That also took a good half hour. Around 10:30 we all made it to our gate to board at 10:47 for our 11:32 flight. That`s close for me! We got onto the plane, it was huge! Two floors and more seats than any domestic flight I`ve been on. We buckled in and got ready for the looonngg flight(10hrs 30min). The fact that I was leaving America and spending weeks in a foreign country still hadn`t hit me. Lots of people on the flight were Japanese, but it is a flight to Japan, that`s what you`d expect. Hahaha. The old Japanese lady sitting next to me pulled out a DS and started playing it. She had to have been at least 60 years old. I don`t know why but I found that very amusing. She was very sweet. She dropped her ticket and I picked it up for her and said どうぞ(here you go). She responded with ありがとう(thanks). Then I said どう いたしまして(you`re welcome) Then she told me 日本語 じょず(skilled Japanese). She was so flattering! My Japanese is far from skilled. Japanese people are too nice.

They gave us 2 meals and a snack. The first meal we had the choice between beef brisquette, mashed potatoes and salad, or sukiyaki vegetables with pork. Almost all the Americans choose the beef, and all the Japanese people the sukiyaki.

During the flight we watched "The Adjustment Bureau" (a good movie by the way). It had Chinese subtitles though. I`m not sure why a flight to Japan had Chinese subtitles...

I slept, (uncomfortably) through most of the rest of the flight but woke up about an hour before Tokyo.

The time came when we began our descent into Japan. I was wearing a huge grin on my face that light up the face of the old Japanese lady next to me. As we touched down some YFU girls in the back of the plane screamed enthusiastically, making some people laugh, others look perplexed or annoyed. We got off the plane and walked through the runway. WE WERE IN JAPAN! I did a little dance of excitement and walked with about 5 other YFU kids to immigration where we were photographed and finger printed. I have to say that Japanese security people are a lot nicer than TSA. We then proceeded to baggage claim which proceeds customs in Japan. After we got our bags we advanced to the airport exit. There YFU Japan staff met us and directed us to a bus to our Tokyo hotel. We all gazed in awe out the windows as we drove into Tokyo. We excitedly read the hiragana& katakana signs and scowled at the kanji we could`t read. We arrived at our hotel, the Prince Hotel Shinagawa and received room keys and our room mates. I quickly put my luggage in my room and hurried downstairs to talk to the other YFUer`s. I used one of the amazing vending machines here. They`re amazing. They have such a variety and there not shabby and graffiti-ed on like the ones in Philadelphia. A Japanese lady was staring at me sceptically as I paparazzi style photographed the vending machine.

There`s vending machines for everything here. Obviously beverage machines, cigarette vending machines, umbrella vending machines, medicine vending machines.

A couple of us YFU kids went downstairs to the convenience store were we went crazy and swarmed it. Outside the convenience store we met 2 Japanese high school girls. I sort of played interpreter as we talked to them as everyone else didn`t know Japanese or was too shy to talk. There was a lot of awkward silence. We bid them goodbye and walked around the hotel shops. There was a bowling alley with purikura booths. All 8 of us stuffed into the booth an posed for the camera. (Purikura is like a Japanese take on a photo booth.) By that point we were all exhausted and our hyper-ness was wearing off. We were going on 20hrs or so without sleep. However, the night wasn`t over for us. We still had to go to our 5 course meal at the hotel restaurant YFU had arranged for us! I barely ate anything and wasn`t even hungry. We were all zombies, ready to pass out. After dinner I mustered the energy to shower and shave then collapsed in bed.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Japan Pre Departure Orientation

The time has finally come. All this waiting is over. I only have about 18 hours left in America. At 4 today I checked into Berkeley for my Japan Pre Departure Orientation. I checked into JPDO (Japan pre-departure orientation) like a conference. I was greeted by my energetic group leader Justine and she took me to get my room key and a meal card. We are divided into kumis (group). We eat meals and do most of our activities with our kumi. We have a Japanese language class and some different cultural activities. We signed up for different activies we wanted to do. I choose ice cream making, haiku and watercolor. In ice cream makin class we made different flavors of ice cream, all Japanese! Have you ever had wasabi ice cream? -neither have I! Haha. We had red bean ice cream, green tea not so bad and ginger. We were told were going to be eating some weird foods in Japan. I am already! Haiku class was-interesting. With my basic Japanese I wrote a haiku, here we go!
くるま いい です。
はやく と たのしい。
くるま いつも 好き。
The car is good
It's fast and fun.
I'll always like it.
Pretty awful. Hahaha. I did a little water color painting also, about as awful as the haiku. We also did cultural info sessions, e.g. Japanese manners, what not to do, how to behave. Also we had a session on living with our host families.
I'm excited, nervous, scared, worried, all those things at once. I can't believe that I'm actually going to Japan it still hasn't hit me. I can't believe this is happening. I don't know how this experience will change me. Orientation isu fun but I want to just get there! I'm too excited to pay attention. My flight takes off at 11:33 San Fran time. I'll write with an update about getting to JAPAN once I'm there. Japan here I come!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I have a host family!

Today, in the mail I received a letter from YFU telling me who my Japanese host family is! I will be staying with the Tamashiro's. They live in Kitanakagusuku village in Nakagami district in Okinawa, Japan! I have two host brothers, one 17, one 19! I will attend Kita Nakagusu high school! The dad is a teacher and the mom is a public servant. This is so exciting!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Travel Dates

June 21st: fly San Fran to Tokyo
August 1st: return from Tokyo to San Fran and then from San Fran to Philadelphia

September 5-8 leave for DC
attend 4 day orientation and fly for Frankfurt, DE
June 25-July 8 return to DC

Done School! Getting packed. Getting ready.

I took my math final on Thursday and finished my last day of school in America for a very long time. It almost felt surreal leaving school and thinking about how I won't be back for two summers and a school year. I'm going to miss it, the good and the bad. I'm used to it, I'm going to miss the familiarity. I'm going to (2) countries where I know no one and will have no friends (till I make some). I've been asked by people if I'm nervous and I actually am not, maybe it will hit me once I'm on the plane. I've been packing everything and getting ready for Japan. I have all the clothes I need and my mom ordered yen from the bank. I'm ready. It's crazy to think that all the things I need for 6 weeks, I'm packing into one carry one bag of 20 kilos (44lbs) and one carry on bag. I guess it will be even crazier for Germany since I'm bringing the same amount of stuff, but staying a year! It's exciting and nerve wracking at the same time!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A special thank you

I would like to dedicate this post to all the people who have made it possible for me to travel to Japan and Germany. I would first like to thank the people who wrote my recommendation letters. I needed four letters. Thanks to my former Latin teacher, Mr Turner, my religion teacher, Mr Donahue, my former history teacher, Mr Daniels and my English teacher Mr Patragnoni. Thanks to all those people for putting in the time and effort on those recommendations. They must have been good :D I'd also like to thank my guidance counselor Dr Berna for helping me out so much for planning and getting credit for my year abroad, and I'd also like to thank Mrs Kettinger for being so helpful with working out my credits and roster for Junior/Senior year.
I'd also thank my mother for first of all letting me go to all these places, and for supporting me through my applications. Thanks you all! みなさん どうも ありがとう

Sunday, May 1, 2011


On Friday in the mail I received a large FedEx package. I opened it up and found I t-shirt from YFU. I was already excited! I read the front page of the papers that came along with the shirt and found that I had won the Okinawa peace scholarship from YFU! I won a scholarship to go to Japan! It includes an orientation in San Francisco at UC Berkeley and another orientation in Tokyo. That means I get to go to San Fran, Tokyo and then Okinawa! I’m going to Japan and then I’m going to Germany! I must be the luckiest person in the world. I have nothing to complain about! Here’s a picture of me in the t-shirt. I leave around June 20th and return around August 1st. I’m already starting to learn Japanese. I’m excited to learn this fun and interesting language but I’m also a bit overwhelmed by how much I want to learn before I go. Japanese grammar is...complicated to say the least and I haven’t learnt much yet but Im pouring my heart into it :) さようなら (sayonara)!

沖縄! (Okinawa)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Getting pumped

So now that I know that I'm going to Germany I just can't stop thinking about going to Germany! Everything just reminds me of Germany, for example, tonight we had strudel after dinner and that made think of the delicious strudel I'll get to try in Germany! I still have bouts of bouts of euphoria about it. I can't wait to get there. I've been counting the days till summer and trying to learn more German. I'm trying to learn about 500 new words over the summer. I've been watching German tv (ZDF) and watching some German movies and I write down the words I don't know. It's annoying that even after 10 years of German and 3 or so years of intense study I can still always find words I don't know when I watch a movie or read a book. I really want to be fluent and I'm working hard for it. Over the last month or so I've met so many new people via facebook thru this scholarship program. I have made new friends from all over the world. It's really awesome, people from Mexico, Columbia, Brazil, Bolivia, Portugal, Denmark, Indonesia, Italy etc. It's really exciting that I'll get to know people from all over the world. Bis spaeter!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I GOT IT!!!!!

I got it! I got it! I got it! I got the scholarship! I'm going to Germany next year on a full ride scholarship! I won a nationally competitive prestigious scholarship! This is amazing! It's almost unreal. I am going to Germany-on a full ride scholarship! I received a scholarship worth over $12,000! I got a full scholarship to Germany! I am in a state of euphoria! I can call myself a Congress Bundestag scholar! This is unreal!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Why Germany?

Why Germany? Some people have asked me the question "why Germany?" I have a lot of reasons for choosing Germany. Germany is a thriving, developed modern country, an important ally to the US and a pillar in the world economy. Germany is a more off the beaten track for tourists compared to say Italy or France but is brimming with just as much culture and history. I have had German since 1st grade and I am fairly fluent in it. I wish to become compltetely fluent in it and be able to speak like a native. The only countries where German is the main language are Germany, Austria, Switzerland Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. The last two arent an option so I had to choose between Deutschland Austria and Switzerland. The last of those two speak German in dialect (moreso than in Germany) so the best place to learn standard German is obviously Germany. My school officials also felt that to go on exchange, I would have to go to German speaking country since I could handle the school work much better. I want to become 100% fluent in Germany. I already speak it very proficiently and have a wide vocabulary. However, I sometimes can't understand radio and TV broadcasts, (they speak so quickly.) I want to learn to understand everything and be able to talk effortlessly about any topic. I have heard of exchange students going to places like Hungary and Vietnam with no prior language knowledge and leaving proficient. If they can do that, I can learn fluent German in a year!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Agonizing Wait

I have heard conflicting info about when I will find out about the CB scholarship. Ive heard mid-march, (so much for that), end of March, (boy that's close), spring, (boy thats general), and I've read that last year people found out around April 15th. I am on pins and needles waiting. I just want to know! I guess college acceptance letters are similar. Everytime the mail comes or the phone rings I rush to get it or answer it. I'm unsure if the notification is through an email, a phone call or a letter which just adds to the mystery and agony! Comon AFS!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Convincing your parents to let you go abroad

It can be reallllllly hard to convince your parents to let you go abroad and spend a whole year away from them. I had to do a lot of convincing. I put a powerpoint together to get my family on board and here are its basic contents:

Financing a Year Abroad: You can afford a foreign exchange!

If you go to private school, consider the price of the tuition you pay, if you go to public school, see if your district will pay part of the tuition. Then consider the price you pay in food and electricity,gas and water for a year. +Many exchange organizations offer financial aide and/or scholarships which can range from full ride scholarships to $3000 to a few hundred dollars.

How will studying abroad affect my college admissions?

I spoke with Yale and Harvard admissions officers. Both said that studying abroad would not at all look negatively on an application. Instead they, internationally known ivy league schools, said that many applicants to these schools are from abroad, or have studied abroad. They said that studying abroad could demonstrate commitment to interests and a sense of leadership.

They also said it provides excellent college essay topics

They said that they would only would not look at grades from study abroad, but would like to see classes I took and teacher statements. They recognize that while studying abroad the language of instruction is not in a student’s first language.

They said that the time away from home students who studied abroad already had experience being away from home and would have an easier adjustment to life away from home.

They said studying abroad demonstrated one’s desire to challenge oneself and “overcome obstacles” e.g. language barrier, culture shock.


Studying abroad is one of the best ways to understand the social, political, and economic issues that profoundly affect the world.

Stand out on college admissions

Stand out on job applications

Becoming fluent in another language

Learn about a new culture

Stronger sense of leadership

Growth in maturity

More independent


You'll be away from your family and home and everything you know and are familiar with for a whole year. You''ll spend your holidays and your birthday away from your natural family.

Getting this thing started

So I figured I would begin this blog with an introduction. My name is John Shinn. I live in Philadelphia. I am currently a sophomore in high school at St Joe's Prep. I will be spending my Junior year (so excited in Germany). I am going through the exchange organization AFS, American Field Service I applied to AFS regular application, where you pay tuition, but I also applied for CBYX Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange, a full ride scholarship that would save my family the whole tuition price and be very prestigious. I am an avid traveller and I relish the opportunity to travel. I also applied to YFU, (youth for understanding) to 2 scholarship programs. One program is to Finland in the summer, the other is in Japan for the summer as an exchange student. I relish the opportunity to travel and going to Finland or Japan would be amazing! Being an exchange student is an amazing experience that opens your mind up! I'll keep in touch with how everything went with the different scholarship. Keep your fingers crossed. Druck dir die Daumen!