Starting in March, the program on which my entire study abroad experience depends has hosted four “orientations” for study abroad students. All of these students are going to different places — Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe, South America… The list is long, and there are tons of students.
The point of the meetings was to provide as much information as possible to every program student, whether the information was 100% applicable to them or not. We went over paying for tuition, buying flights, and getting scholarship money in the first meeting. We tackled how to be a savvy traveler in the second meeting and talked about packing essentials (and nonessentials), how to look less like a tourist in new places, and maintaining a budget. The third meeting dealt with health and safety, the second of which may have scared a few people. And the final meeting dealt with culture shock, living abroad, and returning home.
I felt that the fourth meeting was not only the most informative, but it was the most relevant to questions I had about the studying abroad process. I’ve done plenty of research (almost too much), but there’s something comforting about someone telling you culture shock is normal, but it isn’t permanent (or even long-lasting).
We discussed the four stages (most) students go through:
- Honeymoon — You’re excited, everything is new, and you can’t believe you’re here!
- Critical — Homesickness sets in, you don’t want to think in a foreign language anymore, and you’re having a hard time dropping your ethnocentrism
- Adjustment — You’re learning how to live in this new culture and society, and you’re beginning to blend; your language skills are improving and you’ve made friends
- Acceptance — You’re back to the honeymoon stage, but it’s healthier now; you’re comfortable in this new life, your language skills are stronger, and you’re developing comfortable routines
Some students spend longer in the honeymoon stage, some students go straight to critical, and other students manage to almost skip the critical stage all together and arrive at acceptance.
What was most memorable of this meeting though was the end — we were given a short pre-made (and slightly cheesy) speech to recite as a group which basically said we would represent the United States with integrity, we would do our bests to be good students and upstanding global citizens, and we would not give up even on our worst days. After all of the talk about homesickness and culture shock and reverse culture shock, this was uplifting and helped to reinstall the excitement I’ve been feeling for months and months and months.
A few months ago, when this blog was still in its formative stages, the first thing I did was create a page called “The 日本 Manifesto” (The Japan Manifesto). I created it because I knew I would face all of the culture shock challenges. Homesickness will be impossible to avoid (my dogs 😭) and there will be days I don’t want to think or hear or speak Japanese. I will miss the familiarity of Las Vegas, my culture, and most importantly, my friends, family, and routines.
I have since removed the Manifesto page from this blog’s navigation, but after today’s meeting I decided to publicly post a similar, but updated, version of the original Manifesto. 読んでください。Yondekudasai. Please read. 💜
🗺 This is not your “practice life” — this is all there is
This world is a crazy place, and if you don’t embrace the crazy things that are bound to happen then you will flounder. Enjoy all of the small moments and wild rides. Remember that experiences will never leave you; they are not material, they cost nothing but your motivation and time. Devote to them — and yourself — plenty of both.
💬 Speak the language
Remember all of those times you learned from Japanese natives correcting you? Remember how, without them, your Japanese would barely start at “hello” and “good-bye”? Japanese natives are not trying to insult you. Not a single Japanese person has ever expressed anything less than excitement when you speak their native tongue to them. Be open to their help and embrace the embarrassing mistakes! They will make funny stories. 😉
👂🏻 Listen, listen, listen
Japanese is a high context society and language. People expect you to be paying attention and listening fully when they talk. Do not listen with the express purpose of responding — listen to absorb and understand, and respond only after they have finished their own thoughts. It will do wonders for your comprehension and relationships.
☄️ Do one thing everyday that scares you
Go do your grocery shopping on your own. Hang out in a café and strike up a conversation with a stranger (or even just the barista). Visit landmarks and important pieces of the city; don’t be afraid to ask for directions. Get lost every once in awhile — you can always find your way back. (And you’ll learn new routes and find new places!)
🚄 Travel often and visit new & unique places
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day routine of life even while in another country, so make an effort to take trips and see as much of Japan as you possibly can. Visit your friend in Tokyo, make a trip to Fukuoka or Okinawa, hang out in Seoul for a weekend…whatever it is, do it!
💓 Be open to people and make friends
Stop with the shyness and talk to people! There’s no way to control whether they like you or not, but you’ll never find out if you don’t talk with those around you and at least give it your best shot. Friends are invaluable no matter where they come from or what language they speak!
🍱 Try new foods!
Osaka isn’t known as the “Nation’s Kitchen” for nothing, and you’d be ridiculous not to try the fresh cuisine in its hometown! Embrace the delicacies because they may be pleasant surprises. Also, consume a lot of ramen, try as much sushi as possible, and perfect a bento box.
💪🏻 Exercise offsets stress so get steppin’
Find a park, map a path, and run. Athletic-induced endorphins can help you make better decisions, keep you at peace with yourself, and help to offset the stress of being in an entirely new environment. Make the health of your mind and body a top priority! It will make the overall experience more enjoyable and more positive.
And, most importantly…
✨ Live in the moment
Enjoy every second of your time in Japan. Don’t think about departure dates or whether you’ll get to do all of the things you want to do. Let yourself get homesick, but remember this incredible opportunity and don’t ever forget how lucky you are to be doing this. 🍀 Enjoy your new home, your friends, and all that Japan has to offer!