A year abroad as a Rotary Exchange Student is more than a long vacation. It is Risk and Opportunity, together with Triumph, Adversity and Responsibility. Mix all that together and what do you get: a full Year of growth.
I can say now, on my last blog entry while abroad, that the result was well worth the journey. To recognize the vast number of adventures and challenges I've experienced throughout the past ten months is as much of a reward as I could have ever hoped. Last night I had a moment of peace and contentment as I simply lay in bed and reminded myself of some of the many remarkable (and at time ridiculous) things I've accomplished while over here in Japan.
Thoughts about going to a fishery school, learning a completely foreign language, biking over 1400 kilometers, eating every type of food Japan has to offer, beginning a travel blog, taking whole days just to contemplate...stuff, experiencing yet another Soccer World Cup abroad, painting Japanese calligraphy, and mastering the Tokyo public transit system.
I still remember experiencing the world’s most famous sushi market, learning how to better maneuver an Asian social hierarchy, attending an entire year of school and only being assigned ONE piece of homework (English homework at that!), exploring countless aspects of the Japanese culture and tradition, traveling an incredible amount and discovering more about myself than I’d ever thought there was to uncover.
I had thought that this last blog needed to be perfect and stylish and unique. But now I realize that what will make this entry special is the fact that it truly is my last. The year of growth that I have just completed is one that simply cannot be expressed in words or pictures, but only in gratitude and resolution. I do not mean this to be in any way self-boastful, but rather one of the many things from my exchange for which I am thankful: I feel much older now. My lifestyle has changed, as has my mindset, goals and motivation. It’s an exciting moment when, with billions of people on this planet, you can step back and say, “I can hold my own.”
I don’t see my life as this.
I see it as THIS.
I now comprehend that there is undeniably an overlapping and intricately connected network of life, diversity and ambition on this planet. It is a limitless combination of where I can go, what I can see, whom I can meet, or most importantly, who I can become.
That’s the perspective I’ve reached thanks to this exchange. I wouldn’t trade such a year for the world, because that’s exactly what I’ve gained from it.
I want to express my gratitude to so many individuals, yet I know that the chance to do so will come soon enough once back home. I can’t wait to reconnect with all of you. Hopefully at that time the conversation will be a little less one-sided than it has been for the past ten months! That being said, I do owe each of my blog followers a very sincere thank you. This website has been an outlet for me throughout the year to not only share photos and fun experiences, but also to genuinely concentrate my thoughts by setting them down into writing. I am indebted to your collective continued encouragement and support. Thank you.
To Rotary I also must give great credit. They have established an incredible exchange program that spans the globe and I simply feel so fortunate to have been one of the nearly 9000 students who took part in the 2009-2010 year! I hope I can continue to offer insight and encouragement for future participants both in person and through this blog. It’s the least I can do for all that the program has done for me – お心遣い、どうもありがとうございました！！
And finally, I want to share with you my exciting travel plans for the days leading up to my July 11th return home.
Tomorrow, June 23rd, I will be meeting Ryota in Tokyo during the afternoon. We have a busy schedule planned for the next few weeks, but in the end we will have visited our friend Min in South Korea, spent a week down in Taiwan, and finally returned to Japan for two more days. During that last stretch in Japan, I will be realizing one of my greatest dreams from the year: climbing Mt. Fuji! Japan's most holy pilgrimage, I will be hiking the nine way stations (spending the night in a small hut at the eighth) in order to watch the sun rise over the entire island below. It is said to be unimaginably beautiful and tranquil - watching light strike the land of the rising sun. And so with that being my last big hurrah, I will be off to the airport and onto a plane over the Pacific. Before I know it I will once again be hugging my family in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport!
And so it comes full circle. My first entry from Japan was of having to leave my family at the Minneapolis airport. I used the words, “Today is just the beginning. Before me I have one incredible year in Japan full of adventures, challenges, friends & firsts.”
And that I did!