Tuesday, October 21, 2008

日本に慣れるについて (About Adjusting to Japan)

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.

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