Archive for July, 2012
11 July, 2012 – 5:06 pm | Filed under japan, thesis | No Comments »
I just finished writing an article for JETAADC‘s annual returnee handbook, which they give to all JET Programme participants who are returning to the greater Washington, DC area. This is obviously applicable to JET returnees everywhere, but geared towards American participants. In the spirit of all the writing I did in my Japan journal while I was abroad, and in light with the fact that this essentially summarizes my master’s thesis, I thought I’d include it here.
“Every situation is different” isn’t quite behind you yet.
I didn’t know if I should begin with that bombshell, or with a more traditional reverse culture shock rundown. But the above is important to realize: there’s no singular, defined experience you’ll have when you return. It’s not over yet!
Also, brace yourself: there’s a bit of a roller coaster ahead. What makes this more intense than the culture shock you may have experienced when starting JET is that in many cases, you’re going home, to a place you know pretty well. Sometimes these moments of reverse culture shock will hit you when you least expect it, when you think you’ll feel settled and at home instead.
Think of reverse culture shock as a disconnect between the actual and the perceived: what home is and how you had viewed it, and—most importantly—who you were when you started JET and who you have become. Stepping out of your home culture while in Japan taught you about yourself and your cultural identity. Now it’s time to reflect on all this again, and to think about your emotions, thoughts, actions, and values that have shifted unexpectedly but indelibly. You can pinpoint and anticipate some of them, but others will make themselves known to you only after your return.
The process of readjustment is basically the same as with initial culture shock:
disengaging from the place you’re leaving,
euphoria once you arrive in the new place,
hostility once the perceived-actual disconnect hits you,
and reconciliation as you begin to settle in.
It’s that 3rd step that’s the hardest to deal with, especially if you dropped roots in Japan. Why is this happening? Why do these things not feel right anymore? Sometimes, these feelings even become strong enough within some people that they result in symptoms of depression if they aren’t treated. If you’re prone to that, or even if you aren’t, be aware of yourself, and don’t hesitate to reach out to get help getting through any rough points.
The biggest thing that many returnees benefit from or wish for is surprisingly simple: somebody to talk to. If you feel lonely or frustrated, reach out to the JET community, via a JETAA chapter or online. There’s such comfort and power in the phrase, “I know how you feel.” Even if you’re isolated geographically, you are not alone.
It’s not all bad, obviously—it’s just important to be realistic about what’s coming. But throughout, do stay positive, keep an open mind, and go with the flow. You’re wrapping up an incredible, life-changing adventure, and are moving on to a new one! Just know that there may be moments of irritation and frustration, but no matter where you are, keep moving forward. It’s easier said than done, but think warmly on the past without dwelling on it.
I would strongly urge you to document your experiences. If you’re still in Japan as you read this, take photos of everything you can, even the mundane things like items at the grocery stores, signs, and so on. Once you get back, consider keeping up a diary or personal chronicle for yourself, to help process your readjustment.
The greatest thing about returning is that the second phase of your identity as a JET participant begins. You can embrace all the good things about your time in Japan, and share them with everyone you encounter (you’ll be bubbling over with “when I was in Japan…” stories for months, if not years). Just as we were agents of grassroots internationalization in Japan, we’re now grassroots Japanese ambassadors, and can share the real Japan with our friends, family, and acquaintances. More importantly, ideally we all have a more nuanced and open-minded view of the world, and can move forward with heightened awareness of our greater human family. Embrace that—it’s an amazing gift.
And above all, I hope you have a wonderful time. Otsukaresama!