Sometimes, the answer to your problems looks a lot like a double cheeseburger.

18 Oct

October 14, 2010


Pictured: Positive solutions.

So, I don’t really know what to say these days.  I hesitate to say negative things about my study abroad experience, but if I really want to be honest I suppose they deserve equal respresentation.

I’m having a tough time these days.  I feel very frustrated with how the program is designed and at the way various factors are preventing me from doing the basic thing I came here to do, which is to speak Japanese 24/7.  I don’t really want to get into great detail about it, we’ll just say that on Tuesday I got frustrated enough to go storming out of the middle of class to go down to the CJS office.  I meant to complain, but did a lot of unintelligible sobbing instead.  I tried to get across that I felt their program was in fact actively preventing me from practicing Japanese in a real setting (plus my wonderful commute which takes 3 or 4 hours a day and prevents me from doing absolutely anything productive with it).  I knew ahead of time, even stomping down the hill on the way there, that there was very little to be done about my situation right now, and had guessed most of the reasons they told me for why the program is set up the way it is, but it felt better to at least alert them to my frustration and have them pretend to listen to me.

I had heard about the “gaijin bubble” before, and laughed at people who go to Japan and only speak with other Americans.  But in fact, there is a very good, difficult to avoid reason that this happens, and that is that if you are very very lucky, you will have one whole class that has any actual Japanese students in it at all.  I have joined a club, but it’s tough to get started just talking to people with no real “in.”

After my 40-minute long catharsis on Tuesday (well, okay, not immediately after, more like 2 hours later), I felt much better and more positive, and although nothing has really changed I carried on with a somewhat fragile sense that things were looking up.  I also filled out a request for change of accommodation form, because I don’t think I can handle a home stay under any circumstances next semester.  I can’t handle the commute from here, the host family hadn’t been told by the school I was here for a year and aren’t prepared to house me the whole time, and I really don’t want to go live with another family and start the whole awkward process over again (plus, as much as I like the family, it’s a weird lifestyle when you’re 22, married, and used to running your own house the way you want).  Since I was specifically complaining about my limited opportunities to use Japanese, the people in the office told me they would see if they could arrange for me to live in the normal students’ dorm with Japanese students (since even the dorms are normally segregated to include mostly foreign students).  And that would be an awesome solution.

Wednesday I went to Jusco for the first time, with Sarah, and bought myself a new wallet and purse that are attached to each other, so that I will stop losing important things worth over $100 (my Nintendo DSi including kanji dictionary software, headphones, and 8GB SD card, my monthly commuter’s pass), or at least, I will have to try very very hard to lose my wallet and keys, which I cannot replace and cannot survive without.

At Jusco, it was definitely McDonald’s time.

It’s strange to have sudden realizations like, “Wow, this is literally the first time I’ve had ketchup in a month and a half.  It tastes pretty awesome when you haven’t had it for a while.”

Going to McDonald’s was kind of a symbolic replacement for immediately running home to America, which is mainly what I’ve felt like doing lately.  And the slight difference of really familiar foods was also a good conversation topic.  Did you know that McDonald’s burgers in Japan are actually seasoned and have flavor?  Black pepper on a fast food burger??  And besides the regular burgers, and teriyaki burgers (which everyone who cares to spend any amount of time discussing Japanese fast food knows about), they have crazy monthly special burgers like Cheese Fondue and the McPork.

So McDonald’s, in some weird way, is a special shining symbol of the balance I want to acheive in my life here – still throroughly greasy American-style, but taking positive changes from the host culture, and becoming better than either on its own.

I may be really overthinking this thing, haha.

But today was a pretty good day for elbowing my way into minor solutions.  I went and hung out in the smoking area with a friend, even though I don’t smoke, because it is a surprisingly good place to meet friendly people.  So I spent probably 40 minutes chatting casually in Japanese and of course, inevitably, trading curse words.  (A few people were surprised by how many I already knew, both in English and Japanese…)  They seem like a fun bunch, and as long as no one will look at me like I’m crazy for hanging out in the smoking section without a cigarette (or look at me any weirder than they do already), I may hang out with them at lunch breaks when I don’t have manga club.

I was also asked to come into the teacher’s office today with an omninous note in my mailbox that said nothing of the purpose of my visit, and it turns out that they were actually concerned about my frustration with the class.  They asked me to be patient for now, but are arranging for me to get a hold of the IJ 500 workbooks and kanji lists, so that I can study idependently and test to skip over 500 and into 600 next semester.  Which sounds pretty awesome.

And now I’m home and man, I would still really like to be at home home, but things don’t look as dark as they did two days ago.

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One Response to “Sometimes, the answer to your problems looks a lot like a double cheeseburger.”

  1. Rebecca November 6, 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    I stumbled across this website when I googled “the answer to all your problems” and I just wanted to let you know I really enjoyed reading what you wrote!

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