Eighteen-year-old Westerville North High School graduate Rex Lundstrom is spending a gap year in Japan, thanks to the Westerville Sunrise Rotary Club.

Eighteen-year-old Westerville North High School graduate Rex Lundstrom is spending a gap year in Japan, thanks to the Westerville Sunrise Rotary Club.

In March, he won the Youth Exchange Scholarship, a merit-based program that covers the cost of room, board, tuition and a monthly stipend for one academic year of high school studies abroad. He will serve as an ambassador and represent his school, community, country and Rotary.

In Japan since August, he said he is pleased so far with his decision to live in a country with a different language and culture.

"It's very maturing, and I'm confident that I'll return as a more tolerant and respectful individual," he said in an email. "I love how people maintain a positive attitude, and don't push their problems upon other people. The formal setting creates both strict rules and consistently kind individuals."

Lundstrom, who graduated in May, said he has not felt lost while abroad thanks to the district's College Credit Plus program.

"I was able to take classes at both Columbus State Community College and the lovely Otterbein University. At Columbus State, my teacher was an American woman who had lived in Japan for many years. At Otterbein, my teacher was a Japanese woman, so I was able to understand culture beforehand from two unique perspectives," he said.

He said he is close to being fluent and felt more comfortable with the Japanese language and culture than other exchange students he has met.

Lundstrom's interest in Japanese culture stemmed from a childhood neighbor from Japan. He also loves Japanese food, including miso soup and sushi.

Among the more exotic foods he has tried -- at least to an American palate -- are fermented soybeans, chicken intestine, raw whale meat, raw horse meat and live squid.

Lundstrom said he has been to countries including Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Mexico but never anywhere as culturally different as Japan.

"I'd never lived in a place where formality and respect are practiced by all, society is always humble and such a difficult language is used," he said.

During his trip, he will have four host families, each for two to three months, which helps relieve some of the burden of hosting an exchange student.

He noted how different the school system is in Japan and was surprised students came to school at 7:30 a.m., then stayed after school at clubs until 7:30 p.m.

Read Lundstrom's online newsletter at rye6690.com/rex.