From Diana who spent the year in Japan
As a Rotary Youth Exchange student I have experienced many changes in myself and in how I think and view the world. Developing the ability to see from other point of view, accepting that there are things that I cannot control, having a more mild temperament, and being more open to new people are just some of the changes my year abroad has brought about.
One of the main changes I see in myself is that I have developed the ability to look outside of myself. In my everyday life, before the Youth Exchange, I made most decisions for myself without much concern for how they affected others. My first concern was myself. I ate when I wanted, went wherever I wanted, and developed my own opinions with very little care for anyone else. Having this mind set and living in a place such as Japan, which is very group-oriented, is not possible (or would be very difficult). If I had continued with my self-centered thinking while in Japan, I’m very sure I would not have completed my exchange. I had to begin to consider others around me and how they would be affected by my actions. Before I could make plans with friends, I had to consult with my host parents first, in case they had planned something. If I were to go ahead and do whatsoever I pleased I would have ended up either disappointing one or angering the other. Before expressing a bold opinion I had to think about those around me that might disagree or perhaps be offended. I have become more conscious of the feelings of those around me, and not just my own. Sometimes we forget that it’s not just us looking out at the world, but the rest of the world has their own thoughts and feelings as well, and our actions affect each other. Not only do we need to consider those around us, but also we should realize that we cannot have complete control over any situation as well.
One of the most difficult changes in myself is having the strength to accept the things that I cannot change. Before my exchange I was used to going from one day to the next with pretty much everything going my way. If I wanted to go see a movie, I went. If I didn’t like someone I didn’t talk to them. And if anything or anyone challenged me, it was not taken easily. I liked having control, and when put in a situation in which I lacked it, I reacted badly. In coming to Japan I had to learn to let go of my control. Things may not go the way I’d like them to be, but they are in others’ hands, not mine. At first I had a difficult time adapting to my first host family. My host mother and I have very conflicting personalities, and perhaps too similar in the fact that we are both very stubborn people. But she had volunteered to let me into her home, and it was not her job to adapt to me, but mine to her. We fought often, or I would make her angry. Gradually I learned to take a step back from the situation and see that it wasn’t going to change, so I had to. I had to learn to accept that I cannot control everything. I also learned that just because something wasn’t going the way I’d prefer doesn’t mean I should resent it; it will most likely somehow be for the better. Learning this helped me to manage my temper better.
Most likely the most obvious change in me is that I’ve a much milder temperament. I used to be a rather short tempered person, and to some extent, although much less than before, I still am. As I mentioned before I strongly disliked being told what to do, or not to do. I also have several pet peeves that set me off very easily. I remember during my interview for the youth exchange program mentioning that my number one dislike was being treated like, or being told that I am a child, and not having an opportunity to express my own opinion. Everyone responded to me by laughing and saying how I would need to get over that; they were right. Going to a foreign country, with limited knowledge of the culture and language you are in some ways reduced to the same level as that of a child. At the age of 18 I couldn’t even do the simplest things such as taking a bath without having to be taught how first. I had to deal with my own frustration of going from being much more independent to a very dependent ‘child’. This, as well as being told that I am still a child, as the Japanese do not reach the age of adulthood until they are 20, most definitely triggered my bad temper. But I soon realized that getting angry didn’t help the situation. In fact it simply confirmed how much of a ‘child’ I still was. I very quickly had to learn to take a deep breath and just deal with it. Losing your temper does not help resolve an issue, in fact it just creates more. With a cooler head, and a much more calm and collected reserve, I can also now open myself up to people more easily.
Lastly, but most certainly not least, I’ve learned to be more open with people, and be slower to judge them. When It came to interacting with my peers in high school I wasn’t the most social person. I had the attitude that if someone didn’t want to talk to me, I didn’t want to talk to them, which is not very social behavior. I had friends, and if someone was friendly to me I was friendly back. But, I never made the effort to approach new people myself. My training in proper socialization came before I even set foot in the airport. During orientations , where we were educated on how to be good exchange students, the supervising Rotarians made if very clear that they would be watching how the future exchange students (out bounds) interacted with both each other and the current inbounds. If they saw anything similar to the anti-social behavior described above, we were told that we would be cut from the program. So, there I was in a room full of students whom I may have seen before in the halls at school, but had never actually spoken to. Although from appearances alone we knew very little about each other and seemed to have very little in common we had to open up to each other and socialize. We were taught that in out host country fellow students might not approach us, and if we leave it at that, we are not going to succeed in our exchange program. You have to be the one to open up to others. I now regret having not approached more people during my high school years, and I now know better than to judge others my their appearance alone. Because of this I have now made several close friendships during my exchange.
Being a part of the Rotary Youth Exchange has given me much more than just the opportunity to stay in a foreign country for just a year, but also has helped me to grow into a better person. The changes that my year abroad have brought about in myself will take me farther in life than I’m sure I could fathom, and I am very grateful for the Rotary Youth Exchange for giving me so much more than I could have expected. Thank you.