Hello! My name is Zennosuke and I’m originally from Seattle, Washington. I am currently doing an exchange year in Japan and have been placed in the 2nd year of high school. My mother is Japanese American, so I had always been exposed to bits and pieces of Japanese culture from a young age. Having fallen in love with both the traditional and modern pop culture of Japan, I felt that an exchange year would help me take my learning to the next step and help me to strengthen my grasp of understanding. It has been 1 month since my arrival, and while my Japanese is still far from perfect, I would like to share the experience so far!
I got in contact with my host family a little while before Christmas, about five(ish) months before I left in April. Despite the time difference between Japan and the U.S., my host family and I were able to keep in good contact and we slowly got to know each other before I left. Ultimately though, despite the pre-communication helping quite a bit when we finally met in person, I admittedly knew very little about them. So, I spent the first two weeks before school started with my host family just playing and talking.
During that time, the main thing I learned was how much Japanese people rely on context and “reading the air”. In other words, sometimes they want the exact opposite of what they say. While this has been a difficult adjustment coming from such a low-context country like the United States, I am slowly getting the hang of life here and look forward to learning more during my stay here in Japan.
Even in one’s home country, being the new kid is scary. Who will you sit with at lunch? Who should you talk to? Does your hair look okay? Now, if these questions are hard to tackle in your native language, imagine having to deal with them in a foreign language. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I was sweating bullets on my first day in class. However, something I wish I had realized earlier is that as much as I was nervous to talk to my classmates, they were nervous to talk to me. In other words, just because people are quiet at first doesn’t mean they have no interest in you! After putting myself a little out of my comfort zone and being the first to reach out, I was met with welcoming arms and everyone slowly started to open up more.
One thing that helped me get over my fear of speaking was to imagine myself in my classmates’ positions. If there was an international student at my school who didn’t speak English, I would try my best to help, not laugh at their mistakes. In assuming this nature with my classmates, I was able to ask questions and make mistakes in a way that only furthered my grasp of Japanese.
After the busyness that came with moving countries died down, I started to feel a little homesick. Since it’s only been a month since I left the U.S., I haven’t found an amazing remedy for my homesickness to share with you all, but I at least have some advice for what has been helping me. All right, so it sounds dumb, but I found scrolling through my usual Instagram/TikTok feed and listening to music that I listened to in America really helps me stop missing home. It’s like a pseudo-trip to America where I’m able to trick my brain into thinking I’m just in my usual bedroom scrolling on my phone.
It’s a great quick fix, however, I will warn you, while it’s nice to indulge in things from your home country from time to time, you’re on exchange for a reason. Your purpose is to learn about life in your host country. So, if you spending entire days in your room scrolling and trying to simulate home instead of integrating into your host country, it is a recipe for disaster. I would recommend limiting it to a couple hours a week and slowly weaning off of it as you become more used to the surroundings around you and no longer feel as homesick.
You can also get involved by joining our team of Area Representatives! Help match host families and exchange students and bring the world closer together, while making a supplemental income.