Abroad in Japan, Day 0: Culture shock.
I never really thought I’d be in this situation. When I was in college, I saw advertisements for exchange programs, and felt like the whole thing was sort of lame. Sure, if you want to move elsewhere, it’s a great way to get to know some other place, but I admittedly came from a pretty nice household in Northern America where I didn’t feel any of my potential was being held back.
Regardless, I had decided to go to Japan for a year, and here I was, going through with it all. I’d like to think that everyone feels some anxiety at this general stage of an exchange. In fact my friends that had gone on exchange told me that it’s normal to feel the culture shock in the first weeks.
I brushed off the idea of culture shock and anxiety like the arrogant idiot that I am, thinking “that can’t happen to me! I’m a cold, hard piece of metal that bends to NO FORCE!”.
— Cut to me bawling my eyes out because I won’t get to hang with my girlfriend for a year.
On the topic, she’s actually one of the reasons I’m writing this blog. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but I’ve fallen victim to culture shock, anxiety, depression abroad, whatever you want to call it. She’s been very supportive, and this blog is at least partially meant to alleviate some of the emotional burden I’ve been placing on her by directing it elsewhere. That, and I want to look back at how my feelings change, maybe learn something about myself, maybe help someone who might feel the same. I dunno. Writing about this makes me feel like even if it all sucks, at least I’ve documented my way through the storm like a captain’s log.
I’m no stranger to how much your emotional state can change your view of the world. Right now, it sort of feels like a wave of regret telling me that not only am I suffering now, but I’m gonna suffer for the rest of the year, and nothing in the universe can change that unless I go home right now.
But that’s also the feeling I get when my friends want to hang out and I want to play [insert currently popular game here], or when I feel like watching a grown man with 14 million subscribers on Youtube yell at a camera for just over 10 minutes. I’ve learned, however, that that feeling is temporary, and once I go out, I end up having a good time.
One could argue that the beginning stages of studying abroad is like that. Unfortunately, like most of you reading, I am a human. And when my friends invite me to go out, even nowadays, I feel that anxiety and the desire to stay home — I just know better. That’s to say, even if I was certain that things would be okay here in Japan, I would still feel this way. Emotions can be a hard thing to control, sometimes.
Upon my arrival, I stumbled my way through the airport to find the shuttle that would bring me to my dorm. I talked with one of the people staying in the same building as me, and he shared how he had done a 2-month intensive Japanese language program. Intimidating. I can read the two Japanese syllabaries sort of okay, but I know practically no Kanji and have an extremely basic vocabulary (not a huge concern, given that my program here is taught in English, but still).
The room I’m in is pretty small. The discomfort continues. Although as dead-tired as possible, I still somehow managed to unpack and organize everything. I’m a neat freak, so order is important if I want to feel comfortable. I went to a convenience store and got some food. Ordered in Japanese and all, a small victory, but still feeling like ass. At least it was nice outside. It was raining and the architecture of the small, tightly packed buildings looked beautiful.
I now go to bed feeling very sad, missing the people and environment I know and love.