Before you depart to study abroad, you’re most likely going to be inundated with documents from your program that give you advice on how to dress like a local and certain things you should do or not do while in your host country. For the most part, this information is helpful as it gives you an initial look into the culture you’re going to experience, but it can discourage you in a sense as well. Telling you to do certain things that would help you assimilate can, to some effect, make you feel like there are rules you need to abide by when you actually arrive to your final destination. In reality, these “rules” are no more than simple stereotypes to help you initially get by before you truly figure out how to live in your host country. Trust me, as good as it is to assimilate into your culture as an experience in gaining appreciation for where you are, you should never lose your tourist mindset.
If you try to assimilate as much as possible, you could miss out on experiences that your country provides. The lifestyles of the eccentrics and the marginalized will be lost on you because you’ll be too busy worrying about finding the common road. Here in Tokyo, the well-known “otaku” culture doesn’t just have a few backroads where you can find manga and anime-related goods; it has entire cities dedicated to it. Seven-story arcades, manga shops, video game stores and the like are so easy to find you could probably make your way to one with your eyes closed. Even then, the common thing is to at least slightly avoid the hyper-otaku culture that these places promote. For someone looking to assimilate, you’ll certainly be able to avoid these places. That being said, why would you want to? They provide experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. Even if people think you’re an otaku for going, just do it.
Part of learning about a culture is focusing on how everyone functions as a whole. Don’t just try to be on the common ground, go out of your way to do the uncommon. Even if people will think you’re weird for doing so, it will ultimately help you learn about the culture of your host country as a whole. Besides, you’ll only be there for so long. If people think you’re strange for a few months, so be it! You’ll come away better for it, and you’ll have a lot more fun along the way.
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Hi all! My name is Ben Krieger, and I am a rising Junior at Miami University in Oxford, OH. I grew up in the Cleveland area as an aspiring professional football player, but clearly that is a path that I've abandoned because I'll be in Japan during my first season away from the game in fourteen years! I'm very excited to be in Tokyo for the fall, and I've been preparing to be able to at least survive in Tokyo by studying Japanese for the first time ever in Beppu, Japan this summer. I may not be great yet, but hopefully you'll watch me grow as I blog my way through the fall program!