by
on February 16, 2017 on 2/16/17

What’s it really like to be a foreigner?

Hello FEA. Happy spring break!

Lately, I’ve had a lot of free time to explore and venture around Japan. From two-hour train rides to two-hour plane rides, I’m certainly making my way around to some magnificent spots. Recently I had just returned from a trip to Okinawa, and Nara. While I’ve been here for six months, and have grown accustomed to my surroundings, and people recognize me at the supermarket, or the convenience store, or NASIC Center where I pay my water bill, I haven’t grown past the random looks or interesting encounters I experience as a foreigner in Japan. I was recently reminded of these experiences while traveling. While I know every country is different, and every person may be studying abroad for different reasons, I wanted to express my experiences as they’ve really been building up lately. First and foremost I want to say that no one has been particularly rude, or degrading towards me in any way. This is just me expressing my personal experience as a foreigner. I meet foreign people quite often back home in Ohio. They are on my campus, they shopped at the grocery store I used to work at, and I had classes with them. From China, India, Spain, or Korea, they always fascinated me and I admired their courage and ambition to travel to a foreign place. Many of them were learning English and using it to the best of their abilities. However, being on the other end of this for the first time is really eye opening for me. So here are my experiences thus far:

  1. Everyone Assumes I Cannot Speak Japanese

Well, okay let me be honest for a moment. I am nowhere near fluent yet. While it is a very big goal of mine, I am still learning, which is one big reason I’m here in the first place. That being said, the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself, study, and USE it!! It’s been so difficult for me when I want to read a Japanese menu and the waiter brings me an English one before I can even get a word in. Or, when I want to ask for directions and even if I use Japanese, I get a broken or incorrectly pronounced response in English that I cannot understand. While it is very nice for strangers to try and relate to me, you would think that if I spoke to you in Japanese, you would at least respond in Japanese! It’s very disheartening, and a challenge for me. Especially if I know I’m saying something incorrectly, and am already self-conscious.

2. The Stares

I have dyed blonde in my hair. I have blue eyes and freckles, and a big nose. I don’t exactly blend in a crowd. When I first arrived here I felt a little special when I saw high schoolers stare or watch me try to order something at a restaurant or even whisper to each other excitedly before one of them shouts “hello!” to me. However, lately, it’s actually gotten a bit tiresome when I just want to try some pants on at the mall and everyone stares at me in line, or when I’m at the grocery store attempting to translate something on my phone and families walk by and stare at me. These are never malicious or angered stares, but it definitely gets to me sometimes. In fact, one time while attempting to take a photograph at a temple in Okinawa, a man approached us, we couldn’t understand his English, but thought he offered to take the picture for us. He ended up giving his phone to another man and took a picture with us without asking our permission and with his own phone. I guess taking pictures with foreigners is a big deal? We weren’t particularly happy about it, but again, these people are never mean so what can you do?

3. The Trump

I won’t talk more than I have to about this one. I don’t want a political post and I won’t express my personal views. While I like to stay informed about what’s going on in my home country, I don’t want to have to explain what is happening and how we got here. I have been asked numerous times by students at my university about the election, and what is happening, and what I think. It’s a very touchy subject, and just because I am American, doesn’t mean I want to discuss and explain this topic or try and explain my countries decisions. All I can tell them is “Not every American always agrees with the decisions of our country. But you live with it.”

4. Struggling To Feeling Accepted

Many people are excited to try and speak English with me, or answer a question or help me if I am in need. They like to hear about my experiences so far, and what kinds of differences I have noticed. Us foreigners are quite unique here, and while I would have liked that if I were just visiting, or sightseeing, I feel a little saddened knowing I am trying to acclimate to the Japanese lifestyle. I ride my bike, the trains and subways, eat my food, and dress appropriately as I have learned and experienced others here doing. For example, it is a known tradition that when eating noodles here, slurping is a way to express how delicious you think the dish is. But foreigners are just held to a different standard here. You may be pardoned for throwing your garbage in the wrong bin, or misunderstanding a bus schedule, but should you actually understand and follow the social norm, you will never really be seen as an accepted part of the Japanese crowd unless you are Japanese.

 

So yeah. I’ve been posting a lot of the positivity of my trip so far but I wanted to talk honestly for a moment and explain some realities of my trip. It isn’t all wondrous adventures all the time, but I’m always learning something. I wondered what others who are studying abroad in other countries experience? Are they similar? I’d love to know! What are some good solutions to feeling a little more accepting of being a bit of an outsider? I hope I can figure it out. Until then, I am still me and I am still here! 6 months strong!!