Tag Archives: lessons

The Universality of Human Connection

By Anthea Xiao

At a young age, I was introduced to and fascinated by Japanese culture through the channel of Japanese animations such as Studio Ghibli films and Doraemon. Eager to learn more about the Japanese language and customs, I enrolled in Japanese as my foreign language class and took the initiative to study Japanese culture on my own. My Japanese teacher recognized my passion and introduced me to an exchange program, which allowed students to live with host families and experience life as a Japanese High School student. I quickly seized the opportunity, and in the summer of 2016, I embarked on an unforgettable journey to Kanazawa, Japan.

Prior to flying to Japan, I diligently memorized Japanese phrases applicable for specific situations, read countless articles regarding Japanese etiquette, and even watched host-exchange “horror-stories” online from other students to prepare myself for any undesirable scenarios.

My heart was leaping out of my chest with anxiety and excitement when I saw my host-family waving the sign “ようこそ, アンセア!” (Welcome, Anthea!) at airport gate. During the initial stage of my stay, my host-exchange experience was exceeded beyond my imagination and expectations. I tasted a diverse array of authentic Japanese cuisines (a superb bowl of ramen was only $5 USD!), I quickly bonded with classmates through organizations such as the student acapella and traditional tea ceremony club, and I was able to improve my language ability through practicing colloquial Japanese outside of a classroom setting.

However, despite enjoying my host situation, I found it difficult to feel completely at ease with my host-family. I had read in textbooks that it is impolite to address Japanese people in an intimate or casual manner upon initial greetings. Therefore, although my host-parents asked me to address them as “mother” and “father” just like my host-sister did, I insisted on calling them Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida in fear of breaching their existing family structure.

The phrase “迷惑” (meiwaku) means to burden or to cause inconvenience for others. In Japan, a collective and harmony-focused society, causing meiwaku is a taboo and could signal a person as self-centered and uncouth. To avoid being seen as a meiwaku to my host-family, I refrained from seeking for help when I had trouble finding the way home from school or did not understand how to operate machine devices at home.

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An Unexpected Lesson

By Meghna Sathiapalan

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, an experience of  immeasurable impact, has decidedly influenced the person I am today.  Having lived there for thirteen years, I have faced a lot and grown immune to some truths; particularly, the seemingly harsh customs and the repression women are forced to suffer. During the former part of my childhood, I hadn’t recognized the wrong in it; I studied in an American school, a bubble that the ultra-conservative Islamic influences left untouched. Inside school, I grew up as an average American teenager; I could wear whatever I wanted, express my views freely and never had to worry about any form of subjugation. However, any activity that required me to leave the school grounds and go into public meant donning the mandatory black graduation cloak-like piece of apparel known as the abaya, as well as an optional head-covering. I might add that the Saudi heat is quite intense, and wearing this garment really increases bodily discomfort. Just imagine having every drop of sweat stick awkwardly to your skin.

Soon enough, I grew sick of wearing the abaya, even for short trips to nearby grocery stores. Eventually, I got even more annoyed at how non-Muslim women were also forced to adhere to this custom, even though they didn’t even believe in the tradition.  Until about fifteen, I tolerated this, but around 16, that rebellious teenage spirit started to kick in.  I started to leave my abaya more open and let my headscarf slip back when I went out in the public world. It earned disapproval, even from my own parents, who just wanted to avoid trouble.  But I had had enough.  When most women in other parts of the world had the freedom to do as they pleased, why shouldn’t Saudi women have the same? Why do they deserve less? Also, the fact that Saudi women aren’t allowed to drive and hold jobs in the government amplified my anger. It was injustice.

“Women are just as capable as men,” I voiced to one of my conservative Muslim friends, “Why are they seen as inferior? Why do they even bother wearing hijabs (head covers)?” I couldn’t comprehend why this particular friend bothered wearing the hijab either and voiced my disapproval. Continue reading An Unexpected Lesson