Social Dynamics as a Foreigner in Japan

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Back home

My high school in my hometown is 98% Caucasian. My home university is 75% Caucasian. I have been a part of the majority my entire life; never a foreigner.

In Japan, though, I am part of the very, very small minority. This means that just about everyone around here is different than me. In fact, when I walk past another foreigner in an area where foreigners are less common, or see another foreigner on the train, we almost always exchange glances as if we are letting each other know we have acknowledged each other’s presence. In addition to this, it is quite common to be stared at by the locals, especially in areas where foreigners are quite uncommon (e.g. Kawaguchi, Saitama, where I live with my family). It’s quite amusing, though, and is a great learning experience, especially in the classroom.

group dynamics

Group work and discussion is quite common in all of my classes, and I think it is the best way to learn since we are in an international environment. Since I am taking courses in the Faculty of Liberal Arts (FLA), all students speak English. Because of this, there are students from every continent. I’ve never had to tell anybody I was from the United States, it was always “I’m from Ohio,” but most people I’ve met have never even heard of Ohio. This really opened my eyes and made me realize just how big the world is and how views of the world vary from person to person. There are many Japanese students in FLA as well.

When there are other Japanese students in my group, it’s really interesting to see how they communicate. Typically, they go back and forth between English and Japanese; sometimes the first half of the sentence will be English, and the second half with be Japanese. It’s incredibly amusing. Even though all classes in the faculty are taught in English, we are still in Japan, so many sources and events are entirely Japanese.

JapaneseThis is an example of an event that is held in Japanese. I find this interesting because without the assistance of the professor, most international students would never be able to find such opportunities. The teaching assistant originally wrote the details in Japanese (as they were given to her), and then translated them to English.

communication is still incredibly difficult

While it is most certainly possible to get around Japan without speaking Japanese, I believe it is absolutely necessary to be fluent or native in Japanese in order to get the best experience. There are so many opportunities that go unnoticed because of the language barrier, which is incredibly unfortunate. I’m only at intermediate level Japanese, but I still feel like an adult child in terms of communicating. I mentioned the difficulties of communication in my first blog post, and they are still as apparent now as they were the first week. On the bright side, my Japanese is improving much faster than it was in the US, and because of the communication problems, it is forcing me to learn more and more each day.