Author: Brandon Polinski
Location: Hirakata, Kyoto and Nagoya, Japan
I have been in Japan just over a full month now. Habits, relationships, and daily routines have been established. Things are good, but something that has been on my mind is the concept of cultural adjustment and yes, culture shock. Something that – even with preparation, studying beforehand, and getting off to a good start – can still put a damper on things before you work through it. I mentioned beforehand how I felt I experienced minimal culture shock – however, I have not been immune to it. Usually about one month in is when people abroad feel at the lowest point. Most of the international students here and I are not exceptions. I have observed this firsthand with both my classmates and with my own energy levels.
Yet that is one of the main reasons that I am glad for this experience. Because through it I have really learned the difference between “visiting” and “living” in a different country. When you visit a place, you only experience the brief initial culture shock and then the honeymoon period. You figure out how to get around, visit all the nice tourist spots and then return home before the high wears off.
Living is very different. Things that were once exotic and exciting become mundane, typical parts of life, and much of the excitement disappears. However, in a country like Japan which is drastically different than America, things may become “less exciting” but it never feels *completely normal. I may know the streets of Hirakata now, but it still feels alien in a sense. It is a little unsettling, the feeling that you now belong in a place, but not really.
I think some of this is exacerbated by the fact that more so then ever before, I really feel like I am on the clock. After all, I have four months of an opportunity many people never get in their entire lives. Additionally, people who know me well can attest that I often feel as if I am not doing enough – and this feeling is certainly being amplified here.
To cap off my first month, I have further explored Osaka and Kyoto. I went on a tour to Nagoya and visited some of its most well-known historical sites. I have become a semi-regular at two bars. I volunteered at a campus open house. I saw a movie in Japanese theatres for the first time. For October, I plan to visit Nara, Kobe, Hirakata Park and possibly Tokyo, while going to places in Osaka and Kyoto that I still have not seen. (They are huge cities) Hiroshima and Universal Studios are also on the agenda. There is a lot to be excited about, but it is important to remember that study abroad, while amazing in so many ways, is not a magic bullet for your problems and that there will be ups and downs no matter where you are.