I am currently on exchange in Dazaifu, Japan, which is about a twenty-minute train ride south of the coastal city of Fukuoka. Fukoaka is about 900 km southwest of Toyko and it is perhaps most famous for being the site of the Tenmangu Shrine, which is one of the most important shrines in Japan – especially for students. Founded in the 10th century, Osake Tenmangu enshrines Sugawara no Michizane, the deity of scholarship. Like other similar shrines across the country, it is a popular spot for students to pray for good results in their exams or studies.
So far, I have been in Japan for about half of my 9-week exchange visit, and already I have experienced a significant amount of Japanese culture. I’m currently attending Linden Hall High School, a very small school of only around 100 students, which is very different from what I'm used to in Lakefield. For example, it was quite a surprise when I learnt there were only 8 other students in my grade! The people here are extremely welcoming and even though my Japanese language skills are still very weak, the students and teachers have made a real effort to help me learn about and embrace their Japanese culture. My host family, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Tanaka and their younger daughter, Mohiro, are lovely people. I was able to spend a very enjoyable weekend with them, during which they took me sightseeing, introduced me to some wonderful Japanese cuisine, and planned a variety of fun activities. Their older daughter, Yoake, is my exchange partner and she is currently visiting LCS, while occupying my dorm in Moodie House.
As mentioned, I’ve found one of the most challenging aspects of this exchange to be the language barrier. Even though Linden Hall is an international school, many of the students have trouble expressing themselves in English, so not surprisingly, they tend to mainly speak Japanese amongst themselves. During the first few weeks, I felt quite excluded and alone since I wasn't able to communicate with the other students that much. But as time passed, I managed to adapt to this challenge and began to initiate conversations in English with my classmates. Another extremely rewarding aspect of my exchange thus far, has been the food. The Japanese cuisine is delicious and it's been a real pleasure getting to enjoy it every day!
Among other lessons, the past few weeks have taught me how grateful I am for this opportunity. I now realize that being a student in the prestigious Lakefield College School has sheltered me somewhat from the struggles that many students around the world have to go through every day. For example, several students at Linden Hall live almost two hours away from the school, so they must use public transport for around 4 hours each day to attend this school. In my life, I have never had to face these types of hardships, since my schools have always been easily accessible to me. This experience has shown me that there are people of my age who have to overcome many challenges to achieve something that I can easily acquire, and often take for granted. My time in Japan has definitely reinforced my personal belief that gratitude is one of the most important strengths a person can have!
If given the chance, I highly recommend that other LCS students take advantage of the opportunity to go on exchange. It truly is a once in a lifetime experience. Even though it can be challenging at times, the bonds you create with the people you meet and the different cultures you get to experience far outweigh the cons. As I’ve been lucky enough to experience first-hand, the exchange program is a way to help students learn more about the world we are living in and what life is like in other countries, especially for people our own age.Lakefield College School’s membership in Round Square makes it possible for our Grade 10 students to participate in – typically 6 to 10 weeks - exchanges with students from more than 180 Round Square (and a few non-Round Square) schools around the world. Learn more about Student Exchanges.