Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Over the Wall: Learning to Defeat My Desolation

Prior to my arrival in Japan, I had been promised a great shattering of expectations. To be sure, this life abroad has been akin to a subscription to some new jolt every day, routinely rearranging my jigsaw puzzle of presumptions. One might expect that, over time, the picture becomes a more recognizable amalgam of understanding; and so it has, for as routine digs its roots, I dare to think that I have partially achieved a sense of normalcy.

Yet one aspect of this life remains as indescribable as it is unshakeable. Here in Japan, I have been plagued with a faceless, creeping loneliness.

I doubt it is easy for anyone to admit to such feelings, especially for those of us who do not suffer from a particular lack of friends. My international program abounds in cultured youths from far and wide, the majority of whom are Americans. They are my colleagues in study, my cohorts in adventure and somehow, not the issue.

Contrary to my embarrassment on the subject, recently, I broke down and admitted my feelings of desolation. Considering my confidant’s generally sanguine demeanor, what I expected was a distant pity. What I received was stern agreement.

With that, another tremor shook, and again my jigsaw seemed a mess. Empowered, and now emblazoned with curiosity, I asked another, then another, every time met with subdued nods of accord. Here I am now with a puzzle which reveals a different scene, that somehow we are not the agents of our own estrangement.

Though certainly the common denominator among my fellow students is the culture that surrounds us, I am steadfast in believing it is not a deliberate “othering” of foreigners by the Japanese. Aside from a muted fascination, locals do little to intentionally concern themselves with me. Rather, I am beginning to understand that this is a self-contained culture, and I am simply the spectator.

Though it might seem far fetched, and for that matter alarmist, to be angry over being skipped by the man on the street distributing tissue packets advertising host clubs, it remains a general assumption that I am not meant to be here and will soon leave. The prevailing expectation is that I have no grasp of Japanese as a language, or even that Japanese is a language. These, along with a consortium of other micro-alienators, blend into the memory and without my active participation, suddenly, I feel inexplicably not at home in this place.

Also discouraging is the always-present communication wall. Such a barrier exists between all of us in all places, but it is exceptionally taller across language and culture. As I grow stronger in my language capabilities, I am able to lift many of my ideas over that wall to the other side, yet to gain one’s unadulterated confidence in friendship, there is an implicit understanding that one must be able to haul thoughts back and forth efficiently, not to mention that some emotions might be considerably heavy. The task is daunting, exhausting and not conducive to building credence in a relationship.

These challenges are faced by travellers and expatriates alike, but the difference between the former and the latter is who is driven to persevere. Whether it is a true loneliness or only masquerades as such, I might fear the emotion’s indefinite growth, if not for the advice of a number of permanent foreign residents. To them, it has been a matter of time as the extinguisher, compelling oneself to thrive, not despite, but via the alienation.

Of course it is a hardship, they will say. How else can you motivate yourself to improve?

chatter profile photoCeleste Chisholm is a rising senior in the College. An American Hoya in Japan appears every other Thursday.

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    walter fleckJul 21, 2014 at 10:56 am

    I could never live that far. i live 400km from my hometown and it’s a pain…