Damn, it happened again.
I have this unfortunate tendency to stifle my own writing and put off writing about easy or simple things because I have multiple big ideas for posts, and I feel like I owe it to someone to write something “of substance” instead of “shallow” day-to-day posts. For instance, part of the reason I haven’t written in my study abroad blog here for a while is that I feel that, since I’m getting space on the Whitman Pioneer website, I ought to do my liberal arts education at least a bit of good and try to post content that’s actually analytical or thoughtful, and not merely, “I went here! I saw this!” I’m not sure how much there is to that–while it would be good to apply some thinkin’ to my experiences over here, I imagine it would be better to post shallow day-to-day content than post nothing because I want to be deep and significant.
I suppose I can always write analyses after I return, too. After all, I do get to take my experiences through customs.
Of course, there’s also the excuse that I haven’t had too much time, what with homework and adventures, and that much is true. Still, a moderate chunk of my excuse for not writing has simply been my (misguided) desire to write something “worthwhile”.
So, worthwhile or not, here’s what’s on my mind.
Lately, I’ve been starting to think about America again. Not just in my typical terrified-of-how-absurd-American-politics-is way, but in a more real sense. I’ve been mentally placing myself in the US again, thinking about the foods I want to eat, the places I want to go, the things I’ll be able to do when I return. I think about all the packages I’ve had shipped to my house, and–maybe most dangerously–how I’ll be able to “continue” my life when I get back. As if my time spent over here in Japan was just a diversion, a detour from our regularly-scheduled programming. As Sam says, I’m “slipping out of Japan”.
The problem is that I’m a whole two and a half months away from being done here. It makes no sense to be thinking as if my time here is already done when I have all of this time left.
This is what Ben, a previous student who stayed with my host family, described as “culture fatigue”, one of the steps of the cross-cultural experience. After being immersed in a foreign culture for six months, it’s starting to wear me down. Not in any conscious way–it’s not as if I’m actively hating anything at all about Japan–but rather in a subconscious way. It’s not easy to spend six months straight in a country vastly different from your own, and after a while, the difficulty of navigating daily activities, making yourself understood and understanding others, and ultimately attempting to be a functional human being in an entirely new context all piles up. My brain has decided to take a cultural holiday, and it’s pushing me hard to just go back to being American again.
So, I’m speaking more English. I’m enjoying my (scarce) leisure time by reading English books and English websites. I’m hanging out with American friends. It’s as if I’m doing everything in my power to avoid Japanese culture and language.
Which, y’know, is absolutely stupid.
It wasn’t really a conscious choice to begin with. I didn’t look at myself in the mirror and say, “Well, we’ve had a good haul–time to stop all that Japanese stuff.” (However, now that I’m aware of it, it must be conscious to some extent, since choosing not to address it is a conscious choice.) But even if it’s not conscious, it’s moronic. Or, more accurately, it would be moronic to keep doing this now that I see what’s going on.
According to literature on the topic that we studied last semester in my cultural psych class, cultural fatigue is part of the study abroad process. It happens to many. I’m not unusual in trying to revert to my American lifestyle. However, as is likely obvious, it’s the make-or-break point of a cross-cultural experience like studying abroad. If I allow myself to continue insulating myself from Japanese culture, that’s essentially the end of my experiences here in Japan. If I let my mind resituate itself in America now, then I might as well be there in the flesh for all the good I’ll get out of the rest of the semester. On the other hand, if I take this opportunity, bunker down, and throw myself full-force back into Japanese culture, I have the feeling I’m going to reach a very happy place by the time the year is done.
It’s a tempting trap, though, particularly because completely pushing America out of my thoughts is impossible for all practical purposes. I have to secure housing for next year. I have to look at job and internship opportunities. My future doesn’t end when I leave Japan, so there will be some things that require me to switch back into “American mode”.
I suppose the trick, then, is finding how to switch into “American mode” when necessary–and then going promptly back into “Japan mode”.