Airline Frights and Tokyo Wonders

Six days ago- a day that seems so long ago now- I said a last Goodbye to Daddy and passed through security in Chicago, fighting back tears, headed to my gate, checked and re-checked my gate and flight number, and finally boarded the plane. Soon the plane was moving- going faster and faster – and before I knew it, we were lifting up, up into the sky. I watched, sentimental, as the familiar Illinois landscape grew farther and farther away.

I rode this plane for thirteen hours to Tokyo…

The almost thirteen hour flight to Tokyo was mostly uneventful- I could not sleep so I watched movies, wrote, ate discusting airline food, and tried not to stress about being alone for the first time. I say “mostly uneventful” because with only three hours left to go, I became light headed and sick to my stomach- I was freezing, then unbearably hot, and I felt as if I had to throw up. I knew that I had to tell someone and when the caller did not work, I panicked, deciding finally to get up to find a stewardess. As I passed the bathroom, my vision began to twirl. Everything seemed to be moving  and I could not make out the path anymore, so I held on to the seats for dear life and concentrated only on putting one foot in front of the other. But soon my legs refused to carry my weight any longer and everything turned black and I was falling, falling, until I found myself lying, crumpled, in the middle of the aisle. When I came to again, I heard worried voices on both sides calling to me and asking me if I was okay. One man reassured me that he had just called someone to help, but I could only moan in reply. It seemed too much like a nightmare that it took me a while to realize it was reality, and when that hit me, I felt so much humiliation that I instantly forced myself up again. I walked back to my seat, where a stewardess helped me eat and drink, and thankfully, after a while I felt better- though I still had to fight the urge to throw up. The next few hours were spent stressing about whether I would be able to make it through the arrival security and luggage procedures in my exhausted, sick state- especially because I was alone. I had no need to worry, though, because I only had to follow the crowd, show my passport a couple times, get my luggage, and wait for the EIL staff member to pick me up.

By the time I had met the other exchange students that had just been picked up from their terminals- Kuan Jen from Taiwan, and Mike and Martin from Canada- I was talking and laughing in relief. After I sent off my luggage to my host family and exchanged my dollars for yen, we made our way to the train station. Kuan Jen- who is the same age as me- and I hit it off in a heartbeat and we discussed everything from Japanese pop music to Taiwanese school uniforms. From the train window I saw the scenery change from suburban houses to denser buildings as I got my first look at Tokyo. The ride was long and we switched trains a couple times, lugging our heavy suitcases and trying not to lose our belongings in the hustle bustle of the station.

Kuan Jen and I on the train!

When we arrived at our final destination- Shinjuku- we made our way up and down a flight of stairs and into the grounds of the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center. This center, I soon learned from our EIL staff member, was once used for the Tokyo Olympics and houses sports facilities such as a pool, tennis court, etc. Students from all over the country come here to have competitions and camps. It is also used for international purposes, such as, of course, orientations for foreign exchange students. There are four different lodges and after dinner, we girls were shown our room in the A Lodge. We each got a single room next to each other, complete with a communal bathroom and TV room.

My room: small, but cozy.

Though I was exhausted and the other girls who arrived before Kuan Jen and I- Stephany from Colorado and Niina and Elina from Norway- were already asleep, I had to email my mother to tell her I was okay because my international phone that I was supposed to call her with when I arrived safely was not working. Kuan Jen and I walked to the D Lodge, where there was a computer that we could use the internet on for the price of 100 yen ( about one dollar) for 15 minutes.

After emailing and facebooking to tell the world Zoe Brockman was safe and well, Kuan Jen and I returned to our lodge. I found it interesting that I had to put the key into the wall for the electricity to turn on, so that when a person is not using a room, no electricity is used and therefore saves energy. But that was all I noticed before I collapsed for the second time that day, this time on purpose, safely on my bed in the middle of Tokyo.

Waiting for Darkness

Gradually darkness will fall heavily upon the blue sky and close its weary eyes to sleep- on this very last day at home before I leave for ten months to Japan- a final, natural curtain that will seperate gleeful, wet, hot, stormy summer days from ones that I can only dream of.

In the summer I forced myself to work, work, work so that I would not have the energy and time to turn worries into dramatics in my head, but as the date neared- as the one-week-to-go check point ticked by- suddenly all of those thoughts and fears and uncertainties flooded forth in a big rush. I could not eat, for my stomach was knotted, I could not sleep, for late night fears could not be suppressed, and I was left in stress, confusion and exhuastion. This state and the crazy jumble of my mind caused me to glare meanly at the world, though I felt only fear.

The night before my older brother, Asa, went off to college, I realized I could not bear to let him go without a parting letter. As I sat down on my bed to write, I relived all of the memories of growing up with him, of him making dandelion braids in the spring for me to wear as a crown, of missing him when he went off to boarding school, of thinking proudly of his strength, tranquility and intellegence while working on the farm with him this summer.  Those blissful memories paralyzed me with sadness and before I knew it I was crying – letting loose completely for the first time this summer. I buried my head in my pillow and tears streamed down my face as I cried for Asa, I cried for my fears, I cried for the goodbyes I had to make to Mommy, to Daddy, to Kazami, to my best friend, Rhea…to everyone, and to my home.

It took me a while to finish the letter, but later, when I bounded up to Asa lying on his bed to give him the envelope, I looked at him and smiled.

The Goodbye Letters are all finished and presently sit on my bed, waiting to be given out, to be read. The letters have helped me put an end to most of my sadness, and now, the night before departure, I feel perfectly calm.

I understand fully that this will be the most difficult trip of my life, that anything could happen and that I will miss those I love more than I can ever comprehend. I understand all of this, yet I feel as if I am ready.

I am ready for an adventure that will change my life forever.

And so, in the calm after the storm, I wait for the curtain of darkness to fall.

The Finality of Goodbye

With only eight days left to go, I am now stuck in the stage of Goodbyes…

Last Friday, for example, even though I was completely drained from a twelve hour Market Harvest, I agreed to go see a movie with two of my friends who are going off to college. I ended up staying up until five in the morning with them and we slipped into Dreamland just as the sun made colorful streaks in the sky on its journey up.

To say the least, I was exhausted by the time I returned home near noon. Yet I was not regretful- those precious hours were well spent.

Yesterday I held my Goodbye Party in our new shed. In all actuality, it was also a Goodbye Party for my little brother, Kazami, who is going away to a boarding school near Chicago. (He is moving in on the same day as my flight to Japan, which means Mommy has to take him to the school while Daddy has to help me through the flight process.) The party was also a talent show of sorts: my cousin Gabby performed a hilarious monologue, my other cousin Kira showed us her amazing art, while Charlie- who is an apprentice at our farm- played us some songs. My whole extended family- Grandma and Grandpa, Aunts and cousins- were present, as well as my close friends, and I was bubbling with happiness just watching everyone eat delicious food, converse, perform, and most of all, laugh.

My best friend, Rhea, and her brother, Merrich, visiting the chickens.
Eating delicious food in the new shed!

After the performances and dinner, my friends Sarah and Rhea, as well as Kazami and his friend, Merrich, and last of all, Zane, the adorable little son of one of our apprentices, Michelle, went off to explore the creek. The boys ran ahead while we girls tried not to tumble down the hill down to the Bottomfield- which was surprisingly difficult since the gravel was dangerously loose. Tall trees surrounded us on both sides and the wind caused the green leaves to sway silently…and I was struck again at how gorgeous the land I live on is.

I remembered how when I was snapping pictures of our farm one day last week to show to my host family, I tried to imagine what they would think of our landscape. I had looked around and suddenly, the scenery I had taken for granted all these years transformed  into deep green forests teaming with life, the most beautiful shade of light blue sky above, and the sounds of happy birds and bugs buzzing, cooing, and chirping all around me. I had known, at that moment, that my host mother and sister would be blown away- as I will be, again and again, when I return home next June.

By the time I had finished marveling the beauty around me, I had made my way down the hill with my friends, walked across the field and was now facing a small gurgling stream that separated our two bottom fields. The hot, steamy air contrasted nicely with the cool water. Then, after putting wildflowers in our hair, we ran up to a hay bale and jumped on. The boys had disappeared, so we talked- about school, Japan, our future. The strong scent of the hay mingled with fresh air calmed me, and after a while I felt my airplane and Japan-related worries blow softly away from my mind with the wind.

The rest of the night everything was hilarious to me so I could not stop giggling and laughing- while we ate watermelon, played hacky-sack, while Asa juggled lemon cucumbers, while Koko ran around barking and wagging her tail every time we clapped, and while Sarah, Rhea and I formed a circle with chairs and talked as the sky burned, then darkened all around us.

When it was time to say our Goodbyes, I was still smiling-  knowing just how lucky I am to have such a beautiful home, such loving family and friends, and most of all, the strength and courage I get from the knowledge that this atmosphere of love and beauty will be waiting patiently for me to come home- forever and always.

When I am alone

The past few days have been stressful, to say to the least. This is because, during a meeting with the former Dean of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, I was faced with the possibility to not take a gap year when I get home from Japan next June. This will mean that I will have to apply to colleges from Japan, the thought of which already makes me fret…

It just seems as if I should only focus on immersing myself in Japanese culture and tradition, as well as the Japanese language, this coming year. College applications, although definitely possible if filled out online, would be a chore…as well as, I just feel rushed. I would have to sprint from my year abroad into another transition into college, out of breath, confused, not ready. I would be overjoyed to pause, even for just a second, to reflect on my life – what I strive to do in the future, included.

The whole thought of pondering this growing debacle now, when only three tiny weeks of America – time with my precious family and friends – are left, and quickly dwindling…is enough to give me a migraine. Today, when all I want is to focus on objects to pack, I am stressing about colleges. It all seems unfair to me, this sudden change in my life. I do not understand how to tackle this problem.

Saturday was spent in bliss, making a list of necessities and shopping for them with my mom, with tonkatsu for lunch. All of what I bought is neatly placed in my room, ready to be arranged in my suitcase and to be finally flown over the great Pacific Ocean to the small island country of which I will call home for the next ten months. Recently, my parents and I dragged out some dusty Tokyo maps from when my parents lived there, in order to see where I will be living and where my host school is located. I also borrowed a guide book to Tokyo from the library, only to buy another guide book in a bookstore in Chicago this weekend. It goes without saying that I am excited- overjoyed in fact- that I will be in Tokyo, with my lovely host mother and sister, in just three weeks!

But, but. Lately when I am alone, visions of my airplane crashing keep invading my brain. This will be my first ever flight alone – thirteen hours of confinement with strangers. I worry that since I am a dreamer – mechanics do not make sense to me, as they should – the simple way of putting on an oxygen mask will confuse and lead me to a chaotic death, if, of course, my airplane does crash. I understand that airplanes do not crash often and that the possibility of this happening to me is slim to none. Yet, I worry. I stress. I bite my nails.

Strangely, this only happens when I am alone – in my room or outside working by myself in the heat. The nightmares come suddenly and take my breath away. I remind myself that my Japanese grandma, though she cannot speak a word of English, valiantly took every airplane flight to America by herself for over ten years. I strive to borrow some of that courage and stride into the airplane cabin with my head held high.

I honestly desire to – if it will really happen, I do not know.

So that is the way these days fly by before departure – in worry, stress, excitement, hope, and slowly brewing bravery.

Month-to-go blues…

Last Saturday, July 17th, was exactly a month-one! it’s true!- before my departure. Up until now, it seems as if I was focusing more on my strenuous, farm girl life of early mornings and sweaty hoeing, but now that that critical point has passed, I can feel my mind slowly shift to worries about packing, goodbyes, and airplane nightmares.

Since the exact day that I received my contact information about my host family in Tokyo, I have been emailing both my host mother and host sister nonstop – so much so that my mother believed that I was bothering them. It seems that I cannot control my excitement – to know as much as I possibly can about how I will spend my ten months there. After a long strain of emails and getting to know both of these special people, I am immensely relieved at how kind and fabulous they are! My desire to meet them increases as I read each email they send me. 🙂

But now, stress about packing consumes my brain. I worry that I won’t bring enough, will bring too little…the list goes on. Since I will not be home for a year and since Japan is a thirteen hour airplane ride away, if I would forget something special, I would have to live without it. So I am racking my brain, endlessly, it seems, to come up with every single special item I own…though, interestingly, I do not have many.

Some days, I look in the mirror and think I am too young to depart my comfortable life tucked in between special people and special scenery. I do not feel ready for the multi-million populated Tokyo, then, as I stare into my scared eyes in the mirror. Yet I have made the decision to go, and I will not let down myself as to give up on this life-long dream now that it is close enough to taste, feel, and touch…

It’s five thirty, and the guilt of not working hard enough today is building inside of me – so I will now assume my back-breaking farm work once again.

UChicago Tour and Visit pictures

Our friend Kiku, who works in the East Asian Section of the U of C Library, showed us the amazing array of Japanese books, periodicals, and referances. The collection ranged from age-old books to the newest Japan has to offer. I enjoyed peering at the alluring rows and rows of books!
Norma Field, a Japanese American University of Chicago professor, graciously accepted our dining invitation. Here we are outside the Medici restaurant in Hyde Park!
When touring the University of Chicago with Aunt Terra, I was reminded of the Gothic churches of Italy. The campus was gloriously beautiful- the blue, blue sky made the scenery especially bright. Everywhere I looked, there was ivy…

the waiting is over!

This past Thursday, I was lucky enough to find out where I will be staying in Japan for ten months starting August 17th, 2010! I am told that I will be living in Koto-ku, Tokyo! I will be going to what seems like a VERY well-off private girls’ school. But I also found out my host family: a host mother and host sister. The host sister is the same age as me! 🙂

Even though I was open to living anywhere in Japan, I was probably leaning toward being placed in the countryside just because I am a farm girl at heart. Therefore, I was extremely surprised when I found out that I was going to live in Tokyo-but not disappointed at all! Moreover, I am glad to experience what city life is all about and already am fantasizing about shopping in Shinjuku, Harajuku, or the other trendy shopping centers in Tokyo!

In order to dream about life at my host school, though, I first had to look up all the information I could find on it on the internet. Based on my hasty research, it is a very large school- more than a thousand girls go there and there are only three grades. That means each grade has more than three hundred girls! Where I come from, we have only about a hundred people in each grade, so I am blown away by that number. Also, I looked up the uniform I will wear and found that it costs more than two thousand dollars for the summer and winter set! Luckily, the school has offered to lend me the uniform, so I don’t have to pay for it. I do have to pay for three different types of shoes, though. I do not understand why, but Japanese high schools require indoor, outdoor and commuting types of shoes. Thankfully, again, the school will lend me a PE uniform and a school bag.

The school itself, based on the few pictures I have seen so far, is spot clean and has a beautiful, airy, green campus. The cafeteria has TVs all over it, the bathrooms are huge and beautiful and the library well-organized. They even have a large room dedicated to foreign exchange students! That brings me to my second point, which is that the school is very international. It has a sister school in New Zealand, welcomes foreign exchange students from all over the world, and the school trips go to New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Canada. I am thankful that the students there are so dedicated to accepting foreigners!

I have already emailed my host mother and have received an email with some pictures of her and her daughter. They look very kind and I am very excited to meet them in a month and a half! 🙂

the countdown begins

It’s been a while since I last wrote and a lot has changed since then. For example, I finished my last day at Eureka High School, forever! It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but a while from now I’ll feel depressed, but not now! Now I work fifty hours a week on my dad’s organic farm, weeding, harvesting, mulching, sweating, laughing…it’s difficult work, but it definitely keeps my mind occupied and prevents me from stressing about Japan too much. But my brain still finds time to worry about anything and everything that might or might not happen in Japan next year. Some nights I can’t get to sleep because I keep thinking of what would happen if I didn’t get to my next plane during my layover in Toronto. It’s all sinking in that my trip is actually reality and I’m not dreaming it all up and right now, that’s terrifying for me.

As the date of my departure -August 17th- looms closer and closer, I am starting to prepare myself mentally for Japan. I recently bought six Japanese magazines, for instance, and I am currently reading them cover to cover, making sure to read a little bit before I go to sleep every night. In this way, I am studying Japanese culture and fashion, as well as stepping up my Japanese reading skills. I have also decided to write bits and pieces of Japanese every day, also, because I am forgetting some kanji and also because I know the Japanese curriculum in Japanese high school next year will be exceptionally difficult.

I still am in the dark on what part of the country I am going to in a few months, and the anticipation is killing me. There are so many possibilities of where I could be placed and those possibilities appear and disappear in daydreams, constantly. But I also know that I will be content anywhere I am placed in Japan, so I try not to set my heart on a particular city or area in Japan. I hope to know this month, or at the latest in July.

I know, deep down, that everything will turn out as planned, but somewhere in my mind I’m worrying that it won’t. I worry that my flight will be cancelled, that my host family placement will not be made, that I won’t be going to Japan after all…and these possibilities terrify me. As much as I desire this study abroad year to happen, however, I wish I could have more time here to prepare. It’s happening too quickly now…

how time flies

Lately I’ve been thinking of how quickly these weeks seem to be going by. It seems like only yesterday that I was freaking out about the ACT being in April, and now that day is actually here. Tomorrow. When this week is over, soon the ACS project ( a huge group project for American Cultural Studies) will be history, then my senior pictures will be taken, school will be over, and I will start working for more than fifty hours a week on my dad’s organic farm. Then….in less than four months from now I will be flying over the Pacific Ocean to land in Tokyo!!

It’s depressing to think that everything I’ve ever known in my whole life will be over in such a short time. Last night I was staring at my room while lying on my bed, thinking that it is so surreal that I will never see or sleep in my room for a whole year next year. But the feeling of adventure and excitement propels me forward. I feel like, for once in my life, I am truly ready for something.

But I have to get through this one important week of my life this week before I really start to obsess over anything and everything about my future. I am going to take the ACT tomorrow at school, a PSAE on Thursday, and a SAT on Saturday. I used to really worry about what I could get on the ACT, but right now I just want to do the very best that I can. Hopefully I will get scores that will please both me and the rest of my family, but that doesn’t matter that much to me anymore. Sure, I want to get the best scores I possibly can, but my life does not depend on or change because of one small test score. The test I’m not very prepared for is the SAT. I haven’t gone over the test in detail, so I might not get the score I want, but that also does not matter so much. I just want to be happy with my life 🙂

But it does seem like everything is happening this week and next week. For example, this Saturday is Prom. Then next Tuesday is the ACS Project performance, then Wednesday I am planning to go with my parents to check out Mizzou. Hopefully I will get to tour the Journalism School and see if they would give me any scholarships. My older brother Asa is coming home from Alabama on Saturday or Sunday.

I am so lucky to have such a happy life…with loving people all around. I want to treasure these moments with them as much as possible 🙂

japanese tv

One of the things I am most excited about in the prospect of being in Japan for a whole year next year is that I get to watch all kinds of awesome Japanese TV when I’m over there!! I’ve grown up watching a channel we can get in America, called TV JAPAN, which is basically comparable to PBS over here. But I still love it, and pretty much spend an hour or two a day watching Japanese TV. 😛 Basically, most of Japanese dramas are very similar to soap operas in that they are so dramatic and cheesy that you must look away once in a while to avoid cringing. But you know, you can still get addicted to them-like me. 🙂

The reason I love to watch Japanese TV is not just because I’m a sucker for dramatics. It’s also because watching Japanese dramas, news, movies, comedy shows, fashion and music shows, etc help me keep up my Japanese. I love the fact that I can keep up with every word someone is saying on TV. My parents actually bought a TV for this exact purpose- of teaching us the Japanese that they, or Japanese school, could not. I believe watching Japanese TV from when I was very little has further immersed my brain in Japanese and made my speaking and listening of this language better.

The other reason for my love of Japanese TV is that it allows me to understand the Japanese culture a little better. I’ve always been fascinated with the Japanese way. I love to learn how the long, unique Japanese history contributes to what Japan is today. Of course, I’ve learned over the years that there are not only good parts about Japan, but also bad parts, like the strict, polite, backstabbing part. But I believe that Japan can change its ways and become a much better society in the future. 🙂 Anyway, by watching Japanese media, I am able to see how Japanese people actually live, and what they value.

Though Japanese television revealed horrendous situations in Japanese society to me, like the astounding suicide rate and loneliness, it also fueled my desire to learn more and more about Japan. I then became obsessed with reading Japanese comics, or manga, as well as read Japanese fashion magazines. These types of media allow me to learn even more about the culture that I love.

My family and I have just watched a J-pop music program called MUSIC STATION. Now my parents are watching a historical drama about the famous historical figure Sakamoto Ryoma. These historical dramas are very popular in Japan, and range from the beginnings of Japan up until the Meiji reformation, when the isolated country finally opened up to foreign trade.

So, if you would like to brush up on your Japanese skills, the best way is to buy a Japanese channel and try to understand the language, along with the culture. Good luck!