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.
Today I finished the most grueling segment of my study abroad prep so far–and hopefully the most grueling, period. I feel as though there must be a better system for getting credits to transfer between institutions, but right now my only thought involves hiring an employee dedicated to the task. Probably overkill. As it was, I spent the last couple of weeks running around to various departments and trying to convince them that my host university’s courses were close enough to my home university’s that they should count. Not exactly fun times for the introvert.¹
However, with that accomplished I am one step closer to a long-awaited return to Japan.
I suppose I should introduce myself. In 2001, I was a not-so-young military spouse who had managed to never even get on a plane, never mind visit a foreign country. When my husband came home and told me we were headed to Japan, I cocked my head and made a list, ticking them off on my fingers: “Sushi, geisha, samurai, ninja, um…kimono.” That was all I knew about the Land of the Rising Sun.
But by the time we headed back to the States three years later, for the first time in my life I dreaded leaving behind a place–not the people I knew or my favorite restaurants, but everything. I cried on the plane out of Tokyo. If I think too hard about it, I’ll cry now. I never really knew what homesick meant before.
I could not rely on the military to ship us back (or for much of anything else, really, but that’s an entirely different blog), so I had to figure how to do so under my own power. With the support of my wonderful 夫 (otto – husband), I began to slowly work toward a degree in something that would hopefully translate into eventual work in Japan.
In the nine years since, I have–to be somewhat melodramatic–pined. I like to tell myself I’ve been working toward my return, but my language skills have not progressed as I would like, and I accidentally became an anthropology major somewhere along the way. I still don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with myself when my schooling is done and 夫 retires from his military career, only that it still has to be in Japan and probably ought to have something to do with this degree on which we are spending thousands of dollars.
So, that’s the nutshell version of me, at least insofar as relates to this blog. In April, I should be in Japan, all alone for the first time in a while and trying to peel back layers of culture shock for you, Theoretical Audience, to enjoy.
¹It’s probably worth noting that only two of the five classes involved were actually an issue. My Japanese professor signed off on the Japanese language class without a problem. My Anthropology adviser, although I was ready to do battle with him since the class I wanted to transfer said “sociology” on the tin, barely blinked at my explanation before he scrawled his illegible name on my forms, approving both that and my back-up anth option. The one that was actually a huge problem? Japanese Performing Arts. Nobody wanted to claim it.