Feeling Foreign Abroad and Feeling Foreign At “Home”

On and interesting post at Broadside called Feeling Foreign Caitlin asked at the end:

“Have you ever lived outside your native land? Did you enjoy it?

How has it changed you?”

I’ve thought about those questions a lot lately, because of my search for a place that I can call home. I cannot really call this new location home. I’ve found people here that fit my idea of home, but I still feel like a foreigner in this place.

Now, you may ask, how can you feel like a foreigner? It’s America, you are American.

Well, here’s the thing. I’ve had many wonderful experiences in my life, including the opportunity to live in a variety of places. My first big move was to Okayama, Japan, where I ended up living for three years. I was a gaijin but I loved every minute of it. It wasn’t easy; sometimes it was difficult. And, when I chose to leave, it was time to leave. But, whenever I think about what place I want to call home, images of Japan pop into my head. I don’t think I want to live there, but there was something about my experience there that made it feel more like home to me than any place. Perhaps it was simply that I became a true, individual adult in that complicated country. I lived alone, I supported myself, and I learned to survive despite language and cultural barriers. I am not saying that every moment was perfect. Sometimes it was hard. Sometimes it was challenging. Sometimes the cultural differences seemed impossible to overcome. But somehow that country and that experience felt like finding home.

From Japan, I moved to Hawaii for graduate school. There I was haole and I have to say being haole was a lot more difficult than being gaijin. Perhaps it was because Hawaii is part of the United States, so I expected to feel like I belonged, but I didn’t. Sometimes I made more glaring errors there than I did in Japan. Sometimes I felt more alone. Even now, when we go back to visit Nathan’s family, I don’t feel completely comfortable. I love it there, but it never felt quite like home. Maybe if we actually moved there that would change, but I don’t know.

Between then and now I’ve lived in several other states. Some felt more home-like than others, but I still haven’t found home. And now, after moving to Kansas, I again feel more foreign than I should. Why? Well, I am a liberal person in a sea of conservatives. I am a Jew in an ocean of Christians. I am “different” in ways that I can’t quite explain.

Now don’t get me wrong, the people here are warm and wonderful, it is all the way I feel. I feel foreign. For some reason, I feel more foreign than I have before, and I don’t know how to guide myself through it. When I was in Japan, my errors were often seen as “cute”, because they were made by someone making an honest effort to be respectful of the culture. Somehow that doesn’t work here. Of course I respect the differences between me and other people, but I can’t just pass off disagreements as my not understanding the culture. Because the culture is not that foreign, but in some ways it is.

Is it possible then, that “feeling foreign” is a state of mind?

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