There was a popular narrative among very high-minded students that you should immerse yourself in the environment in which you had no choice but to speak English because having Japanese speakers around made you lazy. Such students often avoided California and chose U.S. states known to have fewer Japanese people, like Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, etc. Waseda might have only had affiliate schools in the West Coast (CA, OR, WA), East Coast (D.C.), and Midwest Great Lakes area (IL, MI) at the time, but I wondered if I was not pushing myself hard enough by choosing Los Angeles. But I thought, the study abroad program was challenging enough, so why would I want to make it harder?
I read essays written by people who had studied in the U.S. and attended talks by students who just returned from the program. It was not a surprise to hear how they struggled with the language initially but gradually started to make sense. They wrote/talked about their accomplishments like a hero who overcame the hardships. But the most dominating feeling I got from them was how lonely they had felt. They mentioned how small they felt because of the disadvantage in the language, but they worked very hard to prove they were as intelligent as the American students. By the end of the program, they came out much stronger but slightly traumatized by the experience as a foreigner. I felt the sense of hurt was more acute in male students than female students. I wonder if it was because young Japanese women had already been used to being slighted in their home country, so when they arrived in the U.S., they went all-in for new experiences and knowledge, with little distraction from their chipped ego. More male students said they felt racially discriminated against, which was one of my primary concerns.
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