Hometown: Westerville, Ohio
School: Westerville North High School
Sponsor Club: Westerville Sunrise, Ohio
Host District: 2700
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Okawa
Konnichiwa! My name is Rex Lundstrom; I’m 18 years old and thrilled to say that thanks to the generous Westerville Sunrise Rotary Club, I’m spending a gap year in Japan! I’m in the midst of picking up this very difficult language, while having an awesome time at my school. I plan on attending every club this school has to offer at least once; so far volleyball, basketball, and badminton have been extremely fun. In the USA I play ultimate Frisbee, have pickup games of basketball with friends, participate in some competitive gaming, and work as a lifeguard for a Jewish camp in the summer. I’ve decided to travel abroad for several reasons: I love trying new foods (Japanese food is amazing), living abroad without people I am familiar with is a challenge that will strengthen my adaptation and problem solving skills, and, to sum it all up, this is the opportunity of a lifetime and will be something I reflect upon throughout my future. I am ecstatic to be fluent in Japanese and let my family, friends, and Rotary club know all that I will have accomplished!
Letters to my sponsor club – Westerville Sunrise Rotary:
This month, my school had its annual 5 day skiing trip for all 150 juniors in high school. Everybody, in school uniform, flew from the southern island of Kyushu to Tokyo, then traveled 5 hours by bus to a ski resort near Mount Fuji. It never ceases to amaze me how such scheduling is possible here; in the U.S. I could never imagine getting all of the students in my grade to even successfully board a plane, but in Japan, such tasks are no problem. Everyone followed the packing instructions, and had our bags checked to make sure nobody brought cell phones, MP3 players, or even decks of cards. Although it was strict, they did so with good intentions to keep students busy in a better way than social media. When we arrived at the resort, kids were organized into groups of seven to share a room. These rooms had no beds and were sized like they were made to sleep one person comfortably. However, when, we opened the closet there were enough mats that we could cover the entire floor to barely fit seven. Something I truly love about Japan is people don’t complain about such things. I didn’t mind the rooms, and nobody else seemed to either. Also, the skiing weather was incredible. Since I was the only one in my school who had skied before, I was stuck with the group in basic classes, but it was still an incredible time.
On another note, I have really grown to love my second host family. The daughter, although spoiled by her mom, is a smart girl with great morals, and once she stops being rebellious, I’m sure that she’ll become successful in the future; plus I’ve almost certainly convinced her to become an exchange student to America. My father is always busy, but he’s a very hard worker and is always traveling somewhere to buy wood or sell furniture for his company. And my mother is simply a ton of fun. Since she’s from the big city of Osaka, she gets bored in Okawa, as it’s a very small town. Because of this, she always feels the need to do something, so we go all sorts of places, like temples, restaurants, wineries, or traditional Japanese fan making shops. My family has been so incredible, but this is unfortunately the last week I’ll be staying with them; they threw me a delicious goodbye BBQ two days ago since my host dad was about to go on a business trip to Laos. Also, yesterday my host mom and I went grocery shopping to get the ingredients needed to make my father’s famous seafood soup. It turned out incredible! Everyone loved it, and my host mother posted many pictures on Facebook, which made my host dad jealous, because he’s on a business trip!
Here’s a link if you’d like to see the pictures: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=432909830235761&id=100005502437356&pnref=story
Also, I’m so thrilled to say that I received a letter by email a few days ago informing me that I’ve been accepted to the competitive program of communications design at the Univercity of Cincinnati—my top choice!! I can feel that the culture of Japan is rubbing off on me, and that it’s improving my work ethic. I plan to do the best I can when I come back to college, and I don’t want to slack off at all.
ijo desu! (That’s all for now)
More updates to come,
Akemashite, omedetou gozaimasu! Happy New Years!
First I must say that I truly love the culture here. The kindness in Japan is almost unreal, and it comes from virtually everyone. Whenever I visit a Rotarian’s/Host family’s friend’s company or shop, I cannot leave without a gift. I’ve been given bottles of vinegar, an authentic tea cup, a container of salt crystals, handmade placemats, and much more.
I can clearly feel that I’m maturing, and making long lasting relationships all the time
My second host family has already said they want me to come back after college with a wife and kids to stay at their home and show them around Japan. I hope to take them up on such an offer in the future, and find a way to make it up to them!
On another note it has been the holiday season. In Japan, Christmas is about as important as Halloween, in the sense that it has a fun theme, many dress up, but people don’t treat it seriously. My school had classes on Christmas Eve, and although winter break started Christmas Day, most kids still went to school for studying.
However I did have many fun Christmas parties! Two with my host dad’s company and a couple through Rotary. All were very enjoyable, and had many gifts to give away. I ended up winning a bingo game at one of these parties and was given ¥5,000 ($40-45). I also went with a Rotarian who owns the best sushi restaurant in Okawa to watch the new Star Wars. Always a fun time with Rotarians! He was kind enough to get lunch and some cute Star Wars novelty cups for the movie.
On a later day, another Rotarian I met at a dinner party said he is in a band that sings only Simon and Garfunkel songs (apparently they very popular in more countries than just America about 50 years ago) and offered me to sing in a Christmas concert at a cafe with him. It sounded fun, and I love Simon and Garfunkel, so together we sung The Sound of Silence, The Boxer, and Scarborough Fair. There were around 50 people, and though they understood none of the words, everyone seemed to enjoy it!
Overall, Christmas may just be another reason to have a good time in Japan, but New Year’s Day, however, is a big deal. My host family and grandparents all spent the 31st and January 1st together stuffing ourselves with sushi, lobster, ribs, and much much more. We went to a huge shrine which involved walking up around 600 steps to reach the top. There, we payed respects to the gods and witnessed a special New Years ceremony to bless those in the shrine with a “year of good health.” Before our New Year’s Eve dinner, my grandparents brought out a special set of Sakekazuki AKA sake glasses, except this set of three is only used every New Years; for the 364 other days they are stored away. The reason? This set was made of solid gold. Their value is that of a new car, and although small, they felt heavy in the hand. Drinking from one was quite the experience to say the least.
As I send this letter I am currently on a bullet train for Osaka, my favorite place in Japan so far. I look forward to this three day trip and will get a chance to see the famous Osaka Castle!
I thank everyone in Rotary for giving me such an adventure, and my incredible luck with loving host families. Japan is a great place and I feel as though I have it better off than so many others my age.
My New Years resolution is to have as good relations with all of my host families as my two so far, and to give back to those who have helped me in any way that I can!
Happy New Years,
At the beginning of this month, I changed host families. It’s a wonderful way to see Japan in a new light. Just like America, every family in Japan is different. My new host father owns a carpentry business, and because of that, the family’s house is gorgeous. My father informed me that it was comprised of 80 different species of trees, and he can name the tree that any wooden object is made of with remarkable accuracy. My host mother has two small dogs which she is, for lack of better words, completely obsessed with. Each of them have over 50 different outfits which she changes each day. Her friends also have similar puppies with their own outfits, so they often get together and have photo shoots. While it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, I find it very funny and I think it’s an interesting hobby for a Mother to get in to. At the start of this month, I did not have a Rotary meeting; instead, Rotarians got together and spent Japan’s national culture day eating dinner on small rowboats.
It was one of those experiences that can’t be properly put into words, the feeling of enjoying dinner in the night while drifting along as many on the side of the narrow river played music while decorative lights surrounded- it was a one of a kind experience! The first day with my new host family, we went to the best sushi restaurant in Okawa, and it truly lived up to such a title; I would go as far as saying it was the best sushi I’ve ever had. Later on my host mom, little sister and I went to Huis ten Bosch, a Germany themed amusement park. There I went down a 1km zip line and went bungee jumping for the second time in my life. Just a few days ago, while the Japanese high schools students had several days of testing, all the exchange students from the southern island of Kyusu enjoyed a Rotary trip to Kagoshima. There I visited a volcano, went through a World War II museum, and went to a spa in which all of my body except my head was buried in hot sand. Furthermore, I was finally able to try out a natural Japanese onsen, or hot spring. Unfortunately, I lost my voice at the beginning of the trip which was about five days ago, but all that really means is I haven’t been doing a whole lot of talking! It has been an interesting experience to not be able to speak for a reason different then being a foreigner he doesn’t understand Japanese. My voice is almost back to normal, and I’m lucky that it happened during a break from school. Regarding language, I can tell that I’ll be fluent very soon, and I’m eager to reach the point where I don’t have to ask what certain words are when people speak to me.
My final note is that Rotarians continue to show unrivaled kindness wherever they lie. Every time I visit a Rotarians company or house the won’t allow me to leave without gifts. I went to a vinegar company and the owner who was a rotarian served me tea, showed me around, let me try salad dressings and gave me a bottle of balsamic vinegar for my return.
Rotary is a quintessential example of selflessness, and I’m reminded how lucky I am every time I see a Rotarian!
Okagesama de genki desu. (Thanks to you, I’m doing very well)
I can feel my Japanese improving each day, and it’s elating to converse with students and teachers that I couldn’t say much to a couple of months ago. While the written language has proved to be a challenge, whenever I learn a new kanji or symbol, it’s really uplifting to recognize it on signs or billboards, and that motivates me to continue my studies.
This month I had a Trip to Nagasaki with Rotarians and other exchange students. We went to an amusement park, had a remarkable dinner and visited the Atomic bomb museum. While amusement parks are fun, I found the museum much more interesting. We took photos of the hypo-center where the bomb was actually dropped, and I learned a lot about the power of nuclear warheads. There was an elderly man, who was just 12 years old when the bomb dropped just a couple of miles from his home. He survived and told us his story first hand; it was devastating, but enlightening, and by far the most memorable part of my trip.
I actually visited Nagasaki a second time this month with my classmates on a school trip to a university of foreign studies. We met college exchange students and toured the college, before sightseeing at Oura Church, which was the first western style place in Japan to be deemed a national treasure.
But of course I have to give an update on the food. I really hope people enjoy hearing about this kind of stuff, because it’s definitely the most fun to talk about. Some of the most exciting things I’ve eaten this month have been moving on my plate. I ate live mackerel fish at a restaurant with my host family, then the waiter took away the bones which I assumed had meant the dish was finished, but a couple of minutes later the waiter returned with the same fish bones breaded and fried! I also ate squid while it was still living, because of the tentacles moving all about, it was as fun to eat as it was delicious. and the last noteworthy meal was basashi, raw horse meat. I had been waiting to try this for quite some time, and had my doubts as to what it may taste like. It was honestly great, and contradicted articles I read about foreigners advising to never try it because it “Tasted like blood” and they “Couldn’t force down one bite.”
The last thing I’ll mention is a school Halloween themed culture festival which was yesterday. There were all sorts of games and activities set up, students in costume taking many pictures, and some very talented ones performing dances or songs. My class of 36 students had an open tent where we barbecued Japanese style shish-kabobs to sell for a fundraiser. For a little while I was given a sign to hold that said “Ikemen’s Kitchen” a.k.a. “hot guy’s kitchen” which had the teachers laughing, but still buying kabobs. It was quite a nice break from the regular eight hour school day!
I’m learning more about Japan all the time, and it’s all because of Rotary that I’m able to live this experience and gain invaluable knowledge of language and culture to use for the rest of my life. I’m sure that there are many more adventures to come, as I will have a new host family next month, and I will continue posting my experiences so the world can see why being an exchange student is nothing short of a golden opportunity. Thank you Westerville Sunrise Rotary Club!
October 1 letter – Konnichi wa! (Hello everyone)
Japan is beyond incredible!
My first host family is a perfect balance of a fun easygoing dad, a loving mom, a sister who’s been to Ohio on exchange, and two crazy little brothers who always keep me occupied! I’ve honestly tried so many new things that it’s hard to recall everything! So far, I’ve seen a firework show that was far more impressive than Red White and Boom, I introduced myself for two minutes in Japanese and English in front of my school, (400-500 staff and students) I entered a singing competition for fun at my host father’s music shop, my Obaachan (grandmother) who lives next door taught me how to perform the ancient Japanese tea making ceremony, 15 of my classmates threw me a welcome BBQ, and I even met the mayor of Okawa!
Last week I traveled by bullet train to the lively city of Osaka! I saw one of the world’s largest aquariums which held Manta rays, huge whale sharks, and nearly 2 million gallons of saltwater in the 2 foot thick acrylic glass.
But of course, I cannot write about Japan without mentioning the food I’ve tried here! If anyone is a vegan, or member of PETA, please cover your eyes and ears. First, a very popular dish I wasn’t aware of before I came to Japan is called Nato. It is fermented soybeans usually served over rice that have the most slime-like consistency of any food I’ve ever seen. It’s something you honestly have to see in person to understand how beans can appear so unappetizing. One of the more strange foods I’ve eaten is referred to as “Hormone,” which is a broad word that refers to the parts of an animal you wouldn’t usually serve, mostly chicken intestine and some other mystery organs. But probably the craziest dish I’ve had so far is raw whale meat; served cold with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.
I’m enjoying every day here, and I’ve been having so much fun with students in various after school clubs. I can’t thank Westerville Sunrise Rotary club enough for making this entire experience possible! There’s nothing I could possibly be doing in America that compares to the life I’m living in Okawa! I’m studying Japanese everyday when I’m in school and I’ve noticed definite improvement, but I would be lost if it wasn’t for the Westerville school’s program that allowed me to take college Japanese classes and gain such a solid foundation of language skills. This whole experience has made me even more grateful to have been raised in the selfless community that is Westerville! I will continue to try and be the best exchange student I can be, as I represent all of America in the eyes of everyone here. Thank you so much; Many updates to come!!!