With the obligatory disclaimer that my Japanese is just as funny at this point. But no one wants to make t-shirts out of that.
Crazy couple of weeks! I think I’m mostly settled in now, so I can try to get back to posting here.
My professors are an interesting lot. And I mean that in the nicest way. Christian Etzrodt is fairly direct and rather opinionated. He seems to know his stuff, though, so I am cool with that. Darren Ashmore’s self-introduction included the line “I exude apathy and violence; I’m from Sheffield.” Which may have been funnier in the moment than it is to read here. He’s passionate about his subject—Japanese Performing Arts in this case—which is forever a plus in my book. It makes his lectures fun and interesting. (And besides, he referenced Doctor Who.) Hiwatari Yasutaka is kind and patient without being so nice that he lets us get away with not speaking Japanese—exactly what I need for language class. And Professor Ganbagana’s Mongolian class is kind of like chatting with a friend, exchanging learning. But I should expand on that topic a bit.
You see, I’m the only student enrolled in the Mongolian class this semester. I will likely find on Monday that it has been cancelled due to low registration. So we’ve had two classes so far that were essentially private lessons. Although it’s a shame that it will probably be cancelled, it is kind of cool to have had those hours of personalized instruction. And Ganbagana Sensei tells me that although he has studied English on his own with books, he has not had much conversation practice. So we learn from each other. After class on Thursday, we just sat in the classroom for another hour, with him asking me many questions about America. Of course, he wanted to talk politics, which is a verboten topic for me. I did my best to answer his questions without getting into a debate, which mostly worked. I will be sad to see the class go. I was very excited to take it, because it’s not a language you find on offer at American universities. But the professor has said that I am welcome to come by his office whenever to facilitate studying on my own, and I will do my best to take him up on the offer.
Other than that, it’s been mostly normal orientation stuff, barring one crazy little nabe/beer pong party. (To anyone official from either GMU or AIU, no worries. Everyone else was of drinking age, and I certainly am.) I discovered a previously unknown talent for the game, which amused me no end.
Well, that went poorly.
This morning was the placement test for Japanese. I was, shall we say, completely unprepared. I can’t say that I choked, exactly, but standards here seem to be higher than at home. I needed to get into the upper advanced course–that is, 400 level–if I wanted to transfer the credits into something useful at GMU, but since I couldn’t even read the last essay prompt, that is simply not going to happen.
I suppose I should be more upset. I’m not happy, to be sure. There may be a little wallowing going on in my head. But it is not the cliched end of the world. Since my end goal has more to do with being functional in the language so that I can live here, I am less concerned with how quickly I get my degree. I’ve wasted money on far worse things than a semester abroad. And I will still get some anthropology credit out of it. At the moment, I am attempting to focus the failure into determination to study hard so that by the time I return home I feel as though I have accomplished something, regardless of whether or not GMU feels I accomplished anything worth crediting.
Other than that, things are going about as well as can be expected for a dyed-in-the-wool introvert in a place full of strangers. … I made that sound worse than it is. I have not acquired any new bosom companions, but that was highly unlikely anyway. I have met people and stretched myself some, both in terms of linguistic ability and social tendencies. I’m not currently worried about that. It is generally true that introverts loathe smalltalk, and since everything at this point is smalltalk–where are you from, what’s your major, have you been to America–it’s hard. Once I’m in classes and participating in whatever extracurricular activities I choose, it will be easier to find relevant topics for conversation that don’t make me feel as though no one involved really wants to be there.
So far I have been too jet-lagged to feel strongly about much of anything. Not quite homesick, not quite thrilled to be here. Oh, I’ve had my moments. Little things have reminded me how much I wanted to return. But we’ve had to dive into orientation so quickly that I feel more overwhelmed by mundane minutiae than awash in the wonder of Japan. Neither have I been hit with the despair that sometimes carries off students abroad, making them long to give the whole thing up and go home to the safe and familiar. There is a certain amount of isolation in play at present, having to do in part with–oddly enough–the lack of wi-fi. I can’t pull my phone out during every spare moment and check up on friends and family on Facebook, and I have not yet acquired a cell phone. (My iPhone does not work here, for reasons I haven’t yet seriously tried to discover.) I managed one brief call to 夫 just after I made it to Tokyo, but other than that I have not had the comfort of a familiar voice, just a few IMs kept short by the realities of the time difference.
I am aware of the dangers, of course. Particularly in light of my perceived “failure” at the placement test, I’m keeping an eye on myself, as it were, for signs of depression or culture shock. I’m not really expecting it, mind you. I don’t think of myself as the type. But I have a feeling that if I asked a mental health professional what the “type” is, they’d tell me there isn’t one, that culture shock can hit anybody. So, staying alert.
One odd little cultural note before I wrap this up: the difficulty of not making eye contact with and giving perfunctory greetings to strangers. You would think that the introvert would be overjoyed at release from this Western social nicety, but I actually found it a struggle to keep from doing so during all of the waiting I did in crowded areas while I traveled. I know that in Japan it’s seen as a strange and intrusive thing to do. Hell, it often makes me uncomfortable when I am on the receiving end at home. But it’s so ingrained. I feel like I’m being rude when I don’t nod and smile at passerby.
I fought with myself a little as I walked to my gate from security. We all want to look cool, I suppose, and I didn’t want to admit how scared I am–certainly not here on the blog where people might read it. You see, I’m not a traveler. Pretty much a hermit, actually. There were times while 夫 was on business trips when I literally did not set foot out my front door for days, and I was happy like that. So what, I ask myself, am I doing here–alone and inexperienced at flying and heading out of the country? That question gets answered later. For now, I decided to give my thoughts to the Internet because there may be other students out there, flying alone for the first time as they travel to study abroad. Knowing other people survived the experience helps, right? Heh.
Right now I’m sitting at Dulles waiting for boarding. I have another twenty minutes to go. Soon I’ll look up the layout of JFK, because I only have an hour to get from one plane to the next. When I’ve told people that, some have said it will be no problem. Others have responded with widened eyes and sympathetic concern. I have no idea whether to expect an issue or not. Best to be prepared.
夫, who has done a lot of flying, tells me that the hardest part is actually behind me, that fighting my way through the study abroad paperwork was the gauntlet and now it’s easy sailing (or flying, as it were). I don’t know if I believe that, but I’m trying to be zen about things.
A running subdued joke in my house for the past week or so is that he reminds me I’m going to Japan, as though to build my excitement, and I remind him that between me and excitement at being in Japan lies a mire of panic and worry, through which I cannot even hope to see anticipation. Still, I think there may be a glimmer there in the distance.