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.