Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Culture shock is a common feeling when studying abroad. It can manifest in any number of ways, for any number of reasons: perhaps everyone maintains a different personal distance, the food is different, or just the way of thinking is very perpendicular to wherever you came from. The study abroad office at Purdue goes to great lengths to prepare students for abrupt changes to their lifestyle and culture, but all too often I see many exchange students who passively or actively fight the new environment.
I'll admit, there have been a few things that took a while for me to get used to, and still another laundry list of things that will confuse me for a while. Some representative examples: the roads are gyaku (reverse - drive on the left!), people think ~$2.20 for a 15 minute bus ride is cheap, the abundance of temples and shrines in the most unusual of places, no sidewalks on roads with less than 4 lanes, and so on.
In general though, I'm letting go of my cultural inhibitions and fitting in. Some of the other exchange students are not faring so well; many of the cliques already formed are not innately for friendship, but to stick together and resist adopting a more Japanese lifestyle. By my valuation, this is especially prevalent within the English language program. Many of these program participants revel in the fact that they know nearly nothing about the country or language they are being immersed in, and actively avoid interaction with natives, or solo expeditions to explore close-by temples.
A related issue is that most other American exchange students have a Japanese proficiency below that of mine, so they get intimidated and almost always defer to speaking in English even if the Japanese phrases and words are easily availed. Hans, Ryoichi, and I actually discussed this while we visited Purdue in late September. We came to the conclusion that Americans are embarrassed to speak Japanese in front of each other, and Japanese are embarrassed to speak English in front of each other.
Even though i'm doing well as far as fitting in is concerned, I still have a long ways to go to develop real rapport and friendships with Japanese people my age. Spoken in Japanese or not, being able to order food or introduce yourself in 3 sentences amongst Japanese people is much easier than engaging on a personal level. I suppose as I get more comfortable with the city and my conversational abilities and limits, this will be dissipate. I suppose it also motivates me to actually pay attention in Japanese Listening/Speech classes.
Last weekend, I had one of my first "real" cultural experiences in Sendai. Imoni (芋煮) is a regional food very specific to the Sendai and Yamagata areas. Typically once a year in the month of October, groups will traditionally meet under a specific bridge, and enjoy the Imoni dish as a late lunch.
This year, I went with my research group, the Kobayashi-Sumii Lab (小林・住井研究室）. There were at least a dozen grad students and assistants there, as well as me and the other DEEP student. I think his nickname was Dion, but I have yet to meet him since. On the whole, most graduate students in the lab are very shy, but once the shochu (焼酎, distilled rice spirit very similar to scotch/whiskey) was opened a few of us lightened up and had fun. The main perpetrators were myself, Prof. Kobayashi, and Suenaga, the post-doc (and if you are wondering, I rarely remember given names).
Other notable members of the party included Prof. Sumii's little kid, who was extremely adorable, and a few circles away, the rest of the exchange student population at a (entry fee) Imoni hosted by the @Home student group. I stopped by to talk to Hans for a while, but did not feel terribly inclined to try socializing with the rest of them. I was inebriated enough that I probably would have come off sort of silly (or fall on the rocks trying to).
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
So I'm finally in Japan. Things are moving along well, though classes are yet to be finalized. Over the next few weeks in my spare time, I will detail my new life here, and if I remember anything from the trip over here, perhaps that can be detailed too. There is plenty to write about, the trouble is finding time, and then finding something intelligent to say.
Pictures are worth more than words, especially in a place like Japan where your visual senses are overwhelmed constantly. As I (serendipitously) take some nice photographs, I will share them here, and also share the story or anecdote that they inspire. This tends to keep entries focused, on the shorter side, and also gives me motivation to take pictures (and of course, sort them afterwards with Picasa).
All photos and text on this blog are hereafter licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License (USA). In normal-ese, that means you can copy, redistribute, or modify site contents for a noncommercial purpose as long as attribution to me is given.
Until the next photo...