From many people I’ve heard that the first three months of exchange abroad will always be the hardest, and well frankly thats true, but Im here to tell you what not to do to make the first 5 months the hardest.
I think (for many reasons) so far this exchange as been really challenging, not just on my mind but my body too. My body is not liking this new routine and the food I’m putting into it, and therefore putting more strain (then it already has) on my mind.
Before I came to Japan I was quite shy and never really experienced making friends as I’ve had the same friends for 10 years. I was hoping this exchange was going to help me change that. I had this vision that within the first two months I was going to be speaking rough Japanese to my new friends and that I would be out with new people doing new things I never would of thought of. I thought I would be out of my comfort zone but not a afraid of it. I thought I would have learnt how to work hard and that not being shy wasn’t that scary.
Well I was wrong. If you are anything like me and was hoping going abroad will change you, nothing is going to change you unless you change yourself first. You have to change yourself first to be able to be open to these new experiences to change you.
It has now been 4 months and what have I done? I’ve made one friend, who came to me to speak english (and even though I ask her to speak in Japanese, most of the time she continues to speak English and so we continue to speak English). My shyness at the start of the program was my downfall. I was hoping this exchange was going to change that but I didn’t realise until later on that I had to change myself to let myself experience this exchange and therefore change even more (in the way I wanted to). If I had just spoken to people more, not been shy or a perfectionist for the first couple of months, I would have made so many more friends and my Japanese would of been so much better.
Everyone tells you that “you’ll be speaking the language within three months”, guess what? I’m not speaking Japanese nor am I really speaking English. Im not speaking at all. I don’t really have anyone to talk to anymore. This isn’t meant to scare you away from going on exchange, this is meant to help you make the most out of your exchange. Don’t do what I did. I let my shyness get the better of me and that prevented myself making friends (especially in Tokyo where they are quite use to foreigners, whereas in rural areas they will be quite ecstatic to see you), therefore I didn’t have anyone to practise my Japanese with and I slowly got into this lonely state, stopped studying and slowly found myself speaking less everyday.
I should be talking Japanese by now even if its just simple conversational Japanese, but I’m not. Don’t come on exchange thinking its going to do everything for you, you need to make the most of this exchange by changing yourself, being open minded and then letting the exchange change you.
So what am I going to do about it? I now have 6 months left and I don’t want to waste anymore time, I came here to be a better me, learn Japanese and have loads of unforgettable experiences, so thats what I am going to set out to do.
I change host families in a week which is a great time for a new start. My current host family does not speak to me in Japanese either even when I try (even the 9 & 11 year old host sisters speak to me in english because thats what the mum wants them to do so they can practise). Unfortunately I don’t feel apart of this family at all which doesn’t help with my lonely feeling, but that story is for another time.
So now is the time to change, today is just as good as any day to start now. I change host families in a week which is a good time to restart, make new relationships, not be shy and to start only using Japanese. I study everyday now, I’ve contacted my program and started Japanese lessons every week. Im just picking up my phone and messaging any person from my school (in Japanese) that ever had a slight interest in me, just talking to them and asking them to hang out. A goal of mine is to go sit with some new people at lunch in the next two weeks before summer holidays begin to ask them to hang out during the holidays. I decided to start joining school clubs after school to try and talk to people with similar interests to me. I have now dedicated pretty much all of my time now to making friends, learning Japanese and making memories. Its hard trying to make up for the past four months of nothing so MAKE THE MOST OF IT NOW! Don’t let yourself be afraid and be open, study hard and I can guarantee you that you will be really far at four months abroad and you will only get better from there.