Saturday, September 17, 2011

Culture Shock and Homesickness

A lot of my friends have been asking me whether or not I am homesick or experiencing culture shock. I thought I would take some time to answer these question in more depth than my simple one or two sentence posts on facebook.

For the most part, no, I am not very homesick and I'm not experiencing any culture shock. If anything I feel that I am in the shock of living on my own in a foreign country. This is the first time I have really been independent, and even then, I can't say that because I am still receiving financial assistance from my parents and family. However, it is the first time I have truly done something without a solid support group around me, and that has been where most of the shock (or would you call it something like growing pains?) has presented itself.

In my first blog post, I had mentioned that I had been studying random parts of Japanese culture on and off for about eight years, and this is my second trip to Japan. While I researched samurai culture and Japanese music, I feel that it was for my benefit. My interest in things like Bushido and Japanese traditions has given me at least some sort of foundation before coming here, and I feel that it really gave me insight to Kyoto, where I'm staying. This city is so full of tradition in each breathing moment of the present. It's quite beautiful, and I feel that as soon as you arrive in the city, you can feel the difference. But I'm digressing.

I don't know whether my natural empathy allowed me to feel at ease here, but I feel as though I am adapting rather quickly to the Japanese lifestyle. I don't feel hindered, and I'm certainly not necessarily dumbfounded by anything I see. (That is to say,  I haven't been completely knocked off my feet just yet.) More than anything, I'm shocked by the absolute kindness in the people I see every day. I think Kyoto has affirmed my belief in humanity.

One thing that is a little difficult for me is to be around so many older people. At first, it was a bit nerve wracking, because I thought that the generation gap could cause potential problems. Yet, I was wrong. I feel that I am accepted as part of the change of time by the elderly around me. Each morning, I walk down my street and pass a woman that spins silk on this ancient looking machine. She looks out her door while tying the silk to its spool and bows politely. I can't help but smile and bow in return. At the post office, an elderly woman talked to me in Japanese as if I were a native. She laughed with me at my difficulty writing my long address in English and made me feel welcome. I think it is interesting that these people take me as one of their own, while the others fret that because of my skin color I may not be able to speak their language. I feel that a majority of younger women have panicked a bit when they see me step into their shop. This may be in my head, but I seem to be treated differently by the younger generation. This is new to me. It seems as though it's the other way around back in Texas.

As for homesickness, I do not necessarily miss home. For my family and friends reading this, please don't take this the wrong way. I miss the people at home, but I don't necessarily miss the everyday of my life there. I have to say it is lonely where I am now. I miss my support group and my family. I miss my friends. I miss my boyfriend. I miss my pets and being able to meet so many people so easily. I think skype and facebook have become an important part in my daily activities while I'm here. When it gets too quiet, I try to see if a friend wants to chat. Some might call this homesick, but I think I am just lonely. I have been by myself the majority of my time here, and I know that as the days go by, I will still be on my own. Perhaps I will have some new friends from school, but that will not change that I am essentially by myself during my time here.

I've had many people tell me that I'm brave for doing this, or they say that they're proud of me for putting everything aside and following my dream. While I thank them for their kindness, I can't say that I agree with them. It was a difficult choice for me to come here. However, I knew that this is where I needed to be. This is where I had to come to achieve my dream. I don't think I'm necessarily brave, but headstrong and stubborn. I think this is perhaps one of the most impulsive things I've ever done in my life. And I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I think I've put myself into a mindset of thinking, "This is what I have to do," all of the time. I'm not sure if I'm living in the moment or living in a dream. I don't feel settled down.

But I know I'm in Kyoto, and this is where I'll be.

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