It Sometimes Happens. . . Stay or Go?
1. For Homestay Guests:
Not all homestays are made in heaven. Sometimes in spite of the best intentions, the homestay guest does fall right into an unseen hazard hole. This section will inform you of some major warning signs from host families that the homestay is not going well. These may be subtle, but they are very important. You also need to be attuned to signs that something may be awry with your host family which has nothing to do with you. Finally, having heeded these signs, you need to know what to do to rectify your situation, or if necessary, what steps you should take to leave your homestay.
You should have some idea from the cases up to this point of some of the main problems a guest can create for a host family. (If you aren’t sure about this, review the Peter case (Modules 2.1, 3.1), the sections on becoming a “good guest” (7.1-7.3), and all the sections in Module 8. Many hosts try to gaman suru (endure the situation), if things are not going well, as Peter’s family did in Module 3.1. But sometimes a host family will become so fed up that they will ask the guest to leave. This may come suddenly and appear as a shock. But most likely the guest has simply missed the unspoken signs by which his family has been trying to tell him for some time that things are not going well.
Homestay guests may also have problems with their host families, and many guests also “gaman suru”, resolving to endure their homestays until the end. However, neither side gets much out of a homestay based on “putting up with the situation”. If problems exist, and you don’t seem to be making any headway in solving them, it is far better to get in touch with your program coordinator early on in the homestay and try to improve the situation. Li Ming’s case (Module 8.2) is an example of how this can work.
(1) Take a look at the three case summaries below, and notice especially what warning signs indicate that something is going wrong with the homestay. Then answer the questions that follow:
2. For All Other Newcomers:
All of the cases in this module involve general issues that are not limited to homestay situations. By now you should now be able to see how these cases can be useful to your own situation as well. Below are some major clues:
(1) Case 1, Jeremy: Press-ganging a foreign newcomer into uchi:
Jeremy is immediately press-ganged into the family uchi with no cushioning. Giving him long lists of rules doesn’t help him here, since he’s a cultural child. It may be that living abroad has made this family think that dropping Japanese guest conventions is the best way to treat a foreign guest. Yet this puts Jeremy in an impossible situation, since he doesn’t yet know how to act like “one of the family.” He needs to be a guest initially until he can learn some of the family’s conventions.
The “Press-ganging” of any newcomer into any uchi organization should be a major warning sign. This means that although the newcomer is not an uchi member, and has no previous experience with the organization, no initial cushioning has been offered. This includes either being “wrapped” as a guest, or having a “guide” (such as the senpai superior) in a senpai/kohai relationship. The newcomer has been put in an impossible situation here: as a cultural child, Jeremy can’t possibly function like an uchi member, when he has no idea of the unspoken assumptions involved. But an even bigger issue is that even if the newcomer could function in uchi, the family doesn’t really want him to be there. This is a case where mixed signals indicate overwhelmingly the newcomer isn’t really wanted. Moreover, Jeremy’s family is treating him in a way they would not normally treat a Japanese guest. If you are getting no initial “cushioning”, and this is coupled with mixed signals about your being in the organization you’ve entered, you need to start thinking about your options.
(2) Case 2, Katie: Entering an organization that turns out to be dysfunctional
This can be carried over to any organization a newcomer enters. As you gradually gain access to uchi, you will become aware of various behind-the-scene aspects (ura), which usually include some conflicts, and disfunctions. This happened in Kate’s case as well. But what marks this case as problematic is the degree of dysfunctionality in the family. If you find yourself in an organization that is so consumed by conflicts that erupt in violence, and serious problems that are not being addressed, you need to take some steps on your own behalf. An index here is how you are being treated: if the dysfunction/conflict is so serious that you are being totally ignored—or worse yet, you have been put in Kate’s position as the “saviour” of the dysfunctional situation? If either of these conditions are true, you need to bail, and fast. This can be contrasted to a situation where you have been drawn close enough to uchi, that you become privy to problems and conflicts that are an everyday part of every organization (for example, in Matt’s case, there is a superior who bullies a younger engineer). The important thing to figure out is whether the degree of dysfunctionality is normal, or far above normal.
(3) Case 3, Gwen: Host family is unable to tell homestay guest they need her to leave
This is a very valuable case for everyone to keep in mind. Gwen’s host family wants to end the homestay (which unfortunately was not set up with a mechanism for the homestay guest to leave). But they can’t communicate this directly. Instead they communicate this message in every other dimension they can—by locking Gwen out of the house, taking away the remote control from her air conditioner so she couldn’t use it in the summer, hiding her chopsticks, throwing her clothes behind a plant, etc. etc. One curious thing in this case is why the host family didn’t take the opportunity to end the homestay when they moved to a new house. The move could have created good excuses to end the homestay, and most host families would have given a reasonable excuse and done this. But Gwen’s family didn’t do this (which may have had something to do with their relationship with Gwen’s boss, who had asked for the homestay). Whatever the reason, both sides are stuck in a homestay that both want to get out of, and which is marked by escalating messages from the family, in every communication mode except direct speech, that they want Gwen to leave.
This is a very useful case to keep in mind, because it gives you a way to make sense of a scenario that might otherwise seem impossible to comprehend. In a society that often avoids direct communication—especially about problem situations—if the side that is the “host”—whether a homestay host, an employer, or a health practitioner, if the host can’t communicate directly that they want you to exit, they will communicate this through the way they treat you, your possessions and your environment. If you are ever in a situation where bad things are happening to you for unexplainable reasons, get out immediately! (This is what the messages are telling you to do!)