How has your experience on exchange in Japan been so far?
My experience so far has been immensely fun! I’m constantly learning new words, visiting new places and interacting with new people.
How have you found living with your host family? What do they do that is different to home in the UK?
I love being able to get to know Japanese families. Initially, my school had organised four host families for me, each for two months (I got ill the summer I was meant to fly so it was delayed and I could thankfully still go for 8 months instead of 10). My first host family was a woman the same age as my mum who lives alone. It was a nice, gentle welcome to Japan and exchange life, although it wasn’t lonely as we spent lots of time with her children and grandchildren. My second family was a family of four. I had two younger host sisters who I often played with. My third and fourth families, however, became unable to host me so my second family extended their homestay period to four months and the school found me another family for the remaining two months (parents, son, and daughter, who is studying at university). In the family home I help out willingly with household chores as I see they need doing, I currently have ‘English Time’ with my host siblings for about 10-15 minutes each day, and I spend time with the family.
All Japanese homes have ‘genkan’ at the front of the house or apartment where everyone removes their outdoor shoes before taking the small step into the rest of the house. The Japanese have a bath everyday (after washing first with the shower) and they share the bathwater. The bath gets cleaned every day. The family I am currently staying with as I write this are very musical so they practice violin and piano every day. The children also spend a fair bit of time studying for extra-curricular English exams or doing their homework. I’m learning from this family about maintaining important habits every day – a useful skill to know!
What has your favourite part of the experience been so far?
Getting to meet so many different people is probably my favourite part. Everyone - host families, school students and staff, and members of the community – have all made me feel incredibly welcome. Getting to visit beautiful places such as Himeji castle have also been a highlight.
What has been the most challenging part of exchange?
The first month was a tough time for homesickness. Other than that I guess being surrounded by Japanese all day every day can be pretty tiring as constantly trying to translate and understand everything uses a lot of brain power especially on long school days. It’s important exchange students don’t spend too much time in contact with home, but I have found that talking with my British friends over the phone once or twice a month a very helpful release because I get a chance to express myself easily and it reminds me of the level of communication I want to reach with my Japanese friendships. Of course, every exchange student responds to contact with home differently so take care and make sure you don’t spend so much time talking with home that you miss out on the precious time you have in your host country.
What does a typical day at school look like for you?
My host school differs slightly from the typical school because it offers specialist courses for its students. Therefore, my experience might be slightly different to another exchange student’s. My ‘homeroom’ class is part of the general course and with them I share homeroom time at the beginning and end of every day and I also have various lessons with them such as maths, Japanese literature, and calligraphy. Except for calligraphy and PE, all the general course students are taught in the same classroom for every subject. Students have an assigned desk and the teachers arrive for every lesson. My other classes consist of cooking, patisserie, music and rhythmic dance (with the childcare/welfare course), and ICT.
I also have private Japanese lessons once or twice a week with a member of staff who, although speaks little English, has experience teaching Japanese to Japanese children. For me, each day involves a lot of walking! My school is a fifteen minute walk up a mountain from the train station and from there my homeroom is up three flights of stairs. In addition, when I have classes other than the general course or I have PE, I have to walk a couple of minutes up a steep path to the rest up the classrooms and the gym further up the mountain.
Once a week I help out at English club after school. I am also looking to join the tea ceremony/flower arranging club. Most other clubs (e.g. sports and calligraphy) meet five days a week, some even at the weekends.