Sunday, December 05, 2010

Things I've learned in Japan: expectations lead to disappointments [part 2]

For the first part, please visit here.

I think exchange students often go into exchange with unrealistic expectations. They usually have this "utopian dream", so to speak, of their country, their host family, their program, and the experiences they will have. This is not their fault - it's unavoidable when you're looking forward to such an awesome experience. I also had a very unrealistic view of Japan, but, thanks to my awesome Rotary orientation, I went in with few expectations. And because of that, I was not disappointed. Things were not perfect, but they weren't bad, either.

Some exchange students go into exchanges (especially in Japan) expecting a country similar to their own, or a place to party. Little do they know, people in Japan do not party like some westernized countries, or at least until they are legally of age (which is 20). And Japan has some "westernized" aspects but is very much a traditional country - whether it be for better or worse.
At Shirenji Temple. This is Sourintou, which is a designated "Important National Artifact". It was built probably around 1287.

Japanese people aren't as open to strangers as we are in other countries. In America, it's not uncommon that the first time you meet someone, you say, "Hey, we should hang out sometime." That would be a rare thing in Japan, and my hosts told me to be careful of people like that. According to one of my Japanese teachers (she was Japanese and taught English, but taught me Japanese on the side), most Japanese people are too embarrassed by their homes that they do not want to invite people into their home. They'd much rather go out. Most kids also do not hang out with their friends, watching movies and eating popcorn. They usually go out to places with purikura, do karaoke, shop, eat out, etc. This can be fun, but I feel it sometimes lacks the intimacy of being with someone in their home and seeing the "real" them, which can make friendships seem shallow. It's hard to get to know someone if all you see is what they wanna show you, you know?

Also, Japanese people tend to say a lot of things they don't mean. For example, I was told by numerous people that they would take me here and there and show me all these great things - 90% of which never happened.どうしようもないけど・・ However, I quickly learned that it had nothing to do with me, and it was simply a difference in American and Japanese culture. In America, if you say it, we hold you to your word. But in Japan, it would be them saying, "Lets go to Odaiba. Lets meet in front of Tokyo Station, Sunday at 10 o'clock" that would actually indicate that they really wanted to go.

Me and my BESTTTT friend from Japan. We're planning on getting an apartment together next year! I love him!

.................And these are just a few of the many examples of the differences in just culture alone.

Without even factoring in the individual exchange student's personalities, there can already be misconceptions and many disappointments. However, if the student prepares themselves by researching and getting in tough with as many foreigners living in Japan as they can, they can be prepared. I wasn't completely, but I felt like I knew enough to get me started and was willing to adapt, so it didn't affect me nearly as much.

However, factoring in the personalities is where my real frustrations comes in.

Rotary International exchange students(and all other exchange students, and all foreigners abroad) are also considered "cultural ambassadors", meaning while they are there showing people what their country is like, they are also there to learn their host country's culture, language, history, etc. and to show an interest in it! Not doing so gives their club, their district, their family, their school, their country, and themselves a bad image.

That being said, no one is perfect, but I've encountered many students (especially in a country like Japan) that expect to essentially live like an America while in Japan. If this is why you want to be an exchange student, do not go on exchange. It will be a waste of time, money and resources for everyone involved.

View from a ship I was on a tour of Hakone for. Hakone is very beautiful in the fall!

For example, I really wanted to go to Osaka. Osaka is known for it's awesome food, amazingly funny people, extensive history and the one place I REALLY REALLY REALLY fackin' wanted to go. I know of a couple people who went and pretty much only wanted to go to Universal Studios Japan.

Granted, that seems like great fun. But what was taken from that trip? By visiting a theme-park, which there are plenty of ALL over, you miss an excellent opportunity to see a new temple, museum, old artifact, ancient buildings, etc that you may never see again!

This is not to say I feel qualified to determine whose exchange had value and whose didn't, but most of the people who would choose Universal Studios Japan over learning about the area it's in probably don't have a big interest in learning about, as my 5th host dad called it, the "real Japan".

That all being said, these same kids tend to come home with some chip on their shoulder about their exchange program:

"the people there didn't like me"

"their program is too strict"

"the people over there just don't get Americans"

"they're just stupid"

"they expect too much of me"

"sometimes I wish I went somewhere more fun"

"it's so stupid that we can't date"

"all I can do is take puri, shop, and eat"

"this place is so boring"

"I wsh more people accepted me here"

.................Yes, these are really all things I've read FROM exchange students. One should always be suspicious of comments like this because usually it means the student isn't trying hard enough.

And how is that the exchange program's fault at all?!?! Exchange students are children, living like adults with even more restrictions than they had at home. No, it is not acceptable to just invite anyone over. Or to make plans without telling someone one to two days ahead of time. If they get in trouble, too bad! They broke a rule, so it is proper punishment - just like at home!

Exchange is all about adapting. The host family must adapt to the exchange student. The program must adapt to the exchange student. The school must adapt to the exchange student. But the student must also adapt!!

If you or anyone you know is currently on exchange, please consider this: how would it make you feel if someone came to your country and had only a mild interest in it? It would make me very sad. I feel like America has a lot to offer, so I want to introduce it to anyone who comes here!

Sometimes horrible things do happen. Things that can happen at home, such as mugging, rape, etc do happen, even abroad. And should something bad happen, those already extreme feelings are intensified by being away from home.
All the exchangers, either inbound to Japan or future outbound from Japan in Hiroshima. Guess where we are! :]

However, every exchange program has some sort of help available, whether in that country or at home. It may be extremely horrifying to tell someone in your country what happened, but it's necessary that they find out. If you wait until you are home, why should they believe you then? What can they do for you?

I've heard of cases where bad things did happen and the exchange student waited. They did not contact their program asap and because of that, their program is not supporting their cause for justice. While in a perfect world, they would, no matter what the case, fit for justice for every child, but this cannot be so. Exchange student programs are just like businesses, only their clients are the countries they exchange with. Supporting the cause of one child in an instance such as rape could possible ruin those international ties, all because of one child. They should support the exchange student's fight for justice, but should not be held responsible in all cases(if they weren't openly negligent) nor should they be expect to fund and go out on a limb for one child.
Me and my 5th host family's daughter. She was three. Her name was Risa. I love her so so so very much.
All in all, the hardships of exchange fall 90% on the exchange student. You have to fight all your battles, whether good or bad, by yourself when abroad. No one should have to help all the time. And no one should be expected to.

If you live your exchange like that, I believe you will not be disappointed. I know I wasn't.

I know not everyone will agree with me, and whether you do or not, I'd love to hear your comments/opinions!!
Please feel free to tell me I'm 100% wrong and list all your reasons! I love open discussions and encourage everyone to post!

Do you have any exchange experiences? I'd love to hear them.

Thanks for reading this post!
Hope you have a good day/night, wherever this post finds you♥

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