Thanks to a sponsorship from the Rotary Club of Batesville and other Rotarians around the world, Katie Warmuth is experiencing another culture firsthand.
The West Harrison resident arrived in Japan Aug. 21, 2012, and will return to the U.S. at the end of June. “My mom was a Rotary exchange student to Japan when she was 15 years old. I grew up hearing her intriguing and exciting stories, so I decided that one day I had to become a Rotary exchange student as well,” says the 19-year-old.
She lives in Nagoya, Japan, one of the country’s largest cities. “In the Rotary Youth Exchange program, most students have several different host families throughout the year .... I attend Shukutoku High School. It’s a new, six-story private school with 800 students.
“Because Japanese is very hard with three different alphabets, I’m not able to follow the classes very well. I do, however, take chemistry, math, English, P.E., cooking class, calligraphy and home economics. I help out in English classes around school, and I have intensive Japanese lessons twice a week.”
Just like in U.S. schools, “students run through the halls and goof off during breaks .... (and they) take most of the same classes as a student in America would.”
However, there are also many differences. In the Asian country, “teachers, not students, change classrooms. Although we do have two cafeterias, most students eat a box lunch called obento in the classroom.
“Japanese schools are usually quite strict. Almost all have uniforms. Jewelry, makeup, cellphones, iPods and the use of electronics are forbidden in school and while in uniform. Pierced ears are also against the rules,” reports the Hoosier home-schooled student.
“We recently had graduation ceremonies for the seniors. It was discovered that one of the seniors had pierced ears. She wasn’t allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies and had to pick up her degree the following day. They take rules very seriously here.”
In her free time, the student hangs out with school friends or other exchange students who are from all over the world. “We love to wander through the city, go to karaoke, visit temples and go to a famous street market. I also study for my Japanese lessons, write my next Rotary speech, explore the area, read and spend time with my host family. Sometimes, I go mountain climbing with my Rotary club or go on Rotary trips.”
The teen reveals, “The cultural differences and language barriers are often very challenging, and they make me stick out more than I’d like to. While my Japanese is getting better every day, it can still be hard for me to communicate exactly what I want to say, and sometimes my friends speak too quickly for me to understand.”
But the young lady admits, “I love the people I’ve met .... The students and teachers are so kind and helpful to me. I love laughing, talking and goofing off with my friends.”
Margie Walke, Rotary Club of Batesville past president, says the club supported the student by providing her with spending money. She notes, “Rotary is very active in international projects. We were really happy to help her. She actually approached us, and seemed like a great candidate from Indiana.”
Warmuth emphasizes, “I’m not the same person who left American soil in August. I’ve had to learn to function in a different culture while being immersed in another language. I’ve become more confident, outgoing and independent. I’ve redefined the meaning of the words friend and family and learned the real value of having them nearby. I’ve become proficient in one of the world’s hardest languages. I’ve become more aware and sensitive to cultural and religious differences.
“This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Every day brings a new challenge, but also a new adventure .... If I could give advice to anyone who is thinking about studying abroad, but is nervous or apprehensive about it, I’d tell them to just dive in and go. It will be the most amazing adventure of your life and probably the biggest learning experience that you will ever have.”
A TYPICAL WEEK IN JAPAN
• “I wake up at 6 a.m. weekdays. I have breakfast with my host family before I ride my bike to the train station,” Warmuth reports. “I take a train to Nagoya station and then take the subway to my school’s nearest station. I walk the rest of the way to school. My commute takes over an hour. School starts at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 3:15 p.m. .... After school, there are club activities which I sometimes participate in. Every Thursday night, I have a tea ceremony and ikebana (traditional flower arranging) lessons at a Rotarian’s temple. I normally arrive home about 5 p.m. I do my homework, hang out around the house or explore my neighborhood. When my host family gets home from work, I help make dinner and we talk about our day. On weekends, I catch up on sleep, spend time with my friends in Nagoya or join in with my host family’s weekend activities.”