This summer has been pretty boring for me, to be honest. (But it makes sense that it would be, wouldn't it? This is the time right before what will perhaps be the most hectic and engaging point in my life so far--living displaced in a foreign culture. The calm before the storm, I guess. The calm balances out the frenzy.) I'm living with my parents, 2 hours away from most of the friends I've made at university. I don't have many friends in town, because most of my high school friends have apartments at their own schools. I would be doing that myself if it weren't for my studying abroad; I would have been in an apartment last year if I didn't think at the end of my sophomore year that there was a chance I would be at KGU last semester. I ended up putting off applying until this year, for financial reasons mainly. I wanted a full summer to work and earn more money waitressing than I would at my job up at school, and I wanted to stay in Japan from fall to spring. I'm very particular about planning things, if you haven't noticed already...
Anyway, what I'm getting at with that, is that I've spent a lot of nights researching other KGU student blogs (past, present, and future). While I read, I see certain topics that actually really interest me, and I consider writing about them in my own blog, but then I figure that it would be stupid to since I'm not even in Japan yet, I may change my mind on the subject once I'm there, etc. Although there are a few things that I really feel like I want to get out, and so I'm gonna use this post to kind of dump them.
I've noticed, ever since choosing to study in Japan, that I get a very mixed set of reactions from people when they hear of my plans.
First of all, nearly everyone I talk to has a positive attitude about study abroad in general. I get a lot of "Wow, that'll be such a great experience!"'s and "It'll change your life!"'s. There are always some who say things like they could never do something like that, they're homebodies, they don't have the desire to travel or learn another language just for fun--and that's completely fine. Some people are just different; I very, very rarely get homesick, and absolutely love to travel places, whether it's 30 minutes into downtown Des Moines or hours and hours by Amtrak to St. Louis to visit my aunt. Don't get me wrong, of course I love my family, I just feel comfortable with being away from them, I guess. I can still call them up or talk to them on Skype or whatever else, so it's not a big deal to me. Anyway, I'm off track now. Maybe it's my location in the Midwest, the general friendliness of people around here, or whatever else, but people are generally very excited to hear about students studying abroad.
But then, they inevitably ask where I'm headed, and that's when the reactions can change a bit. I've never had a full-blown rude or vicious reaction to hearing that I'm going to Japan, but I've gotten a lot of people saying"...wow, I would never think to go there." or the raised-eyebrow look and "Japan? Really?". It also depends on the age demographic, I guess; obviously older and younger people have different preconceived notions about the country. Actually, it's older people who usually assume I must be really smart or something to be learning Japanese and going there to study the language; I don't think I must be smarter than the next person at all, hell, my GPA wasn't even that spectacular when I was accepted into this program (though my acceptance does still baffle me every day.) As for Japanese itself, I really don't think it's that much harder than any other language to learn--yes, it's easier for an English speaker to learn Spanish or French or German (because all these languages share common ancestries and are full of cognates), but I don't think it's technically much more complicated. (In fact, English is a very difficult language to achieve a full grasp on when not raised a native speaker--think of all the strange spellings, borrowed words, grammatical rules (and how often they are broken), and inconsistent pronunciations there are.) And so, I don't think it's really a sign of being super "smart" to want to go to Japan.
From my peers, there's really a mix of reactions. Many will instantly bring up how gross they think Japanese food is (maybe this is a midwest thing; I get this a LOT from older people too. Did I know they eat seaweed and raw fish over there? Wow, no sir, I sure didn't. Thanks for the tip. -_-) I've had people raise their eyebrows and get this sort of knowing look on their face, before asking if I watch anime or read manga. (And they are almost always surprised to hear that I don't, I just really like Japan.) But hey, I guess we are the anime generation--Japan's cartoons have definitely caused an explosion of interest in the country in Western culture, and I've gotten the feeling from reading other student blogs that that is the reason why many first became interested in Japan.
Even among my own group of friends, I've felt like some were quick to judge me for my choice. In college at least, I've always been really the only one in my group with an interest in Japan. Sometimes, I feel like they think it's a little bit of a novelty to ask me to say something in Japanese at parties, or for me to make friends with Japanese exchange students at our school. I always found this kind of strange, because several people in my group of friends were studying languages of their own (and even majoring in them--I've never even taken a Japanese class), and yet no one asked them to say something in Spanish or whatever else. (Though I will say, I have a friend who lived in Germany for a year, and she really, really likes Germany. Like really likes it. And it's cool to hear her speak German fluently. So I guess she was like me, only with Germany.) Anyway, I guess that Japanese is a sort of novelty, in that in my social circle, it wasn't something you heard about every day, and everyone knew that I really, really liked Japan. I'm sure some thought I was a little strange, but then again, I'm sure they had interests themselves that they were passionate about. (And if not...well, they must be pretty boring. :p) And I'm not trying to throw a pity party or something here--a lot of kids say they're jealous, or that they think Japan sounds way cool and trendy, or that it's just a unique place they wouldn't have thought of.
I guess what I've learned from this is that many people expect to hear names like "England" or "Germany" or "France" or, inevitably, always, always, "Spain" when I say I'm studying abroad, and they're surprised to hear "Japan". Even my own mom originally tried to persuade me to go the Spain route, and not Japan--and although I don't think there's anything wrong with these countries or wanting to study there at all (I would like to visit all of these places very much so, actually), I feel like one learns very fast just how unusual their choice to go to a non-European or South American country must be when faced with all of the reactions people have.
I guess I just think of Japan as a country like any other in terms of study abroad; I actually didn't think it was an uncommon choice when I first wanted to go until I actually went to the study abroad office and learned that only a few students go there from our school every year.
Though I doubt that many people will read this outside of other KGU'ers and maybe some relatives, I do hope, just a little bit, that this blog can be a way of showing that Japan is a very interesting and fun country to those who weren't the stereotypical Japan-loving anime kids. I'm going there knowing more Japanese people at the University than non-Japanese, something that I think is also a little atypical of the average KGU exchange student. I really want to try and experience life as a girl my age over there would by hanging out with Japanese friends, and not just as an American hanging out with other foreigners in Japan would (though obviously I will still spend time with my fellow exchange students!). I know there will be disappointments, and that I obviously do not look or sound even remotely Japanese, and will therefore be treated differently--but I actually don't mind that a whole lot, I think experiencing life as a minority will be an interesting journey as well. Though, of course, I can never know how things will actually go until I get there; these are all just predictions and thoughts. 4:15am thoughts, in fact.
Maybe I should stop talking, and really get some sleep. :)