The time Josh Hunt spent away from Te Puke High School was as influential on his future life as the time he spent in class.
Learning Japanese and two overseas exchanges set the platform for his current life in Japan.
His student leadership role - he was the male Performing Arts Leader in his final year - was also a factor.
Josh left high school in 2014 and headed to university to study for a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies and Political Science.
''That [leadership] role and the opportunities that it gave me influenced my life in a lot of positive ways.
"Mainly, it gave me the confidence to put myself out there and give things a go, like move away to study my passions at Victoria University, and after that, apply for the JET [Japanese Exchange and Teaching] Programme which I'm now on,'' he says.
But it was studying Japanese and the exchange programmes that would lead to his decision to move to Japan.
''My first overseas trip, a cultural exchange to North Vista Secondary School in Singapore was awesome. I made a bunch of great friends on the trip, and it gave me first-hand knowledge of the huge world of different places, cultures, foods and opportunities that existed outside of hometown. It also really helped to grow my confidence in trying new things.''
He studied Japanese until Year 12 with teacher Ali Rennie.
''Her classes and the great effort and patience she put into teaching us the basics of the language and showing us lots of fun and unique Japanese culture, were foundational in building my interest in Japan. I'm so grateful to have had her as a teacher.''
Ali also pushed Josh to apply for the Kizuna ('bonds' in Japanese) exchange programme which saw him head to Japan in 2012.
He says the scholarship and exchange was probably the biggest influence on his decision to move to Japan.
''The purpose of the scholarship was to build international connections and understanding through witnessing the effects of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and Japan's recovery effort following it.
''Along with being a sobering and a raw reminder of the power of these disasters, the cultural exchange sections of the trip left a huge impression on me.
"Stepping off the plane to illegible advertisements and greetings I barely understood, the hustle and bustle of Tokyo compared to my quiet Te Puke streets, zooming up the coast in a bullet train, trying on some yukata (Japanese traditional dress) with newly made Australian, Malaysian, and Bruneian friends, having a beautiful tea ceremony performed for us in a school whose kids were so excited to share their culture, the warmth of my host family who took me in and treated me like their own - the experience was unforgettable.
"I knew going back to Japan would be in my future.''
Josh has now been in Japan for just over two years working as an English teacher at an elementary school in Minoh, a small, by Japanese standards, city in the north of Osaka Prefecture.
The city is known for its craft beer, monkeys and nature.
He will be there at lease until August 2021, possibly longer if the opportunity comes up.
''There's so much to like about my chunk of Japan,'' he says. ''There's the neon lights and giant food related animatronics of Osaka's downtown areas and Osaka is known as Japan's kitchen, so you're never left wanting for places to eat.
"There's the are beautiful contrast of such a packed modern metropolis co-existing with centuries old temples, castles and traditions."
He says it may not seem like a plus, but it has been both exhilarating and terrifying to be in an environment where it is so difficult to understand your surroundings.
''In the beginning I was essentially illiterate. But little by little you start to learn. One day, the train announcements just start to make sense. You can finally order from a menu without charades. Straining to make a simple sentence turns into everyday banter with your coworkers.
''In that sense, it's a very rewarding process to be able to make your way and become part of a community in a completely different place and culture.''
Minoh has one of the largest communities of English teachers in Japan.
''So, I've also been able to make and share this experience with a great group of mates, heaps of other Kiwis, Americans, and a few Japanese friends, to whom I can credit with making this experience as amazing as it has been.
''My coworkers are hilarious, super kind, and understanding. Spending time teaching kids and seeing their growth in English, as well as individually, over the time I've been there has also been really rewarding. Both my parents are teachers, so I have renewed respect for and understanding of why they chose this line of work.''
Japan's government doesn't have the power to enforce a large scale lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but lockdown measures have been in the form of ''requests'' from government officials to the public and businesses to adopt public health measures.
''The response here did disrupt my life quite a lot in the beginning. At the request of then Prime Minister Abe, all elementary and junior high schools, including mine, were closed after spring vacations in April for a considerable amount of time.
''I still had to go into work and do what I could to prepare for classes but I didn't teach a full class for around two months.''
When the city government deemed it safe enough for the students to return, class sizes and frequencies were reduced.
''Everyone in the school was, and still is, required to wear masks and measure their body temperature every day.''
Teachers ensure their kids are washing their hands frequently, and hand sanitiser is in hallways and classrooms.
''My school tries to ensure social distancing as well, but it's almost impossible – class sizes are too large, the buildings themselves aren't large enough, and most of the kids aren't at an age where they can effectively socially distance, or fully understand the consequences of not doing so.'
''There's a common phrase here being thrown around on TV that I think encapsulates the Japanese response to Covid-19, 'with corona'. Instead of focusing 100 per cent on eradication of the virus, the response has been on how to live as normally as possible, 'with corona', while trying to reduce the possibility of transmission.
''At times, this has had some pretty controversial outcomes. For example, PCR tests being limited to only those presenting with a fever for more than three days. This probably suppressed the actual number of cases reported across Japan, due to low testing availability.
''Schools, like mine, still remaining open despite having children whose parents have tested positive for Covid-19.
''There is also limited government stimulus or support for businesses and individuals whose income had been cut due to the restrictions and resulting economic downturn.
''Overall though, I'm grateful that the virus was taken seriously, and that numbers and chance of infection here are still quite low compared to other developed nations, like the US."
On of the major impacts has been that is it now not possible for Josh to return home for a visit - partly because of the cost of self isolation when he arrived back in New Zealand, but mainly because only citizens and some permanent residents are allowed into Japan.
''I hope that things will be able to return to normal, soon, and that I'll be able come back to see my friends and family,'' he says.