While applying for the program, I had my doubts about living with a host family, as I had never had any experience like it. What if I didn’t get along with them? What would happen if I couldn’t speak with them because of the language barrier? So many of these thoughts were running through my head and I considered staying in the dorm, but then I had a realization. I wasn’t moving halfway across the world to be in a familiar environment, I was going to put myself out there and try something new. Living with a host family was the answer.
All the students in my program gathered in a room, separated only by a wall from the room full of host parents. I could feel the anticipation, nervousness, and excitement buzzing through both rooms as we were called out, one by one, to meet our new parents. I met the other student who was going to be living with me and we both went to see our host mom who had come to pick us up. I remember seeing her for the first time and already having a good feeling. I introduced myself with what I had rehearsed multiple times and then we headed out to take our family picture and go to the train station. The first moments were only what could be described as an awkward happiness of sorts. There wasn’t much talking as we made our way through the hustle and bustle of all the new families to take the Chuo line (one of the most central train lines in the city) towards Yokohama, the city that I would grow deeply fond of. We hopped on the next line to go all the way to my home station and made the short walking trip to the house itself. The house was deceptively small but had so many rooms, leaving my new host sister and me with a floor to ourselves. The first dinner late that night was admittedly rough as I wanted to say so much, but could only manage a “arigato gozaimasu” (“thank you”). We had delicious homemade tempura, (an assortment of panko-coated, fried vegetables), and then got a house tour to show us where everything was before retiring to bed. I remember feeling so at home that night and excited to see what the future days would bring.
The first nights at dinner were filled with delicious food and fun conversations over geography books that my host dad had collected over the years. I got to show them where my hometown of Nashville was and explain to them, as best as I could, what it was famous for – namely country music. I also showed them where in India my family was from and was surprised to learn from my host dad that Mumbai, where my parents grew up, was sister cities with Yokohama! That connection remains with me today and I still think it was fate that mine and my host family’s paths intertwined. Over the course of my stay there, I saw my language skills improve tremendously and I began to enjoy my life in Japan so much more. Whether it be walking to and from my home station, dinner with my host mom while watching the most hilarious Japanese television programs, or wandering around Yokohama, I realized that leaving would be so much harder than I had expected.
I learned so much from my time in Yokohama with my family, not only through improving my language skills, but through learning how to appreciate people from other cultures, especially those that are willing to learn about yours. My host family had so many students pass through their house over the years but they were still so curious to learn about my hometown and the culture I grew up in. I received a much greater sense of appreciation for Japanese culture and Japanese people by living with a host family; my experience in Tokyo would not have been as fulfilling without the homestay experience. When other students in my program would go back to the dorm, I got to go back to a family and continue to learn about Japanese culture, exploring why it meant so much to me. I wish there were more kind and generous people like them and I wish, more than anything, that I could go back ‘home’ to Japan.
by Ria Jagasia (CIEE Study Abroad, Tokyo, Japan, 2016)