Thursday, June 16, 2011

Paris syndrome, Culture shock, and CIRing

Why am I here?  What am I doing here?

No, this isn't some silly existential angsty post. Rather, I want to know WHY am I in Japan. I'm a CIR, a coordinator of International relations. My job is private but my contract and duties are modeled after my co-worker CIR who has her job through JET, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. If you have heard about JET at all, you know that our jobs are mostly teaching, but the program is ostensibly about international exchange, making Japan more "internationalized".

I recently read about "Paris Syndrome", where a tourist comes to Paris and has a mental crisis; they were led to believe how beautiful it was, and are overcome when they find out how rude the locals are, or how dirty it actually is. It appears that the biggest cause of this is the mass media in that tourist's home country portraying Paris as an ideal city, not showing the less pleasant side.
According to the article linked below, 'Paris Syndrome' strikes Japanese (I would love to tear apart this person's style of reporting, is "a dozen or so" out of the "about a million Japanese that travel to France every year" really count as "striking Japan"?) is "especially prevalent" among Japanese tourists is due to the idealized image of Paris in Japanese movies /advertising, so therefore they have extreme culture shock, not only because it was so different from their home culture, but because they were expecting something completely opposite of what they found.

When I came to Japan I didn't ever feel like I experienced culture shock. Maybe it  was the fact I heard about the area from my predecessors, or we can blame it on my Buddhist studies where everything is not only connected, but existence is 100% interdependent.  I understand that our cultures/manners/customs are different, but I'm the sort of person that focuses more on similarities. I'm here specifically for my hometown's sister city program, so part of my job is to be a representative for Hood River, teach people about my home, in other words to simply be a product of my environment.

I've noticed that a lot of people here give very simplified, idealized explanations of their home countries to Japanese people, even those with high Japanese ability. Outside of work, I won't hesitate to start up a conversation about things I dislike or don't make sense in the US ( or in Japan), but of course within the limits of your job, it's better for me not to trash the US Federal Government; not only would people not likely understand, but if someone asks me a straighforward question about something in Oregonian culture, I give them a straightforward answer. I know speaking without reservation like that is NOT a Japanese thing to do, but that's precisely why all us CIRs and ALTs are here. Because we are NOT Japanese. I've also noticed some people saying "I want to act as Japanese as possible". Sure, that may make your life easier, but you are here to expose the locals to other cultures and ways of behavior. Obviously there are some things you should pick up, basic manners and greetings, but you shouldn't let your personality be that influenced simply by living in a new situation.

I think that my role here is to effectively reflect who I am, and teach people about my country without sugarcoating and excessive complaints, to ride the middle way so the locals can see (hopefully understand as well) the way I think; we don't get that idealized Japan, I am right in the middle of countryside Japan, and I think we owe it to our hosts to show them the same courtesy when they ask about our country.
If you are a CIR/ALT and all you teach them is the Disneyland version of your country, you aren't doing your job. You're spreading misinformation (such as the example with Paris Syndrome), not making Japan more internationalized. Sure, they might have that sugar-sweet description of yours memorized by heart, but if it doesn't reflect on reality then they are learning about a country that doesnt exist. They might as well be reading a science fiction novel. At least that way they understand they are reading a fictional story about a fictional place, not taking an idealized account at face value without ever having a chance to realize the truth until they get there and see it for themselves.

Why are you here?

Inspired by THIS article, ran across it recently somehow.

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