|It was with them that even being in a country that is miles away, I didn’t feel so homesick and out of place. (Yi Juin is second from the right)|
After SPM, Yi Juin received the opportunity to spend a year abroad in Japan under an exchange programme. Read about her experience here.
As I browse through thousands of photos that I took, trying to find that one unforgettable moment for this article, I’m having so many flashbacks. I couldn’t find the best moment of my exchange year in Japan. It was so many little moments that made up one of the most memorable years of my life.
Starting a new life in a completely new environment, where you cannot speak the language and you don’t know anybody, is difficult. The process for me was both scary and exciting. I’ve felt nervous, stressed, homesick, and lonely throughout the entire duration of my time in Japan. At the same time, I also got the chance to experience being loved, belonged, lucky and just plain happy to be there. Â But when I realized it was time to pack things up and go home, the words ‘sad’ and ‘heavy-hearted’ aren’t enough to describe how I feel.
Arriving in Japan
I arrived in Fukuoka, Japan in spring. It is the season of new beginnings, a season that will mark the start of my exchange year. I received the privilege to have a total of three lovely host families I love, of which I have five host siblings who I adore just as equally. Each host family is different, this enhanced my experience living in a Japanese home even more. They would bring me to new places and introduce new food whether it was deliciously home-cooked or eating out. (No, we don’t eat sushi everyday in Japan). I was welcomed not only into their homes but also into their families. And it was with them that even being in a country a thousand miles away from home, I didn’t feel so homesick and out of place.
I went to Futaba High School, a catholic, all-girls private high school. That will always be my answer whenever someone from home asks me about meeting Japanese boys, haha. It was also strict and we might not have the cutest uniform but I could not have asked for a better school. The teachers and the students are really friendly and would sometimes smile and wave and me. This is something that always made my day.
How I spent my time there
Most of my time in school was spent with my classmates from class II-6. We would have classes and bento (Japanese lunchbox) together every day. We competed in the Sports Day and Volleyball Class Match as one, and we even travelled to Kyoto and Nara for our school trip. I enjoyed their company very much. At the end of a school day, most of my time is devoted to Kendo Club, a Japanese form of fencing. My club mates were very patient and encouraging with a beginner like me. The training was sweaty and exhausting, plus a lot of blisters on the palms and feet but the excitement written on their faces when I did a move correctly made the challenge worth it.
The people I met there
At Futaba I had 13 volunteer Japanese teachers that taught us exchange students. Half of my lessons in school were with them. They are not only our mentors in the foreign tongue, but also our friends. They teach us, not only how to use the language, but also the Japanese culture and they let us experience it firsthand. We went to festivals, danced in a parade, visited school festivals, museums and Japanese garden, learnt calligraphy and so much more. Learning there was never a chore.
|Crazy, caring, supportive Futaba Exchange Students. They’re also the reason why school and learning Japanese was fun (*^^*)|
Another group of people who also meant a lot to me are the wonderful exchange students I’ve met along the way. I never thought I could meet and befriend so many people from all these different corners of the earth. They made the world seem bigger and smaller at the same time. We all came from various cultural backgrounds, from east to west, but bonded almost instantly. It was probably because we know we are all in this together, part of each other’s journey. We were all learning how to fit in into this new environment, and with their understanding and support, I was able to make the most out of everything and still have a fantastic time.
My last month in Japan was packed. My Japanese teachers made the effort to ensure that I had no regrets before going home. I could still enjoy their fun and relaxing Japanese lessons at school like usual. But on some days, we would have a mini party in the classroom with Japanese snacks, or a walk at the park, or going to the nearby Japanese sweets shop just to relax ourselves. They would take us to the shrine for a festival, bring us up to a mountain because I’ve always wanted to go and surprise me with a cake to celebrate my birthday in advance.
My classmates threw me a surprise farewell party. To be honest, I knew something was up, but I still felt very touched nonetheless. When I opened the door, they threw hand-made confetti and sang a line from my favourite Japanese song. Homemade cookies and cakes, snacks, soft drinks filled the tables they arranged in the middle of the class and the party started. We talked, laughed and played games. And at the end they gave me a book with their best wishes inside.
Winter came too fast. It was time to pack things up and go home. I had mixed feelings about it. I was happy, finally being able to see my family and friends back home after so long. And at the same time, heavyhearted, not knowing when is the next time I can see the people and the place I came to love again. It was a little bit of everything that made my exchange year so memorable. And I have always considered myself very lucky, to have such an amazing experience where words have failed me when I try to describe them.