Being a host student can be a nerve-wracking experience, and there’s not much you can really do to prepare yourself for it. You’ll have all sorts of questions to ask yourself, and there’s a lot to consider. “What unforeseen cultural differences will there be?” “Am I going to get along with my host family?” “Oh God, I hope they don’t try to serve me something I don’t like.” “Are they going to try to impose restrictions on me?” I tried to not be too nervous about anything. I try to take things as they come, and I evaluate what I should do after a fair bit of interaction, but I was nervous to meet my host family.
Before I met my host family, I had to meet up with the other students from Weber State who were part of the home stay program. Our professor told us to meet her and the others at Kansai International Airport at her terminal with no exceptions. Although we thought it a little odd and unreasonable at first, since we already knew where the university was and that was our final meeting spot, Thomas and I checked out of our hotel and made our way to the airport.
We got there a fair bit early, about a half hour before our professor and another student were due to land, and I met most of my companions at the terminal. Yogi, Stephanie, Mariahn, and Meghan were newcomers to me, and I had great first impressions. I’ll save a whole other post for them, later!
We had a few stragglers, who showed up either a little later, or a whole day later (international travel can be complicated, especially with delays), but we hopped on the bus, and we made our way from the airport to Osaka City University, where we would meet our host families.
OCU was truly a beautiful campus, with palm trees lining a scenic pavilion, where flowers bloomed towards the end of May. We were guided to a room in the Media Center, where we were given a few brief rules to follow, and we all had to sit at our own tables, away from friends. While we were given the speech about the do’s and don’ts, host families, mostly just consisting of women, lined the back of the room. I couldn’t help but look back and wonder which one was taking me home. There was a young woman with two kids in a stroller. She looked pretty easygoing. Based on just visuals, I wanted her to be my host mom, but I decided I’d be happy with whatever I got, as long as the living situation wasn’t a nightmare.
After we were given the do’s and don’ts, we finally moved on to the meet and greet with our host mothers. My host mom was named Etsuko Matsui, and she came alone. We exchanged introductions, not sparing the formalities, and I had a pretty good feeling.
Matsui and I didn’t stay too long at the meet and greet, and she loaded my luggage into the trunk of her car for me. Luckily for me, she lived in Tennouji, an area I had become pretty familiar with over the past four days.
God, I don’t remember the last time I was so nervous just interacting with someone. English doesn’t exactly have a formal dialect, but Japanese does. There were so many times I had to catch myself. Most of my experience in Japanese up until then had been with friends, and more often than not, it was casual speak, so I really had to train myself to speak strictly formal. I was constantly on edge, worrying that I was going to slip up or otherwise somehow offend her. Etsuko was the host family member I spent most of my time with, so I really didn’t want to screw things up.
Estuko was a very thoughtful woman, and after I got settled and unpacked my suitcase, we got started on dinner. She saw on my survey that I said my favorite food was Yakisoba, so she got ingredients for the night to make it. I was so excited to eat it! I was about to have the real McCoy right there!
Estuko’s version of Yakisoba was different from what I made back home. Her’s included bean sprouts, pork (mine usually had chicken), bell peppers, cabbage, and a few other assorted vegetables with delicious sauce and soba noodles. To make it, she laid newspaper down on the dining table, had bowls for each ingredient laid out on top of the newspaper, and she set down a portable skillet on the table. She had given me some cooking chopsticks and asked me to help her stir up the ingredients.
My, that was the best yakisoba I ever had. It blew mine out of the water, that’s for sure.
During dinner, her daughters, Wakana and Kotone, came home from their studies, and I was acquainted with them. Later that evening, Estuko’s husband, Nari, had come home from work, and I was briefly introduced to him before I went to bed.
Cultural differences make things difficult in a lot of ways. It’s hard enough trying to read someone in your own culture, but throw a language barrier and different customs into the mix, and it proves to be very difficult. My host mother was the person I most frequently saw, but I received mixed vibes from her.
I was constantly nervous that I was going to screw up somehow or otherwise overstep my bounds, so I never went into the kitchen except to fill up my water bottle, and each time I did, I explained to my host mother what I was doing. I was never allowed to open the fridge for any reason, so whenever I filled up my water bottle, I handed it to my host mother so she could put it in the fridge for me. I didn’t much have a problem with this. I like to think I follow peoples’ house rules without questioning them.
My second day living with my host family, I got lost on the way home from school. From the JR station in Tennouji, the walk back to my host family’s house was about 20 minutes, and it was a pretty straight-forward walk. Follow the Q’s Mall Strip on the street until you see a Family Mart, and then turn right, then take a left at the flowers, and I’m there. I’d accidentally gone north instead of south. Or something or other. I never could figure out where north or south was. I began to panic, as I was fixing to be home very late, and I’d walked a long way in the opposite direction. My phone was dead, so even if I could find a way to punch the address in to my phone’s navigational system, I couldn’t get there. I ended up having to go into a convenience store to buy a portable charger. I called my host mom while my phone charged, and I managed to find a landmark so she could find me and pick me up. I had apologized profusely for losing my way, but she seemed cold. Then again, we tend to see what we want or expect to see, and I expected her to not like me.
While we had our hiccups and misunderstandings, for the most part, I had a great time with my host family.
Sundays in Japan are just the opposite from those in Utah. That’s when people are busiest because the work week is over. Sundays were really the only days I saw my host father since he came home so late from work every night, and he left too early in the morning for me to catch him. On the weekends, and especially Sundays, I did fun things with my host family. My first weekend with them, we went on an excursion to Kyoto, where we visited a theme park of sorts. No roller coasters, but the entire area was based on the Edo period.
On another weekend, we went into the city to explore a museum, and my host mom and dad took me to a kaitenzushi (sushi-go-round). It was definitely the best sushi I had, and I ate about 18 nigiris. They also took me to Osaka Castle, and that was such a lovely sight to see.
I still keep in touch with my host family from time to time. They provided me a very comfortable stay, and my host mother made me delicious breakfast and dinner almost every day. If you get the chance, I recommend doing a home stay. You have to be emotionally strong, but it’s definitely rewarding.