One of the days I was at ISAK, presentations were being held by the student. Each student would get about 3 minutes to present on a topic they were interested in, and how they wanted to go about creating change. I was very impressed with several of the students. They weren’t afraid to get personal about themselves. One girl had been diagnosed with cancer and survived. Her presentation was about the importance of teens helping teens diagnosed with cancer. Because she finds that having someone her age speaking to her while she was on the hospital bed, helped much more than having an adult. Others talked about animal abuse, mental illness, mental disabilities, issues in india, etc. I never felt bored during the presentations and had a very wonderful time listening to them. Everyone had a different story to share.
The little mall was absolutely gorgeous. There were stores of all kinds, including food. My friends had begun a challenge called whole30. Many of the students at ISAK were participating in it. It was a drastic dietary change that did not allow them to eat dairy or sweets, as well as other things. It lasted a month and everyone wanted to see how their energy would change based on their dietary changes. We looked at many stores until we got hungry. We went to an italian restaurant that was painted golden on the inside. Inside they served all sorts of pasta, salad, and seafood. I was also surprised at how almost every store accepts international credit cards such as visa. I thought I would have to rely on my japanese cash and coins throughout the entire trip. It was a very satisfying and a fun filled trip to Karuizawa town.
On one of the last days me and two of my friends went to explore Karuizawa. We walked about 40 minutes to reach the station. Once we reached the station, we took a train to reach the main area of Karuizawa. After that we walked another 20 minutes to reach our destination. Along the way many adorable shops lined the streets. Coffee shops that almost looked like they belonged in Seattle. Small, narrow, and highly decorated. I was amazed at the amount of crepe shops there are in Japan. There seems to be a high fascination with french food and the language. Many of the shops were named after french words. The entire walk, it was pouring down rain. This was the only day it rained, out of all the three weeks. It rained for hours and hours, soaking us completely on our way there. By the time we reached the mall area, ours socks were totally wet.
I am amazed at how strong my friendships have become here. I have people that I can truly call my friends, something that surprised me greatly. I am impressed with myself. Being outgoing in the beginning really helped me later on. People felt comfortable approaching me, opening so many doors that wouldn’t have opened had I been quiet and reclusive. I will miss the dorms here. They are home to all the students here, and it feels like one large family. Everyone pitches in to help clean up, whether it be the dishes, the rooms, or the bathrooms. The seniors are finishing their finals and it is nice to see them becoming happier, smiling more often. IB exams here are very rigorous. The grades are ranked from 1-7, 7 being absolute excellence. The grading system is interesting and there is a large importance placed upon writing essays. Overall, I have had a wonderful experience here and I am surprised at how many meaningful connections I have made. I have learned a lot about myself during this trip, gaining experiences I will never forget.
The parade lasted for many hours, becoming a huge movement. My legs were aching by the time we were finished walking. We were very hungry and only had a couple snacks in our bag. Onigiri was one of the snacks. I had seen them before, but had never tried it because it did not look appetizing to me. I had no idea what I was missing out on. They are riceballs with delicious meat inside. I had one with salmon inside, it was absolutely delicious. We later went to a place called Fridays in Shibuya. When I walked inside, it was almost as though I was back in America. It felt like a diner, completed with burgers and milkshakes on the menu. It was a delicious meal. Afterwards we looked at shops upon shops, wanting to buy everything we saw. We were exhausted by the end of the day, falling asleep but happy with the days achievements.
On Sunday I went to Tokyo with my friend and her mother to participate in the pride parade. The parade celebrates members of the LGBTQ community. I had never been to such a parade, but was excited to be part of a huge movement. I was amazed by the amount of participants, especially in Japan. There were thousands upon thousands of people arriving, people from all walks of life. Drag queens, straight people, gay people, young children and the elderly. Although there is still a large stigma against the LGBTQ community in Japan, the parade felt very safe and happy. Groups marched behind floats, organized nicely in certain themes. We were in the group of high school students. We were to walk around Shibuya and Harajuku, striping our rainbow colored gear and waving. It was amazing.
Today I went to Saku with my friends to go and explore Saku. I was curious when I saw the McDonalds inside the mall, so I decided to go in. I was pleasantly surprised. It tasted pretty much the same, except the portions were smaller. Although I adore Japanese food, it was nice to have a bit of cheese and fries. We then went to an arcade, something which was very interesting. People of all ages were inside the arcade, the games ranging from basketball to car racing. I had a blast. Later we did karaoke and watched an orchestra perform. Although Saku is very small compared to Tokyo, it still felt lively. I had a great time and was able to relax at ISAK for the rest of the day.
Getting to anywhere from Karuizawa is a bit of a trip. It took us about 45 minutes to reach Saku by car. I was so excited to attend a festival, and I was not let down. There were food stands going on for ages. From crepes, to kababs, to burgers, they had everything. I ate everything in my line of sight and had an amazing time with my friends. It was very windy outside, making it difficult to move. The wind ended up making it too difficult to host the hot air balloon festival. So instead of a hot air balloon festival, it became a fire show instead. Fire spurted into the sky, moving to various japanese songs. I was excited to simply have the opportunity to be at such a festival. I feel myself learning more Japanese. I am not close to speaking at all, but I feel my understanding improving rather quickly.
I have been very entertained by the variety of activities avaliable here at ISAK. Every Monday and Thursday, there are excursions to the onsen and super market. Tomorrow is my birthday and I am very happy because my friends have decided to celebrate by bringing me somewhere. Tomorrow at around 4 we will be going to a town called Saku in order to attend a festival. This festival is a hot air balloon festival, something I am very excited to go see. I know that parades and festivals are very popular in Japan, and I have always wanted to go to one myself. I look forward to taking many photos there and eating the delicious food that they sell at the stands!
I have continued to have a wonderful time at ISAK. The IB program seems very interesting. Many of the classes seem discussion based. One class, called TOK, is very interesting. It is a history class based on talking through moral and ethical dilemmas. When I attended, we discussed issues that were very contraversial for some people. Considering there are so many different people from a huge array of various backgrounds, opinions sometimes clash. Yet what I have been very impressed by is how people go about conflict. If someone at ISAK disagrees with another opinion, they respectfully disagree. People are civil with each other and interested in hearing how other people think. I am growing more and more confident in expressing my opinions now.