Saturday, April 21, 2012

Why I left my host family

Okay, since I promised a blog post.

I think I knew from the beginning that it wasn't going to work out with my new host family, and there were many times that I considered leaving.

I had had my mind set on doing a homestay for the entire year - looking back, I'm not really sure why. Probably because I wanted to work on my Japanese as much as I possibly could. Actually,  yeah, that was it. I wanted to get practice in.

My first homestay was great - it was really just me and my host mom most of the time, but we could sit down and talk and laugh for hours. We joked, she explained Japanese to me, I explained English to her, we watched TV together, we drank together, we always had a good time. On Sundays we would go to a restaurant, and we went to the movie theater a couple of times. We went to an aquarium and we went to a big ferris wheel. That is to say, we went out once in a while. My host mom accepting me for who I was and fed off of my energy the same way I fed off hers; we grew to understand each other's personalities and way of thinking, even though they weren't identical. We understood each other. Because we tried.

That was my first experience - and, after getting warnings from CJS not to compare host families, I went into my second host family with an open mind.

My first host family dropped me off at the second one's apartment building and I said my goodbyes. It was hard for me to say goodbye to them because I had had a really great time and we never had any problems - unless you count me not telling my host mom that I hated an omelette-rice dish combination and her figuring it out later, and then us laughing about it.

I remember the elevator trip up to the seventh floor with all my bags up into the apartment building. Silent save for the hum of the lifters, the slight rattling every few stories or so. I remember wondering why they weren't saying anything. I remember sputtering out how glad I was for them to take me in, and how thankful they took me in early so I could enjoy Japanese culture during the holidays (New Years, specifically).

I remember talking with Host Dad, and absent-mindedly putting my stir-spoon for my coffee into my mouth after using it, and then my chagrin when I realized there was only one spoon at the table and Host Dad put his milk into his coffee and let it mix itself.

I remember looking forward to hang out with Host Mom, because I knew it was her I would spend most of my time with, as Host Dad had a full-time job and Host Mom stayed at home with Host Baby, who was 17 months at the time.

And man, do I remember how badly I wanted them to like me.

Days passed. We were extremely busy with New Years plans and found time for conversation. I was enjoying myself. We saw their family often and it was nice to have that family-feel after so long of being away from my own family. I was worried about my impression on them, too, but I felt that I meshed well with the others and I think my spending time and playing with the kids was a plus for the parents. It was nice.

After the holidays, I went on a trip to Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka with my friend Ayame. I had a blast and saw so much and was excited to tell Host Mom the details about it when I got back.

I walk in after my 4-day trip, go to the living room, open the door and find Host Mom and say, "I'm home!"

And she said absolutely nothing.

My spirits fell. My throat was filled with the things I wanted to tell her about the things I saw and the places I went and what I thought and how much fun it was. Instead, I close the door and put away my bags and grab the souvenirs, thinking I can at least warm up to her by giving her things I bought for her while I was away.

She accepts my souvenirs, but she doesn't ask about how my trip was or about the things I saw. She's cold and silent and cooking dinner. I fumble for things to do in the living room and settle for folding laundry.

She never did ask about my trip, that day. I had to bring it up myself at dinnertime during my usual panic of looking for things to talk about.

Host Mom isn't a big talker, which is fine, but as I wanted to practice my Japanese I found things to talk about, urged her to respond and over time she gradually began to warm up to me at dinner. By the end of January, almost a month after I had arrived, I managed to make her laugh. I remember feeling so proud, that I had made a break-through.

Host Mom had been very strict about rule-keeping in the house and told me a lot about what I could and couldn't do. Words I couldn't say in front of Host Baby, things to do around the house to help her out (folding laundry, doing dishes, playing with Host Baby, etc), keeping the toilet seat down (two notes to remind me that one), how the bathroom should look when I'm done taking a shower, to close the drawers all the way after putting things away, table manners and holding a rice bowl or miso bowl properly, waking up at nine on the weekends, which coffee to drink from (make instant, or drink what's on the table? I didn't find out until February that I could drink the coffee on the table and Host Mom started preparing enough for all three of us) - the list goes on and on. Small things she seemed concerned with. I kept to the rules and was careful to double-check every room before I left it to make sure nothing was out of place. At dinner I always checked my posture, my hold on my bowl, how I scooped food from the serving dish to my own.

When there weren't things to do, I went to my room semi-often. I wanted to talk with Host Mom but she didn't seem to want to comply; Host Dad didn't get home until late and I would sometimes go out to talk with him, but Host Mom had created this strict, no-nonsense atmosphere so that I was always nervous about what I should say, how I should act, what I should do, where I should stand, what I should do with my hands. Over time I had come to worry about every single thing, every small detail, in order to not be scolded for doing something wrong.

I told myself it was culture. It was her way of thinking. It's her way of living. In order to become a family, I should follow the rules and not make a big deal of it. Because it wasn't a big deal. I should meld my life to fit theirs - not the other way around. This is the way she lives and this is how I would live for the next five months.

I think Host Dad must have sensed my discomfort - though I was trying desperately to melt into the scene and do as I was told and act casual about it, as though it came naturally - because at one point he brought up, as though it were an obligation to remind me, that if I were unhappy at any time I was free to go.

Part of me thought he knew that I was trying so hard to please them and it was making its toll on me - I even noticed I looked more tired than usual, more worn. School had just started again and I was stressed and trying to fit into a new schedule.

But the other part of me realized that if he did notice this, then I wasn't trying hard enough. I told him, No, I like it here. I have a little more adjusting to do but I want to stay.

It was true. I did want to stay. And I realized that being timid around them, or going to my room instead of trying to communicate, wasn't the way to get to know them.

From the end of January on, I put forth even more effort. I put the rules and the strictness to the back of my mind and again excused it as their way of living. I continued to try to not put a single toe out of line, to be the model host daughter. I made time to play with Host Baby even when I had homework and projects. I started speaking to Host Baby in English, per Host Mom's request, even though I had fuller conversations with the toddler in Japanese and more practice with her than with her parents. I still spoke my mind and joked and laughed, but on the inside I was timid. I had to summon courage to go into the living room, had to replay what I wanted to say to Host Mom a few times in my head several times before spluttering it out. I spent less and less time in my room and more time trying to please her.

I even started taking social cues from her - I stopped looking at her when we were talking because she never looked at me when talking (unless I was being scolded for something). And gradually, making eye-contact with other people became more and more uncomfortable and I hardly looked at anyone at all when I spoke to them. This might be a weird thing to notice, but when I was applying to my first job when I was 15, my future manager told me that I made great eye contact and that it was surprising for someone my age. I continued to notice this about myself from then on out, so to see that good social trait leave me seemed almost like a psychological side-effect of being around Host Mom for so long.

With Host Dad, conversation was always easy-going, was always relaxed. When I didn't understand something, he explained (when I didn't understand something with Host Mom, she waited silently until I did - this method usually didn't work, strange enough). He taught me things about Japan and about politics or economics and we had a lot of deep conversations - from the divorce rate to gay people to the places he's been and the things he's seen. When he joked, I laughed. When I joked, he laughed and called me stupid. We fell into an easy relationship that was simple to maintain and I felt more and more comfortable around him over time. He reminded me a little of my first host mom, in that respect. He also rented a lot of movies and we would watch them together - Japanese movies, American movies, British movies - it was nice to look forward to some nights.

Despite Host Mom's cold demeanor, I had started to think of us as a sort of family.

There were still misunderstandings with Host Mom - that's what I started to call them, misunderstandings - like when she demanded I say thank you for doing my laundry (I had offered in the beginning to do my own but she said that nobody up until then had understood the washing machine so she would just do it for me) and from then on I said thank you everyday, every time I took my clean laundry.

Or the time I told her I would be out and then she called me that night asking when I would be home for dinner. I reminded her that I told her I would be out and she cut me off mid-sentence and then hung up with a click. We messaged each other and she scolded me for only telling her in a phone message that I wouldn't be home. I apologized and said I'd take care to be less absent-minded in the future. When I got home, before bed, she scolded me for not apologizing in person. The conversation was icy and left me feeling shaken, that she thought I was a bad person, a bad host daughter, that she thought I was inconsiderate - when I tried so hard to make sure she knew where I was, all the time, from giving her my class schedule to my contact information whenever I went on a trip to letting her know when I wouldn't be home for dinner on weekends because I would be going out. I was visibly shaking with concern and I went back out to ask if she was mad and she said she wasn't - even though the conversation beforehand implied otherwise. I went to my room and cried, feeling like shit and missing my first host mom and my real mom more than ever. I told myself that she must have been having a bad day or I thought she was angrier than she actually was - just a misunderstanding. Or maybe she had her period and was in a bad mood, or hormones or whatever.

Or the time Host Baby was crying to be breast-fed and I suggested giving her the milk that was sitting on the table. Host Mom went into a long rant about how Japanese bodies don't respond the same way to milk as other people's bodies do and I should stop pushing this 'milk' conversation (she said once they ate fish for calcium - I asked her if milk had more calcium. This had happened a few days earlier, apparently it really affected her) and that milk isn't always the answer blah blah blah. When she was finally done, I pointed out the milk on the table in Host Baby's cup, saying that if it had been juice, I would have suggested that, and then went to my room. I shook with anger until I came back out and they had started breakfast without me, without saying anything. I ate angrily and then went to the park with Host DAd and Host Baby. I told myself that it was because Host Mom had a cold that she was a little sensitive today.

But there were good things about Host Mom, too, besides her delicious cooking. Like when she made me an onigiri (a rice ball) everyday for lunch (per my request) - I thanked her everyday for that, too. She was really helping me out there because I was able to save money for lunch, and I really appreciated that she made that for me. It required little effort and even less money, as it was one ball of rice, but I still prized her highly for it because it seemed to be a breakthrough. Over time she would make a sandwich and include little snacks or candy in my lunch, too. And sometimes she even initiated conversation at dinner, started asking me questions about myself or about America. She tried to joke and I laughed and joked back. It seemed like we were finally getting somewhere, even if we did have a few bumps in the road. I told myself the good outweighed the bad.

Host Dad started taking me out on Sundays with Host Mom and Host Baby. The zoo, gardens, the museum - to name a few. For a good two months we managed to fall into this rhythm of going out together on Sundays like a family. At first, I thought he was pushing for us all to go out. Even on days I really didn't feel like going, I went out in order to improve our relationships further. I thought it was a great opportunity to make our relationships stronger and after a while, Sundays kind of turned into a sort of family day. I started doing my homework early so that I would have free-time, knowing that Host Dad would want to do something on Sundays. And sometimes I would search for things to do, too, and brought them up as ideas and we would go off to do them (like seeing Sherlock Holmes 2, or going for a picnic under the cherry blossoms in their full-bloom). It turned into something we did together almost always as a family, and I really came to enjoy Sundays. I considered them a huge success. I had never gone out that often with my first host family, and although I knew it must be getting expensive for Host Dad, I never dreamed it was a problem - because he was the one who wanted to go out, after all.

Cue this Wednesday night. I was having dinner with Host Mom, and she was talking a lot more than usual - in the back of my mind, I felt a little warning ping go off. Something was up. We talked about the breaks coming up and about whether or not I had any plans, we talked about school and exams and when I would leave Japan. The conversation branched and suddenly I was talking about how when people give me too much, or buy me too much, or pay for me too often, I feel kind of awkward and don't like to accept (this was the case when I went to my friend's wedding back in December. It was beautiful and I was honored to be a part of it, but her family paid for everything for me, from my plane tickets to my meals to a carriage ride to my souvenirs. They offered to fly me down again, and I would love to go and see them, but I don't want them to pay for me again and I don't have the money to go myself - so I had to refuse the offer. I just don't want to be a leech).

So after I told her this - that I feel uncomfortable accepting so much from others - she said, "Oh, but if it's me and Host Dad, it's okay?"

To say that I was taken-aback is an understatement. I wasn't even sure I heard right - but I had. My Japanese has developed well enough that I knew exactly what she was saying and what she was implying, but I didn't want to believe it. So I diverted the conversation, but in another topic that I sprung, she managed to turn the conversation again and repeated herself.

I stared at my meal, telling myself not to cry in front of her, but tears are building up and she tells Host Baby, "Haley looks like she's going to cry." I force a laugh and say, "Is that how it is?"

Then I asked her what, exactly, she was talking about.

She goes into a short explanation. Apparently, Host Dad thinks (more on this in a moment) that I seem to really be pushing going out on Sundays, and that we don't always have to go out. She already knew beforehand that I didn't go out a lot with my first host family, so she was like, "Why us, then?" Pairing this comment with her earlier one, that implied I liked to leech off of people, I realized that she thought the only reason I was going out with them on Sundays was because I liked getting free stuff - as Host Dad always paid for me, even though I offered to pay and he would always decline. Basically, she was implying that the reason I went out with them at all was to get a free-ride. Free meals, free trips out, etc etc.

I gaped at her. Then I launched into a long-winded explanation - by this time I'm crying and can hardly breathe - about how the only reason I was going out with them was because I thought Host Dad wanted me to. And more than that, as I started to want to go out on Sundays too, the reason I was going out with them was because I wanted to spend time with them as a family, because I wanted to make our relationships really good and to spend time with them was why I had a host-family in the first place - to experience things and converse and have fun with each other and be a family, in Japan, learning about their way of life. That was my intention - never to take money from them.

She doesn't say anything for a while. I fill the silence with reiterating how much I enjoyed spending time with them and that we could hang out in the house too and I'd be fine, and how this whole time I was just trying to make her happy, not the other way around.

"But don't you get tired of trying to please people all the time?" She asked.

"No," I refuted immediately. "No. Because what's the point of trying to get along with people if I only think of myself? You can't make good relationships like that."

Some silence, then:

"Ah, so you're a good person." Something about the way she said it sounded like it was a joke to her - like she was only filling the space with something to say, something she clearly didn't mean.

"Apparently, I'm not." According to you, I wanted to add, but I was distraught by the entire conversation and I couldn't find any more words. I apologized for being so sensitive. She apologized for being the opposite.

We finished dinner, I did the dishes, took a shower, etc. I found this specifically distressing because it was the first time Host Dad and I had had any disagreement or miscommunication about something - and he had seemed kind of distant in the last week and suddenly I felt like I understood why. Unlike Host Mom, however, I felt comfortable enough to talk to Host Dad about this issue.

When Host Dad got home and after he finished dinner, I talked to him about what I talked to Host Mom about. He seemed confused at first - as though he didn't know what I was talking about - and then he seemed to gradually understand. He told me that going out on Sundays was fine - he used to go out alone a lot but with the foreign exchange students, he likes going out, too. He told me if it was the money I was worried about, that it wasn't an issue, money wasn't important to him when it came to these kinds of experiences. He said that maybe if I was having him take me to Kyoto every weekend, yeah, that would be a little much. He said that there were other things more important in life than money.

I told him about how much fun I had had up until then and that I really enjoyed myself. I apologized for being a burden. I told them I had only wanted to make him and Host Mom happy and I wanted to make good ties between all of us. That I had wanted us to be like a family. I even joked - it was funny, how I thought that it was him who wanted to go out this whole time, so I went out to please him, but really it seemed that he thought I was the one who wanted to go out, and he would take me out to please me. It was funny in that weird way, like that story where a girl chops off all her beautiful hair and sells it to buy a silver wrist-watch strap for her lover, and he sells his watch-face to buy her silk ribbons to tie her beautiful hair back. And when they go to exchange presents, he can't use the watch strap because he sold his watch; and she can't use the ribbons because she sold her hair. It's like that, I thought. Just another misunderstanding.

But then when I woke up the next morning, I realized some very important things:

1) Either Host Dad had faked his confusion when I brought up the topic, or Host Mom was the one who was actually bothered by the money issue. Both make sense, either of them could have been worried about the money it takes to go out - Host Dad earns it, and Host Mom keeps track of it. The latter seemed more likely to me, but I acknowledge my biased experience with Host Mom, and she could be taking the fall for her husband (though I find it unlikely, as she doesn't seem to like him very much).

2) I would never be able to accept anything from them again. From a simple rice ball for lunch, to going out to dinner, to going out on "day trips" to wherever - I could never accept it. I either couldn't go out with them, or I would go out and I would feel awkward and ashamed and tension would be high and it would pack on an insurmountable amount of stress, on top of the stress I had already been feeling in trying to please Host Mom everyday of my life for the last four months.

3) I WAS tired of trying to please people. But not just people - Host Mom. She was the one I had been trying to please this whole time. She was the one whose good side I was trying to get on. She was the one who I wanted so desperately to like me. To accept me. And it was clear that she either never would, or that she would put up a front of liking me and I would never get the acceptance I craved so much from her. From her, especially - it's not like I do this with everyone, but I feel it's especially important to at least like the people you're living with. It was her, she was supposed to be my Japanese mother, and aside from her feeding me, she was doing nothing - had done nothing - to make me feel at home, to make me feel welcome.

4) I had made excuses for her up until now. I had told myself I wasn't trying hard enough, told myself that my complaints about Host Mom were the "complaints of a sensitive, insecure, passive person, who, instead of doing things to fix problems, blamed them all on the other party," according to my notes in the journal that Delaney and Kayla gave me to record my Japan adventures in. I sacrificed my self worth - I sacrificed the person I really thought I was and told myself it was my fault, I wasn't trying hard enough, I didn't do my best. But it was clear at this point, that Thursday morning, as I lay on my back on the futon on the floor staring up at the ceiling, that I had tried damn hard. I had done everything within my power to make her like me, to at least get her to warm up to me, and it hadn't worked, because

5) She honestly - or Host Dad, I might add, but I have a strong feeling this is all Host-Mom-oriented, considering her record - thought that I was a bad person. She legitimately felt that I was swindling money out of them (and I don't use the word "swindling" often) - and felt it so much that she felt the need to say something, and Host Mom is, as I have said, not a big talker. More than that, despite getting to know each other for the last four months, after pouring myself out to her and telling her pretty much everything about me that I could think of, after spending so much time with me, she was still bent on turning things that I thought were great - Sunday afternoons - into something bad. She was bent on making me out to be a bad person.

6) I am NOT a bad person. And I will not stand to be called one.

That morning, that instant I woke up, all of these things occurred to me. I dropped the timid, insecure demeanor I had picked up while living with that family, and I found again the strong, independent girl that came to Japan on her own, leaving everything she knew and everyone she loved behind, for her dream. I sought that girl out, hidden away behind excuses for other people and an obsessive desire to get Host Mom to care about me, and I grabbed that impossibly strong girl by the hand and pulled her up and out, the passive girl naturally dropping away when she realized she didn't belong here anymore.

I went to the office in charge of the home stay program. And I told them everything.

My French friends, Lisa, Julie, and Valerie - the last of whom had stayed with this host family the first semester - came with me to the office to support me. They had heard my complaints about Host Mom, heard me trying to cover up her attitude as "bad moods" and "period weeks" and had been with me through it all. Valerie understood the most, as she had lived with them before, though her tactics had been quite the opposite of mine - she stayed in her room everyday, and stayed silent at dinners, as Host Mom fed Host Baby and Host Baby threw food on the floors. A very different strategy, but she lasted a week longer than I had.

But you see, even though I had made my decision, by noon that decision was already wavering, which is why I needed my French friends to urge me to go to the office in the end. I was already creating more excuses to stay - because Host Mom wasn't a bad person, and it was a misunderstanding, and she must have been in a bad mood, and it was only five more weeks, and I had just bought my train pass and it would be a waste of money if I moved and couldn't use it as often anymore - but the three of them were firm. Lisa and Julie said that the last of my five weeks should be enjoyed thoroughly. I agreed with them - I should be able to think only of myself and my relationship with Japan in my last weeks here, because I want to be here and I want to have fun, free of other worries and burdens. I want to make the most of my time here. Valerie said that a psychiatrist costs a lot more than a month-long train pass. And they all agreed that I needed to stop making excuses for Host Mom.

I was told I would probably be able to move in the next two or three days. They said they would call Host Dad to talk with him and explain what was going on. I thanked them profusely.

That night I messaged Host Mom, saying I wouldn't need dinner, and I stayed out with the girls. We had some really delicious ramen near our school from a Chinese place, and me and Lisa went to her dorm afterwards to hang out with the others. I was supposed to do my homework, but instead I talked with Mackenzie and Amanda about their host family experiences - good and bad - and they inquired about what happened with mine.

When I got home that night, I did the usual, "I'm home," and they said, "Welcome back," and I went to my room. I waited to see if Host Dad would come to talk to me. He didn't. I showered and went back to my room, and then paused at my door as I had so many times before. Thinking of what to say, how to say it, worried about what would happen.

And then something beautiful happened. I realized I didn't have to care anymore. Summoning that brave, courageous girl that I re-found this morning, I charged into the living room and sat down across the table from Host Dad. Host Mom was stretching on the floor near the TV.

"Did you eat dinner?" He asks.

"Yeah, I went with Valerie and Lisa to a Chinese restaurant and ate some really good ramen," I say, sitting down.

He nods, looking as his book, not looking like he was going to say anything more.

"Did CJS call?"

He corrected my Japanese promptly - I had missed a particle that doesn't affect the English translation - and I repeated my question, this time correctly. His tone had been harsher than usual, but it was easier this time to remind myself that I didn't have to care anymore about what they thought of me, that I didn't have to worry about what I was saying or if I made a mistake.

"Yes, they called."


"Did they say anything that I should know about?"

"They'll contact you."

I shrugged. He had turned somewhat cold, somewhat like Host Mom. I wondered briefly if Host Mom had learned it from him and he had been warm towards me out of consideration, or if he was echoing Host Mom's demeanor because it was easier to not care, to not feel, like I was doing as well, though I tried at least to give the conversation a light air to it. It didn't matter. I would be gone soon. I turned to go.

"That is, I think they'll contact you, tomorrow. I think." He said this in a nicer tone and I smiled and nodded.

"I understand. Thank you," I added. This time when I went to stand, he didn't add anything. I said goodnight, both Host Dad and Host Mom echoed it back, and I went to my room. I realized afterwards that for the first time in four months, I made eye contact with him as I spoke. It had come incredibly effortlessly, as though knowing I wouldn't have to put up with Host Mom anymore had allowed me to revert out of the passive-aggressive woman I had been mirroring in my journey to get her to like me.

When I woke up that morning, I felt as light as a feather. I had slept extremely well, and looked more well-rested than I had in - well, about four months. At school the home stay office contacted me and told me I could move that night - at six.

I got home from class at four, where Host Mom and Host Baby were outside, just hanging out, probably deciding whether or not to go to the park or not. Host Mom greeted me and then told Host Baby (she does this a lot; talking to Host Baby in order to talk to other people) that I had to go pack so I couldn't play (as Host Baby was going "Ne-ne, ne-ne, Neeeee-ne!" which is toddle-speak for, "sister! sister!", whining to play with me). I agreed and she told me there were garbage bags on the table for me if I needed them.

What happened next can only be described as a miracle - I separated my trash, threw things I didn't need away, packed everything I own and took out the garbage in an hour and 45 minutes, which has to be some kind of world record. Better than that, I managed to get everything into my two big luggage bags, plus my backpack (told you I didn't have to worry about it, mom!). Host Dad came home right at six and took my bags and went down to the ground level to put them in the car.

I gave Host Baby her favorite stuffed animal of mine - Nyan-nyan, or "Meow-meow," she would always call it, then snatch it and run away from me whenever she came into my room. I handed it to her, saying, "if it's all right..." and she promptly took it from me and squeezed it and when, "Nyan-nyan!" I laughed and said, "Well, I guess it's all right."

I bowed and thanked Host Mom sincerely for cooking delicious meals for me everyday and even choked up a little while thanking her for taking good care of me. She replied in Japanese formalities that are kind of hard to explain in English, but in this case I guess it could be translated as, "It's I who should be thanking you," or whatever.

Host Mom went to get ready to walk me down and Host Baby toddled back into my room. I knelt down and thanked her for playing with me and she agreed vehemently that we had fun everyday until the end. Even writing this now makes tears spring to my eyes, but then I remind myself I would have had to say goodbye to that cute little squirt eventually, anyway.

The elevator ride down to the ground floor was spent with me and Host Baby making faces at each other. Host Dad met us at the bottom and we went to the car together. I turned, bowed and thanked Host Mom and Host Baby again for everything - Host Mom spoke for Host Baby when she said, "Thanks for playing with me!" - and I suppressed tears as I climbed into the car and closed the door behind me.

The car ride with Host Dad was more or less quiet. He told me that the office would figure out the money situation - where the extra money from the last month would go and such - and that I should talk to the office workers and I said thanks for letting me know. I thought about saying more, but I couldn't. If I thought too much, I felt the need to cry, so I emptied my mind and occupied the car ride by staring out the window and thinking of things that had nothing to do with emotion.

We reached the dorm and we got all my bags out. Valerie, as she lives at this dorm, too, and an office worker that had helped me up until now with my "case" were there and greeted us and led me inside. The office worker was there basically to neutralize the tension, and Valerie was there to greet me and hang out with me as we waited for my land lady. I brought all my stuff in and turned around to say goodbye to Host Dad.

Bowing deeply and several times, I managed a, "Thank you so much for taking care of me," and was in the middle of my second thank you when I broke down. Host Dad was grinning and he returned my bows and thanked me back, and then I turned away from him and into Valerie, who rubbed my arm and told me that if I kept crying she would cry, too.

I met with the land lady and she was great and explained everything to me, about how the place works, the security, the rules, et cetera. She showed me to my room - it's twice the size as the one I had at my host family's, with big windows and glass doors to the outside, and three dressers and a desk and best of all -

A bed with poofy, warm comforters, under which I fell asleep easily last night, after leisurely hanging out with my new rooommates (four other girls besides me and Valerie) while eating and laughing and joking and sharing stories.

Why did I cry about leaving? Because it's not simple. They fed me and provided me a room. We lived together for four months. We had a lot of good and meaningful discussions. We learned to joke and laugh with one another. We watched movies and went out. I had believed we became a family. But that last comment did it for me - as many good times as we had together, the bad times tried too hard to outweigh them. And in the end, I had to go. I had to go anyway, at some point, but I definitely had to go after I was accused of only liking them because they took me places.

I don't regret it. I could have left at any time but I didn't. My determination and naivety urged me on to try to fall into sync with that family, and in the end, I couldn't manage it. But I know that it wasn't from lack of trying on my part to fit in with them. If I had left any sooner, I would have chalked it up as me not trying hard enough, and I would have been disappointed in myself for not sticking it out. But I tried. I tried so hard, I really did.

And yeah, I'm sensitive and I know that I'm sure there were a lot of misunderstandings, and there were times, I'm sure, where I did things wrong or made them mad, without knowing it. But the difference is that I always tried to fix the problems when I knew something was wrong, and I tried to make the situation better. I seriously tried my best, and put up with a lot of insensitive things Host Mom said, or awkward silences, and it didn't work out. I would have expected to feel defeated, leaving early, but I don't. I feel proud of myself for knowing when the time came to go, for saying something, and for packing up all my stuff and making all these arrangements that are kind of a pain in the ass to make.

Instead, I refuse to take anything negative away from this experience. The entire homestay was worth it. I had too many good times to out-shadow the bad. I ate delicious Japanese meals everyday and became part of a family with Host Dad's sister's family, who I saw pretty often in the last four months. My Japanese has improved ten-fold. I saw and did a lot of things with them. We laughed and we joked and I won't forget the good times, because we had a lot of them. No, it didn't work out in the end, but it was such a good experience that I simply can't regret having participated in it. I'm leaving knowing more than when I arrived, and I'm leaving happily.

And at the very least, I have a whole new appreciation for the people that I know who care for me and love me for exactly who I am. From the people waiting patiently for my return to the states, to the friends and loved ones I have made here, I love you all, and thank you for doing me the honor of caring for me in return. And I thank you, too, reader, from the bottom of my heart, for reading my blog out of your concern for me.

And so, I walk away from this experience with my head held high and understanding myself a little better. The person I am, the person I'm not, and that not everyone I come across will accept me for who I am. That there will be misunderstandings and mistakes and that I can't force everything to work my way, even when I try desperately hard to make it so. That this world is filled with all kinds of people who have had all kinds of experiences that make them the way they are, and I may never fully understand their stories.

And that's perfectly okay.


  1. Your blog post is inspirational and I'm not gonna lie, I cried about twice reading it.
    I also changed host families this semester because I thought it'd be best for my language. My host brother is the only one I have dinner with and we have fun sometimes, but that's only about an hour a night.
    Other than that, I find myself in my room. My host parents are both so busy with work, they are hardly around until late at night (and I go to bed quite early). They never ask about my trips or about me and literally just talk amongst themselves around me. Sometimes they take me out to dinner on the weekends, but I'm never included when they all go out together.
    I'm in a lower level than you, so my Japanese is not quite as good that I can "jump in" or anything. I always have to ask about a vocab word in every sentence and I'm sure that's annoying. And at the end of the day, I am not confident enough to speak up either, so it's just really frustrating.
    But as I sit here in my room I realize I am not trying nearly as hard as you did. I've just been making excuses. So I'm going to get out of my room, be out, and try to make the last five weeks worth something. 頑張りましょう!

  2. "When he joked, I laughed. When I joked, he laughed and called me stupid." Haha. I loved reading this post Haley. You definitely put in more effort than most people would have, so for that congratulations. I miss you and hope to hear from you when you return home!

  3. Anonymous -

    I urge you to do your best. But if you don't feel welcome - if you really haven't felt that they were doing their best to be warm to you and to invite you in - then don't forget you have the option of leaving early. As you can see, CJS is great about accommodating students, and maybe it seems like a pain to pack up all your stuff for only a short while, it could make the end of your experience that much better. Take care of yourself.

    Jamie - thanks for reading! I tried my hardest but it didn't work out, oh well. :) I hope to run into you once I'm back!

  4. Oh Haley, you are so strong. <3 It's amazing that you are able to stay so determined and optimistic despite all the crap that's happened to you. I'm sure I would've broke down crying and left the household a week into the stay. I miss you so much and I hope that one day you can tell me about all your adventures. I know I've said this before, but I'll say it again - come visit me (and Erika) in Cali!!

  5. Aww I'm sorry, Haley! I'm really proud of you too. I can't picture you as being quiet and avoiding eye contact, hahah. I also remember you being so happy about that compliment from your boss, hahah, was that signs and banners?
    I almost cried, when you wrote about Yukie. It's so cute she called it meow-meow, that's what Amanda's little sister calls me/cats. So weird. I'm glad you're in a place where you don't have to stress as much. You do deserve to have the last of your few weeks be really enjoyable and full of knowledge. I'm sure it will go fast for you. Have fun for the last couple of weeks!

  6. Hey, Shelley! Thank you very much for staying tuned and also staying in touch :) I'd love to visit you guys in Cali. My plane touches down in LA for a good four hours before I board again, but at least I'll be close to you for a little while! haha. We'll have to see if we can make a trip happen sometime in the future.

    Kat - Yeah, it's kind of really bizarre how much the homestay changed me while I was there. After I left, that Monday, one of my friend's was like, "Wow, you're really energetic today," and there were other things but I forgot...anyway, being there really affected my psyche, I think. Anyway, on the road to recovery, and very happy where I am right now. :) Thanks for reading.

  7. Very interesting read, and you pointed out well just how complicated the feeling becomes in living with a host family. I'm impressed by your determination and ability to cope; if it had been me in that situation I would absolutely not have put up with that for more than a couple weeks if that, so that's great that you managed to do so. This post also helps put things in perspective for me with regard to my won study abroad and helps me to realize how grateful I am for my own host family. I can't imagine having to deal with a host like that and it baffles me that such a host could be approved for hosting an exchange student more than once. On the other hand, since I like to be left alone, I kinda wonder how the experience might have changed had I been in that situation, but I can't imagine truly that such a homestay could be all that pleasant with that situation.

    Being that my family hosts exchange students every year back in the states and my mom is in charge of overseeing all of the students in our area, I'm well accustomed to the problems that can arise and I'm all too aware of how painful it truly is when things don't work out.

    Nevertheless, you, just like all of us I suppose, have learned a great deal (perhaps more about yourself than Japan even, I know that to be the case for me) and that's something that cannot be valued enough. It's been an interesting ride thus far, and I hope you enjoy the time you have left.

  8. Hey Mickey, thanks for reading! :) It was all a tiring ordeal and I'm glad to be rid of it, frankly. Maybe I should have left earlier, and I think that a lot of people would have, but for some reason I was so desperate to make it work. Maybe because I wanted to keep practicing my Japanese daily, or because leaving would be so めんどくさい, or because I can't cook, etc etc. But I'm in a really good place now away from that family and am having the time of my life. So glad I left.

    I know what you mean about liking to be left alone. I like seeing people, too, but there are just times where I need to be alone and chill by myself and not be bothered. My first host mom understood this and she was the same, so we would spend the afternoons doing our own things and then emerge at night to hang out and talk and laugh. We meshed really well together in that way.

    Thanks very much for reading! I can't believe how much time has passed. I still remember arriving at Nanzan and seeing you walking around and me being like, "Time to make friends!" and running up to you and talking with you for an hour before orientation starts. Soon we'll be at the closing ceremony and it'll all be over. I'll have to bump into you again for the occasion. :) Glad to hear you're doing well with your family!