The time has finally come for my last blog, wherein I will attempt to wrap up my year abroad.
Tuesday August 8th, after twelve hours and seven movies, I arrived safely at Chicago O’Hare Airport. However the flight was the easy part compared to the hectic last week of wrapping up my life in Japan. Fortunately for me I chose to buy a prepaid phone so I didn’t have a cellphone contract to cancel however I did have internet to cancel, a bank account to close, I had to notify the ward office I was moving, hand in my insurance card, transform 80+ kg of clothes into 46 kg and a used and loved dorm room to make spotless. Yeah, that was a rough week after which I awarded myself with a trip to Hakone and hot springs. After my room was checked I was out the door, took a train then bus to the airport, boarded my flight and was on my way home.
I’ve been in America for almost a month now but there was no time for rest. With my classes starting in early September I was only home for a little over a week before I was moving once again. This quick change of pace helped me get back in the swing of things by keeping me busy, not giving me time to dwell on my experience abroad or how I was going to fit my life abroad into my life here.
When I first arrived in Japan, and through the following weeks, I experienced little to no culture shock. When I returned home over spring break I spent the time with my family so I wasn’t really exposed to my life in America again. Coming back in August there were many incidents where I felt like a square trying to fit in a circle.
On the way back from the airport we stopped at a Texas Roadhouse to eat dinner. After we had placed our orders I begin looking around the table for a hand wipe. In Japan, even if you go to fast food places, you are given a wet wipe to clean your hands. Fortunately my mom had a wet wipe in here purse that I could use otherwise I would have used a fork, instead of my fingers, to eat my BBQ ribs. This may seem a bit silly, but I was so used to cleaning my hands before I ate in restaurants that eating with my hands seemed rather disagreeable. I had been back for less than a day and I was already having problems.
Grocery stores in Japan tend to be much smaller than the average Festival Foods or Walmart here in America. Not only is the square yardage smaller, but the aisle are only a few feet wide and the ceilings much lower, for many grocery stores are the first floors of building complexes. I walked into a Festival Foods a few days after I returned and my mind was in shock, I just could not wrap my head around how big the place was, I was used to stores the same size as the produce section. Not only was store itself huge but the ceilings were uncomfortably high and the aisle seemed unnecessarily wide.
Some of the cultural aspects have stuck with me as well. For example, even if a group of people are just going to a fast food restaurant they wait until everyone has their food before they start eating. So now whenever I am with a group of people not only do I wait until everyone has their food before I eat, but I’m slightly disgusted by people who start eating before everyone has their food. It seems super rude to me even though it was perfectly normal for me before I left for Japan.
Bowing is a perfectly natural part of Japanese culture, a culture that has now infiltrated my habits. For example when someone hands me change at the checkout I nod my head slightly, or when I bump into someone while walking I turn around and bow my head as an apology. Even when I greet people by shaking their hands I’ll bow my head slightly. This habit continues in America and is completely natural for me.
These are just a couple of the ways that Japan has influenced me, to the extent that I experienced more culture shock returning to America than when I first arrived in Japan. However I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. Having been in Japan I have a new perspective on my life, how I spend my time, and who I spend my time with. I have changed as a person not just with respect to my habits but in how I think of myself and what kind of person I want to be.
I want to return to Japan someday, whether it’s for an internship or a vacation, but even if I spend the rest of my life in America I will always have the memories of my adventure abroad.