Foreign Life | Teen Ink

Foreign Life

January 19, 2009
By Russell Trenary BRONZE, Oak Park, Illinois
Russell Trenary BRONZE, Oak Park, Illinois
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

To live in a foreign country can teach somewhat a lot of what it is like to be a minority and an outsider. When I was in fifth grade my family moved to Japan for our third time. This trip would be the first time I was old enough to be relatively conscious of my surroundings. Thus, it would be the first time I would be aware of being a foreigner and an outsider, something that has had a profound effect on me. This experience has given me a wider perspective on the differences people have and the realization of a few controversial ideas.

When I lived in Japan I had to assimilate and overcome a variety of obstacles that come with living in any foreign or different place. It is not to be over looked however, that Japan is definitely an easier place for a foreigner to live than the vast majority of countries including the United States. Still, there are many things about living in Japan that make it difficult for foreigners. The first obstacle of living in Japan that I experienced is the fact that you look different than everyone you see. There are few foreigners in Japan, fewer Western foreigners, and still fewer Western residents of Japan. This brings on a variety of difficulties. First of all, I felt, as I was being constantly noticed and observed. Although people never showed unfair judgment or unfounded prejudice against who I represented, I still felt like I had to always make the best impression because I felt like I still was a representation of my culture. At my school that I attended the teaching was done in both English and Japanese, however, the entire kids spoke Japanese to each other and I knew hardly any. This made me an outsider at school for the entire time. I was excluded from many things, unintentionally most of the time, simply because the other kids didn’t want to have to translate everything for me. I never made friends at the school although I became friendly with the Korean kids who didn’t know much Japanese either. For the most part I was lonely for those six months. Another difficulty of being a very small minority was the forced assimilation into Japanese culture. Although there are many aspects of Japanese culture that I was glad to abide by, general politeness for example, there were other aspects and rules that grew tiresome to follow. For example, in Japan it is considered rude to eat while walking. On my trip to and from school, a fifty-minute journey, I often wanted to buy and eat food to save time. I had to decide whether to satisfy my needs and risk ruining the reputation of my country, or follow an arbitrary rule and go without food. Sometimes I would go ahead and eat and although no one made it clear that I was being judged, I still felt a sense of defensiveness and annoyance occasionally. Even though Japan is a first world country with a lot of Western influence it still is difficult to live there for a variety of reasons brought on by the country’s homogeneity. Thus, the challenges I faced there have lead me to see the world in a different light than most of the other people I know. The first way that it has changed me is it has allowed me to empathize with foreigners in America and to some degree, minorities. I now share a common experience with people everywhere. It seems to me that my feeling of defensiveness about doing something that could be perceived as rude is similar to the experience of many groups of people in America who have to assimilate to the dominating Puritan based culture that we have. A second change that living in Japan has had is that it has increased the closeness of my family. When we were in Japan we lived in a very small apartment and we had very few other people to talk to so we all had to rely on each other. During that time we learned that when you feel like an outsider all day you really appreciate being able to go home in the evening and immerse yourself in your language and culture. The third change that being an outsider has had on me is that it has given me a new ideas when discussing identity and culture. I now believe that people should try to not identify with one culture or another. This stance is not very popular as it is common in America now, especially the town I live in, to celebrate differences and show off ones culture. I believe, however, that everyone is born an individual without any connection to legacies and cultures prior to their existence. The only culture that anyone has Therefore it makes no sense to me that people should be raised with a strong cultural identity as a Jew, or as a Black person. The cultures that go along with those identities are arbitrarily carried on from generation to generation with no real purpose or substance. I believe that this world would be much better if people stopped identifying with groups that they are born into. We are all born into one group, humans, we are still all very similar. Major differences between people hinder development of societies, thus we should limit the amount of divisions that we create between ourselves. I think I came upon this conclusion when noticing how despite the cultural differences that existed between the Japanese and me, there were still many things that were still similar enough to show a definite link between people of all cultures.

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