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2 posts categorized "Dorm"


Looming Culture Shock

Looming Culture Shock

The past three weeks have demonstrated to me that even the most put-together person can be completely disarmed and left vulnerable by what is known as "Culture Shock" - This is something that happens when you are realize that your culture, your way of doing things, is suddenly no longer the normal way due to the new environment you now find yourself in. As a result, it's necessary to adjust.

Like almost every other person in the CIEE program, I originally thought I was ready to handle whatever was going to be thrown at me the minute I stepped foot onto Japanese soil. I had my goals in mind, I was eager to start school, ready to explore, and so very willing to just immerse myself in the culture and learn as much as possible about this wondrous country. Culture Shock never even registered in my mind as a something that I would struggle with so much.  In this case, all of my planning and preparation should have been categorized as "Easier said than done".


Shibuya Crossing Chaos


I wound up dumb-struck and left in awe at Tokyo's fast-paced society. Even now, sometimes it feels like if I'm not walking like a New Yorker - quick and with gut-determination rooted in every step - then I will be bumped, shoved, and trampled. It's such a commuter-city! Trying to  keep up with the crowds in the train station proved to  be very difficult at first. The crowds all seem to move in waves, especially around the major cities, and trains can get so packed during rush hours that the station officers may even resort to cramming them in all at once - though I haven't had that happen to me, yet - the train schedule is actually very efficient. Oh, and there are even designated female-only cars during those peak hours! How's that for safety?


The next thing on the Culture Shock menu was adjusting to the difference in food and diet. Cooking dinner for myself was intended to be an easy task, except for the fact that I had no idea what to buy and where to buy it. I had to use the power of Google in order to research some of the brands that I ought to buy. It took me several days to become a decent food shopper, but in that time this is what I learned: Because so much is locally grown here in Japan, it's really inexpensive to buy fruits and vegetables at smaller, local markets, as opposed to the larger grocery stores we are all probably used to back home! And it's only 10 minutes walking distance - everything is meant to be convenient here because of the way the society works. Even convenient stores here carry much more than sodas and snacks. You could literally do all of your grocery shopping at a 7/11 here. This is Culture Shock at its finest - rendering me incapable of providing for myself because I can't properly read the labels on the packages. It takes some getting used to, and a lot of Kanji memorization.


My first meal: Pork Ramen with Dumplings


The first night, I remember trying desperately to order dinner, only to fail miserably because I couldn't read the menu. A couple of the dorm students paired up with the locals who also live in the building and wound up going out for ramen. I don't eat beef, so I had to keep asking "Toriniku? Toriniku?" Meaning "Chicken? Chicken?" If it weren't for the locals, we would have had so much more of an issue trying to order noodles than a Japan-born two-year-old!

Nonetheless, I was not shy about going out for dinner. If you know where to go, you can actually get a whole meal for under 500 yen, (approx. 4.50 USD). And if you want a taste of something traditional and inexpensive, an Izakaya is your best option. It's a small eating establishments that specialize in serving meat and drinks . While the prices can skyrocket, depending on what you order and whether or not there's a seating charge, there are inexpensive izakayas that tend to serve a lot of traditional snacks and skewers that make up a great meal among friends. Every single time, the atmosphere was fun and relaxed, the food great, and the bonding moments absolutely precious. It's funny to think that we don't have anything like that in the states - chain restaurants, sure. But inexpensive sit-downs that border between a pub and restaurant, no.  

Another thing about Tokyo,  Japan, that I find quite different from America are the amount of game centers here! I was talking with a new friend of mind, a Japanese local who had been showing me around town at the time. She called the centers "Pachinkos" and I had no idea what that was, until she started explaining about the games and slot machines. Originally, I thought about an arcade, but it's actually something else entirely.

I wound up learning that Pachinkos are slot machine parlors. Here, the idea of the game is to put little silver balls into the machine and try to win more silver balls by getting them to fall in certain places in the machine, which can then be exchanged for prizes.

However, there are several dozen arcades here in Tokyo that seem to be a popular past time for the locals. Back in the states, it's very rare to try and find game centers now-a-days because Americans make no time for it anymore. Therefore, they wound up shutting down. Similarly, to go to a place in America with slot machines would mean that you would be going to a casino to gamble, and there aren't nearly as many in one state as there are in all of Tokyo, (in my personal opinion, that is.)

Pachinkos and Arcades here though are always crammed pack with people, from teens to elder parents, I've seen them all! Perhaps it's their version of de-stressing from the day, or their own way to bring their inner child to the forefront for a good hour or so, but whatever the case may be, it was all too amazing just to see that video-game culture thriving in the most vintage of all tech-oriented establishments.


My friends and I were about to go hard-core on Mario-Kart

Honestly, I can go on and on about the differences between my hometown and Japan, but that's not the point of this post. Instead, the point is for me to convey to you how taken aback I was by both the amazing and the frustratingly difficult. It has been no walk in the park, even now 3-weeks in.  I guess when it comes to culture shock, you never know what's going to be the next big difference that you are going to have to adapt to, but adaptability is the key! If not, then you will suffer and loathe your time abroad. It's one thing to know that you are going to have to make some changes in your daily routine, it's another to actually follow through. Nevertheless, bit by bit, I am adjusting and learning as I go - I look forward to what the rest of the semester has in store.








Text Box: My first meal: Pork Ramen with Dumplings


How to Make Japanese Friends while Studying Abroad

Before I came to Japan, my greatest concern was whether or not I could make Japanese friends. I realize that everyone makes friends differently, but now that I'm here in Japan I would like to share a few tips about making friends with Japanese.


Tip #1: Speak Japanese

Everyone who comes to CIEE comes in with varying levels of Japanese: some people are very proficient, while others are just beginning. But it's really not about how well you speak Japanese. It's about how willing you are to speak Japanese. For example, I have a friend who is conversationally fluent in Japanese but refuses to speak it because he's not comfortable. As a result, most of his friends here are Americans. On the other hand, one of my friends is still a beginner but makes an effort to practice Japanese whenever he can, even at restaurants or with strangers. Even though he makes a lot of mistakes, he has been able to make Japanese friends. I think once you get over the fact that you are going to make mistakes and sound silly sometimes, speaking becomes a lot easier and it's easier to make friends. Even if the Japanese people you're with speak some English, it says a lot when you're willing to work hard to speak their language and converse in a way that's comfortable for them. So whether it's with your classmates, your club mates, or the people in your dorm, ask them to speak Japanese with you!

Shopping with Japanese friends in Odaiba

Tip #2: Say Yes

When you first start meeting Japanese people, whether through your classes or your school clubs, they're going to say things like, "Let's get lunch!" or "Let's go hang out!" At first, they may be the ones to initiate. I recommend saying yes as much as you can (obviously don't go out so much that your grades suffer). Even if it feels a little outside your comfort zone, or if you normally aren't the one to go out very often, spending time with people outside of class is really important. It's where most of the bonds are made here. If you're naturally shy, this may be where you have to stretch
yourself a bit. But I think it's worthwhile to spend time with the Japanese friends you make here, even if it's difficult at first or if you're not really sure how to approach it. You also may have to be the one to initiate and push yourself to invite people to eat together at lunch. But Japanese people really are friendly, and most of the time when people can't hang out it's because of their part time jobs. So try to make time for them during lunch periods or ask them when they're free. 

Visiting Chichibu Winter Festival

Tip #3: Be Present

At the beginning of the semester, you may be at every club meeting and sit at the same lunch table every day with your Japanese (or foreign) friends. But as the semester goes on, schoolwork gets busy and you have to start skipping lunch to finish your homework, or you don't go to the Friday lunch period meeting because you need to study for a test. While you are here to study and be a student, a lot of those last-minute homework assignments could have actually been done at home. Your time here is precious, especially if you're only here for a semester. So rather than spend your lunch period doing homework that you should have done last night instead of going on Facebook, I recommend getting your work done so you can go to the club meetings or eat lunch with your friends. As midterm season hits, your Japanese friends will get busy too; it might get harder to meet outside of school or on the weekends. So go to the club meetings. Even if nothing important happens at the club meetings, it will matter to them that you're there and you're willing to just hang out and talk with them. 

Halloween Event at the Park

Tip #4: Don't Worry, and Be Yourself!

This is the key to making friends in any culture, but I think it’s especially true when trying to navigate in a new cultural context. While you may find yourself stretching outside your comfort zone, at the end of the day you are still the same person you are in your own country. There may be days when you don’t feel the same, but trying to reinvent yourself completely when you come to Japan is going to be very difficult and exhausting. Also, being sincere about the things you like and dislike will help you find people with whom you get along. If you like anime, find people who will go to Akihabara with you; if you like sports, find someone to play basketball in the park with you. On the same token, don’t feel like you have to go out every weekend if that’s not the kind of person you are. Ultimately, be who you are and you’ll find Japanese people who appreciate that. You may be surprised how some of the people you will meet are so similar to you, too!