Following are excerpts from Juneau student Alex Griffin's quarterly report of her exchange activities.  Alex, our alternate outbound student, is in Fukui, Japan representing Palmer Rotary who had an opening for an outbound student.  FukuiCity has a population of 250,000 and is located in central Japan, on the northern side of the main island.


What she's doing to gain proficiency in Japanese:

  Have friends!!! I finally got over myself and have a nice little posse of friends at my school and outside.

We do things, plan things out, take trains together. We're always chatting, and that's the key. I don't know if dreaming counts on gaining proficiency...but I think it helps to wake up every morning and be just swamped in the language around you, from sleeping. Also, I rarely get online; and by that I mean never.


How Alex rates her proficiency in the language:

I'm being told that my language has taken leaps and bounds in the last month or two, but I can't see thaf. Another way would be to look at other gaijins here in Fukui, like a few ALT's (English teachers still in college) or Daigakusei (college students) that have been here for the same time as me... they ask me to translate a lot. I was helping my friend get a doctors appointment over the phone a few days ago. So I can pretty easily get around and have conversations without thinking about it too much, and that's really exciting.


Problems Alex faced and solved:

I was faced with the common Japanese idea of effort. This was kind of awkward and a wake-up call for me. I was being told by my Rotary club that they didn't see me trying, they didn't see me giving my best. I don't know about other exchange students, but the last thing you want to hear is that you're not trying, and that's how I took it.  The problem was, I was being a little quiet and at that point didn't like to spend time with other people at my school. So they viewed me as a little withdrawn and aloof. Image that, me being too quiet. What has Japan done to me!!  Ha Ha. So I really made the effort for people to see my commitment, and it has made a world of difference.  My teachers at Fukui kou kou are much happier with me, my family likes to spend a lot of time with me, and my Rotary club is probably a bit more proud of having me as their student. I just needed to realize (a long time ago) that in Japan it's about presentation of yourself, not necessarily what you do, but how you come off.


Words of wisdom from Alex:

Don't wait out any of your exchange!!! I was talking to some friends on email and they we're telling me all the cool things going on back home and how they miss me..... I don't need to hear it! It was making me miserable and making me wait for my departure date!


Then I woke up and saw what cool things were happening around me. I go on my email now to check things from my mom and Rotary and my school. That's it. I am completely disconnected from Alaska and I'm better now than I have ever been in Japan.  It's not like you are on vacation, you don't get to live in one reality and still hang onto everything you like about the reality back home. It's one or the other and you need to make that decision before you sign up for this program. You will be LIVING in a different country, not visiting, not touristing. 


Also, you will grow to pity tourists. They can't speak a word, they go to McDonalds, they take pictures and they go home. Separate yourself as far from that as you can, from the minute you arrive. Be in this culture, because it's only one year you get.  Only one. Also, learn the language as hard as you can before you leave. Just gambatte and do it.  (gambatte, means do your best)