Thursday, May 31, 2012

Culture Shock - The Negotiation Phase

Tokyo from the Air by Stuck in Customs (Flickr)

It's been just a little over a month since I've arrived in Tokyo. It's been great. I've visited Harajuku, Shibuya, Odaiba, Ueno Zoo, Roppongi, and a few other places. Just recently, I was able to witness a Japanese tea ceremony 茶道 (sadou) lesson and today ventured into my first visit to a Japanese public bathhouse 銭湯 (sentou). It was actually really nice and I would love to go again. I might just make it into a regular th

But at the same time, during my stay so far, I haven't always been as happy as I thought I'd be. And I tried to hide it from everyone. Even from those dearest to me. Which only made me more miserable during those moments when I wasn't feeling so good. I am in the place I've always wanted to be and admitting I wasn't thrilled 100% of the time made me feel guilty.

I'm in the middle of the all too common "culture shock" phenomenon that is an inevitable part of drastic change. The change usually involving leaving one place that you have become familiar with and arriving in another, completely different to what you are used to. But it isn't always the change of physical space. It's the change in lifestyle that is the most shocking. 

And I've just recently realized that it isn't just Tokyo that I'm adjusting to; it's being a university graduate. I'm technically no longer a student and I think that is the thing that really freaks me out. And I'm experiencing this culture shock within another sphere of culture shock which involves being in Japan. I felt rushed and pressured to figure out what's to come next in my future NOW, not later but now. That mixed in with my current living situation - working as an au pair - made me crack under the pressure.

I say crack but I pretty much shattered. 

When I finally confided in those important to me about not feeling comfortable with my situation - first, with one of my best friends, who gave me the courage to then tell my parents - I had my first wave of relief. 

I don't have to immediately continue my studies. I can take it easy while still looking at different options. But this time without a deadline breathing down my neck. My parents were more understanding than I thought they'd be. I have no idea why I thought otherwise.

"You Knew What You Were Getting Yourself Into"


 That was the gentle hand I needed - from my dad - to help me feel better about what's to come next. Whatever it is, we won't give it a deadline but we should never stop looking for opportunities and options that could come my way.  

But that wasn't all I needed. I also very much needed the slap in the face my mother would give me next.

My dad extended that bit of comfort that I so very much needed. But because he did so I started wanting more. The original plan was to stay in Japan for at least six months. Now I was starting to contemplate leaving at the end of July (the date of my return ticket), using another best friend's wedding as an excuse (which won't be till February). 

I wanted so very much to go back to the place where I could feel completely comfortable and at ease. Where I know I will be taken care of. Back home. 

I still haven't met that many people here. I sometimes feel very alone. Back in Prague I could spend an entire day doing nothing or sleeping in if I so wished, putting life to one side. Thus making it easier to live it because I didn't have to think too much about it. I could detach myself from the world and only make an appearance when I felt comfortable doing so. That is not really an option here.

So it was mom's turn to instill her wisdom. When I told her I wanted to come home earlier, she asked why. I gave her my excuses, which in the back of my mind I always knew where excuses but wanted to believe were valid anyway. 

"You knew things were going to be like that," she said. "'I can do it,' you told us. You said you knew what you were getting yourself into. What are you going to do now? You need some kind of plan." 

She said it in such an unsympathetic, "you should know better" type of way that her words frustrated and hurt me. She was refusing to baby me and in my own way I was having a silent tantrum. I got angry and part of me wanted to show her I could do it.

I soon realized why her words hurt so much. It was because she was right. I wanted to give up because things weren't going as smoothly as I wanted them to and really that is just pathetic. So I started to actively do something about it.

I found a Japanese girl around my age who is willing to meet with me to hangout and teach me some Japanese. I have an interview for an internship next week. I've accepted that the two fellow fangirls that I've met won't always be able to hang out and that's okay. And I'm truly starting to appreciate that I am actually treated fairly well here by the family I'm staying with. I'm finding other ways to have "me time."

The negotiation stage of Culture Shock is where the individual decides whether to continue on to the next stage: the Adjustment Stage. The stage where you accept the differences of the new situation you are now in and find a way to "adjust." You either can or you can't...

I think I can. Or at the very least I'm going to try. 

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