Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wtf blogger is almost unrecognizable - and I've only been away, what, five months!?

So what has happened since then ... well, I'm back in America. Not quite to my parents' house yet, but en route seeing relatives in California. And America is ... pretty much the same. Not much changes in a year, after all. But then again, a lot of things do. Maybe it'll be more apparent when I go back to school. People say I'm gonna feel "out of the loop" when I see my friends again. Um, well, it's not like I was never IN the loop. But five years from now - I'm pretty sure one "gap" year won't seem like such a big deal. Life is transient. I hope people change, places change - god, I hope I can change (for the better, of course).

You get ups and downs when you're abroad, but my biggest down this time around was probably the very beginning, when I knew nobody. It helped that it wasn't my first time in Japan. But two summers ago, I remember feeling smothered and REALLY wanting to get out of the country. Then I traveled for a couple weeks and fell in love with it again. But this past year, while I traveled a lot, I started growing attached to Japan because of the PEOPLE. Ironically, one of the reasons I stopped blogging here was because it was a lot harder to write about people. My last post was simply on places in Kyushu (still my favorite place in Japan <3). But actually, the people really do make the places.

I remember my last interview with my sensei - she asked me what I had learned the most this year. Yeah, my Japanese had improved. I had traveled a lot, both within and outside Japan. I learned a lot more about living in a foreign country and theoretically should have become more independent (although my roommate still nagged at me a lot for not cleaning regularly). But I answered, "After all, isn't it about human relationships?" I get the feeling that 人間関係 is one of those overused cliches in Japanese society ... but whatever way you say it, that marked my year for me. My sensei misinterpreted and asked me if I had gotten close to a lot of people at the IUC. Don't get me wrong. I had fond memories of mingling with everyone at IUC and made quite a few close friends. But thankfully, my life was not just limited to that gray office building in downtown Yokohama - I really pushed myself to get to know people from all aspects of my life in Japan - not just my language program, but also my church, my dance group, my fellow Tohoshinki fans, other random people I would meet, etc. This was pretty much the first year I wasn't so closely branded as a "Radcliff Middle" student, "North Hardin" student, and - the ever inescapable - "Yale" student. It was really refreshing to befriend people who were from different schools or already working.

And so the big conclusion is... I committed myself to studying abroad for a year just to learn that. There were times when I thought a year abroad should have amounted to something more - like researching  and brainstorming for a senior thesis, doing an internship, etc. But now that I look back, I wouldn't have it any other way. After all, that’s why I came to Japan this time around - to have real relationships abroad. I read over my summer Japan blog from 2010, and I can feel myself venting so much frustration back then - I really believed I couldn’t have anything but fake relationships in Japan because of the overpoliteness, the indirectness. But I think I just absorbed these stereotypes and justified my unhappiness in Japan at that time. This year, while I didn’t become friends with everyone I met, I do feel pretty stupid for the generalizations about Japanese culture I wrote two years ago.

I don't want to turn this into some sort of world peace agenda, but honestly, people are the same everywhere. Countries and cultures are different, but everyone laughs and cries. I hope future Light fellows (as well as anyone else who goes abroad), wherever they are, will be able to laugh and cry along with the people there.
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