When I spoke to a counselor at the local university about getting enrolled in a few courses, she listened to my situation, then suggested I attend an orientation on culture shock. What? I thougt to myself with a laugh, then told her it wouldn't be neccessary as I had already been in the US a few months. When I spoke to a friend about my decision to take a few classes until I go back to Japan in December, and told her about what the counselor had said, she sighed and told me:
"Zia, you really should take the culture shock seminar if they're offering it to you."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Even my own friend thought I was going to have difficulties adjusting to something I had, in my mind, already adjusted to? Obviously, she doesn't know me as well as she thinks she does, I told myself. Having traveled back and forward between Puerto Rico and Japan for years, I was no stranger to the differences in culture. I was a master at adjusting to the changes in my environment. Not once did I ever feel out of place in either location.
As I stepped on to the campus for the first time in a pair of white pumps, skinny jeans a light purple blouse, a purse on my arm, and flawless make up and hair, I looked around at the students moving this way and that in their shorts, flip-flops, tank-tops, t-shirts and hoddies, backpacks on their backs, sunglasses on their faces, and for the first time ever, felt extremely out of place.
After enduring the bullying I was experiencing from my former best friend and her new crew, I listened to both my boyfriend and counselor and left the school. At the age of 19, I crossed the globe and began a life at a foreign school in a foreign country, taught in a language I didn't understand. Getting in required an essay, a transcript and taking an exam.
At first, being Ferris University felt like being on an entirely different planet.
The campus itself reminded me of a prison. The architecture was plain, the colors simple, and the atmosphere very quiet. It was an all girl's university where the students were referred to as "Ojou-sama, princesses, and they very much fit the part. Every morning, parades of girls would cross the street dressed in their pastel colored skirts and heels, brand-name bags on their arms, never a hair out of place. As they entered the campus, they walked with a certain grace, backs straight and head held high, but not too high as to make their company feel inferior.
Language barrier aside, the classes were mostly lecture courses, which made them considerably easy. The focus was more on memorization than actual learning and all one really had to do was take notes and occasionally raise a hand. Homework was rare and most exams were open book. Most of the syllabi consisted of a single page. Whenever there was an important announcement or meeting, I'd receive a text message or a call. The staff, students and teachers definitely went out of their way to help everyone succeed ( I was told that this was in order to protect the reputation of the school, but I can't confirm it).
As I picked up more of the language, things gradually became easier.
Simply put, the school I chose to take some classes in now is the exact opposite of what I am used to. Students dragged their feet around as they crossed the campus in their beach wear and backpacks, laughing loudly. The environment was so relaxed it felt more like a board walk than an actual school. The buildings were beautiful though, and the school required quite a lot of documentation to get in to as well as several exams to simply get in to certain classes! The classrooms were small with no more than 30 seats in each, forcing students to participate in discussions. Syllabi were three pages minimum. "We're here to help you," the teachers and staff stressed, "But you also have to help yourself."
Where as Ferris looked as though it was a no-nonsense school, it was relatively easy. This university gave the impression that it was relaxed and slow paced, but in fact required a lot of work. I felt overwhelmed by everything being given to me. Boys looked at me with interest, while girls took a glance and appeared to roll their eyes.
Oh that's right, this school is co-ed. My first co-ed school in years. I've heard (as well as seen on the news) of issues caused my competition between students. Unlike at Ferris, where everyone was more or less the same, this school is full of diverse students all competing academically and socially. I wonder if I have what it takes.
At the general student orientation, I was introduced as "A transfer student from Japan," and that really isn't a lie. I didn't expect however, to have students treat me differently because of it. Students spoke slowly around me, as though I was incapable of properly understanding English. They asked me things like if I had come to the US to escape the radiation poisoning, if I knew how to make sushi, if it was true that one could buy panties from a vending machine.... Some even offered to help me in my classes if I needed it. I wonder if the confused expression on my face helped further their belief that I knew nothing because "I'm from a foreign country."
When I talked to my mom about what happened, we laughed over the fact that the same thing had happened when I moved to Japan. Students at my university then also asked me ridiculous questions such as how often I went to New York City, or what kind of race car did I own, if I've ever been arrested, how many jobs I had, If I had met celebrities in LA (Apparently, all Americans party in NYC and LA all the time!).
I'm pretty sure that when I go back, my friends there will hound me about American Universities: Do all the girls walk around half naked?! Did you party every day?! How many people did you see having sex?!
Aa, to be foreign no matter where you go~!
I can't wait until Saturday to talk to M and tell him all about this. He's constantly teasing me about being "Ojou-sama," and I'm always denying it. Now it's finally hit me that I very much am "Ojou-sama," and that's just how it is. I wonder if he'll be pleased with my decision to take some courses. He's always stressing the fact that he loves how I don't schedule everything like he does. "If we were both busy like me, we'd never have time for each other," he says. I am becoming like him though. I don't think that'll cut in to our time, but I wonder if he'll worry. Maybe it's best I not tell him anything.
Now I'm also debating whether or not to go out and buy new clothes so I can at least attempt to resemble students here, or if I should just continue doing my own thing.