I spent one month in Japan with the LEX Exchange program this past summer. Japan contrasted strongly with other countries I have visited. I've spent most of my time in underdeveloped countries where for twenty dollars you could live like royalty. In Japan, twenty dollars won't even buy a decent meal.
I was excited to live with a Japanese family, having all my needs seen to, and being taken by the hand to explore the mysterious country that seemed forbidding to me. Notwithstanding their protests to the contrary, nearly everyone speaks at least a smattering of English.
The food was excellent. Usually I was not sure what I was popping in my mouth, but it was generally good. The food is always aesthetically pleasing. It is meant to be appreciated by the eyes, as in America it should be to the nose. Japanese taste in cuisine runs to the exotic.
Acclimating to the habits of any family can be a drag and a hassle, but it need not be. Your host family will undoubtedly go out of their way to make you feel at home, which is their pleasure. The easy stuff is remembering to slip out of your shoes when you enter a house, not to blow or wipe your nose at the table, and to point to your nose (instead of your chest) when you refer to yourself; but it is also important to remember to be extremely open-minded about what is
probably one of the most "foreign" cultures you will ever encounter.
I saw a huge Buddha in Kamakura with my first host family, and a magnificent castle with my second. I visited the sento (traditional public bathing house), tested my karaoke singing ability, ate a lot of new food, practiced at a couple of Aikido dojos, and met many wonderful people during my too-short stay. I had a great time.
Just a few last bits of advice. Do not worry about committing a few dozen faux pas, because inevitably you will. Just smile sincerely and often, aim a few bows at them, and everything will be okay. Being in another country is a great way to learn about a culture, but more important, about yourself. L
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.