At Home in Japan
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Module 14.3
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It Sometimes Happens. . . Stay or Go?


Should I Stay or Leave?


1. For Homestay Guests

2. For All Other Newcomers


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:
  • Is Jeremy being treated as a guest?
  • What are some of the indications that the goals of the host family and guest are at cross-purposes in this homestay? Why is the mother's lack of interest especially problematic?
  • Why doesn't giving Jeremy the "rules of the house" work in this case? Why is it necessary for a host family to "wrap" the newcomer as a guest in the beginning?

What are Jeremy's options in this situation?

  1. Do nothing. Just endure (gaman suru) and try to make the best of it.
  1. Go to the program office early on in the homestay and inform them about the difficulties with his family. They could have tried to implement Jeremy's wish to learn Japanese with the family. His homestay office could also have offered him some other strategies to cope with his situation. For example, it is likely that the father didn't really want a homestay guest for his own English, but for his sons. Jeremy could try to get along with the sons in English. If they become friendly, then it is possible the mother will also go along more willingly with the homestay. She is the one who could speak Japanese the most, if she becomes accommodating to the homestay. If these various strategies don't succeed, then the program office can remove him from this homestay.
  1. If the program office is not an option and Jeremy finds his homestay too uncomfortable, he needs to leave the homestay himself. (Find information about leaving on next page.)
What did Jeremy decide to do?
  1. He endured the homestay, because he had already had a successful stay in the past and didn't think this family could change his positive image of Japan .
(2) Sometimes host families can have unrealistic expectations for the homestay. Check out the consequences in the next case:
  • What are some of the indications that the goals of the host family and guest are at cross-purposes in this homestay?
  • Is Kate's presence the cause of any of the problems she describes going on in her family? What makes it hard for a homestay guest to realize this in the kind of situation Kate describes?
  • Describe some of the expectations of the host family for Kate. Could she possibly have fulfilled them? What could have served this family better than hosting a homestay guest?
What are Kate's options in this situation?
  1. Kate doesn't have the option of doing nothing, as her stay with the family is going to become increasingly uncomfortable, since the mother has made her central to resolving their problems.
  1. Go to the program office early on in the homestay (at least at the point where the family finds out the son is doing drugs) and inform them about the various problems in the family. The program office in this case should facilitate Kate's leaving the family.
  1. If the program office is not an option then Kate needs to leave this homestay by herself as soon as possible. (Find information about leaving on next page.)
What did Kate do?
  1. Kate tried her best to endure her stay with the family.
  1. Ultimately this didn't work, and she left the homestay, and moved into a friend's apartment.
(3) The following case touches on many things you have encountered in this tutorial. Try to bring these to bear on Gwen's situation below:
  • How can you explain the drastic change in behavior that Gwen describes in her host mother, from being "so nice," to "ostracizing and shunning me completely"?
  • How did Gwen misread the beginning of her homestay, and consequently, how did she run aground in her relationship after that? How does this compare with the homestay guests discussed in Modules 7-9 in Part 3?
  • Much of Gwen's homestay experience hinges on "unsaid" communication. What "unspoken" message do you think the family is trying to convey to Gwen by their behavior after they moved?
  • A major component in this homestay is the fact that neither host family nor guest appears to be able to end the homestay, even though both clearly want this. Why can't either Gwen or her family end the homestay? (See "Putting Things Together" below if you can't answer this.) In whose interests was the homestay set up?
  • What are some aspects of this homestay that are not well set up?
What are Gwen's options?
  1. She can't simply endure until the end. This homestay has no end, and her family is clearly not treating her well.
  1. Nor does she have a liaison to help her with problems; her director is the only liaison and he is inattentive to her problems because he doesn't want the homestay to end.  
  1. Gwen has only one option: She must leave the homestay as soon as possible, and she must do this by herself. She is not going to get any help from her director.  
What did Gwen do? 
  1. Gwen found an apartment that a teacher in her school was vacating, and moved in. The director of her school continued to make things difficult for her, and so eventually she found another job and moved to Tokyo.  
(4) Putting things together. . . 
What can you do to avoid the kinds of problems presented above? First, apply to the homestay program on time. Then take the time to investigate how your homestay is set up. 
The following safeguards should exist in a well-set-up homestay:  
  • The time period of the homestay should be stipulated (Gwen's homestay had no specified time period, which made it difficult for either side to end the homestay).
  • A mechanism for dealing with problems should exist. This is usually the homestay office in one's study abroad program. (None of the above guests appear to have anyone they could call upon when problems arose).
  • Both host family and guest should be screened for their motivations for doing a homestay when they apply. (See Module 3.3) (This does not appear to have happened in cases 1 and 2, where both families should have been screened out of the programs.)
  • The homestay should be set up for the benefit of everyone involved. If the benefit is too one-sided or narrow the homestay won't work (for example, only the father appeared to want the homestay in Jeremy's case, and he only wanted it for his sons to learn English. Only the mother wanted it in Kate's case, and she unrealistically expected the international student (and English) to solve all of her family's substantial problems. In Gwen's case the director wanted the homestay in order to avoid having to pay key money for an apartment. He also kept requesting that the host family continue the homestay, and refused to let Gwen leave, when she requested an apartment. This put both sides in the bind that Gwen describes.
  • It is also crucial for homestay guests to prepare for their homestays. This includes learning enough Japanese to be able to communicate, as well as enough basic rudiments of Japanese social life, that you will understand what is involved in being a "good guest."


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!)


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