Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Things I Learned in Japan: expectations lead to disappointments. [part 1]

This is going to seem ranty, and it in all honesty is, but it's something I feel needs to be discussed and I want to get it all off my chest before I freak.

I am a member of a forum for exchange students, and I've seen a lot of bashing of Rotary on the website. Some of it is warranted, but some of it is not. What really pisses me off, is that it is deterring potential future Rotary Exchange students from even considering Rotary because of how "irresponsible" they are. That's a crock of b.s. and I'm personally sick of it and how irresponsible exchange students just blame Rotary when much of their problems really were due to themselves and their expectations.

For those who don't know, I was a Rotary International Youth Exchange Student from District 7410 Northeastern Pennsylvania, United States of America to District 2820 Ibaraki-ken, Japan. More about RI's Youth Exchange can be found here.
Map of Ibaraki Prefecture

I left America at 10:15 AM on September 17th, 2009 and returned on August 17th, 2010. I lived in Kashima, Ibaraki for most of my exchange, but the last quarter was spent in Namegata, Ibaraki. I had five host families. I was sick often. I had to have a root-canal. I got hit by a car. I was left in a hotel for my first week. I had two host families that talked down to me and made me feel horrible. When I came to Japan, I had to wait for over an hour for someone to come get me. I was supposed to have a counselor, but I only met her twice. I was forced onto all of my host families. I was made fun of sometimes in school. My exchange was less than perfect.

My exchange was less than perfect, but I never once blamed it all on Rotary. Sure, some of it was Rotary's fault. Some of it was a culture problem. Some of it was irresponsibility of the people in Rotary. But if anything, it was Rotary Japan or my district's fault, not Rotary International as a whole.

With the 2-week exchanges from the Philippines. Love my derp face XD

For those unfamiliar with Rotary International Youth Exchange, I will explain it further.

Students are selected by Rotary Districts to do a one-for-one exchange to a foreign country - ie: one kid from a district in America goes to a district in Germany, one kid from that district in Germany goes to that district in America. However, some countries have only been allowed to send students due to concerns for their safety. Some districts have also been banned from youth exchange due to neglect or not following Rotary rules.

Communication with RIYE is primarily from District to District. That being said, whenever an issue arises, communication begins from higher up the food chain. However, if it can be handled District to District, that is the most ideal circumstance.

Within each club in Youth Exchange, there is a person assigned to be the Youth Exchange Counselor. If that club hosts students, that person is their counselor. If they send students abroad, that person is their club contact. My club in Japan changed 3 times (not allowed in Rotary rules, but whatev) so I essentially didn't have a counselor.

When I first came to Japan, I stayed in a hotel for a week. I essentially only slept there, but according to Rotary rules, that is a big no-no. Host families are supposed to be located and confirmed BEFORE the student arrives.

Host families were pretty much not found for me, other than my second which volunteered (I believe they did it for the money). Second hosts didn't like me very much, told my school how much I "hated" school, had no friends, was always skipping (I missed 3 days 'cause I was sick, I guess that's skipping), and that I needed to be "disciplined". That's where my 3rd hosts came in - I stayed with them for 20 days and they are just as close as family to me. They said to me on the second day, "You're nothing like what they told us". To which I found out about all that had been said about me. My 4th hosts were the same - they were asked to host me because the host mother was around a lot and could "keep an eye out on me". Yet again, we've become very close and they invited me back to their house many times. They even came and saw me off at Narita! My host mother also hugged me before I left - something which brought tears to my eyes.
above mentioned 4th hosts at Narita.

During this time, a lot of crap was still being talked about me within Rotary; about how "horrible" and "spoiled" I was, how I lacked any respect for Japan, and, that because I was "so bad" they couldn't find hosts for me (THAT is a total crock, I had many, many people offer to host me throughout my exchange, but because I had to change clubs, they couldn't. Also, the members of my last club weren't even asked!!!). Upon hearing this, my 5th host dad, who was not a member of Rotary, thought that I was being mistreated and said, "If you can't find a host family for her, she can stay at my house", to which the Youth Exchange Coordinator in my District in Japan simply stopped even trying to find a family - and also apparently forgot to tell those hosts I was even coming. [/embarrassment]

Overall, there was lack of accountability and willingness to do anything for me. But this is not Rotary International's fault. That I get. It is the fault of the people involved in Rotary in my district in Japan. If I had contacted my Rotary in America and said anything along the lines of, "I'm uncomfortable here," or "I feel like the Rotary here doesn't care about me" or anything of the sort, they would have taken the necessary actions to help me.

I was lucky that I have a very caring and involved Rotary District in America. Not everyone has that. However, I was told repeatedly throughout my orientations that Rotary is different in every country, and just because it is like this in America does not mean it will be like that in my host country. Here-again, it depends on the people within Rotary.

Rotary is not a bad organization. Some districts could really use some changing, but that's inevitable. You cannot go into an exchange through any program and expect them to be perfect! They are run by people! People make mistakes!

next part is coming later today or tomorrow and will focus on expectations of exchange students, host families, and of host countries by exchange students. Please check it out!


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