Gwen: How Can I Escape from My Family? (female, US)
Gwen was a college graduate with a business degree who was working in an American company, and was 25 years old at the time of this experience. She wanted to go overseas, (although with Europe in mind) when a woman came into her company who had been teaching English in Japan. She offered to introduce Gwen to the director of the English school, in a city an hour from Tokyo by train. Gwen decided to try this, and the director agreed to hire her. While she was preparing to come, he also wrote and said that he had set up a homestay for her.

Gwen Initially didn't want to accept the homestay, but then decided that this would be a good opportunity to learn about Japan firsthand. (It's not clear that she had a choice about the matter though.) As Gwen found out later, a bar owner had set up the homestay between two of the bar's patrons, one of whom was the director. The latter was setting up the homestay to avoid paying deposit money (usually 3-5 months rent) on an apartment, since the English school was in financial difficulty.

Gwen's host family consisted of a father who was a self-made company president of a prosperous local company, his wife, and two daughters who were both university students, and both living away from home. The mother and daughters spoke only a bit of English and the father spoke none. The mother wanted to improve her English, and this was one reason the family accepted Gwen in the homestay. The family seemed very close knit and Gwen thought they got along together well.

Gwen's spur-of-the-moment decision left her with only 2 weeks to prepare before leaving for Japan. She had no time to read up on the country, and managed only a short orientation from the woman she was replacing at the school. Consequently, she knew no Japanese at all, and after she arrived in Japan and went to enroll in the only Japanese school in her city, she found she had just missed the starting date of the spring semester and would have to wait until September to enroll. This meant that throughout the homestay period she had no opportunity to study Japanese.

The first three months of the homestay were unproblematic and quite wonderful. Gwen enjoyed herself immensely, and wrote letters home saying, "I felt like it was perfect." The family "included me in everything" (meaning the parents, since the daughters were away at school). They took her out to dinner and to various festivals and famous places in the area, and she set up an exchange with the mother for English and Japanese. Yet she did feel smothered by the family and their constant attention was invasive to her. It was also problematic for her to have the mother doing everything for her, including her laundry, cooking, and so forth.

The family was building a new house and she noticed they were gradually becoming busier and stopped including her in the things they did (like going out to dinner). The mother also stopped spending time with her. She felt it was normal that they would be very busy with the house. But, as she put it, "They seemed to be losing interest in me."

Since the new house would be much farther from her school, making it very inconvenient, she thought this would be a good time to move into an apartment and approached the director of the school. However, he said there was no way she could leave the homestay. (Of course he had his own reasons for not wanting her to move into an apartment.) Gwen gradually became aware that her homestay had been set up for no defined time period and that there was no real mechanism for leaving it.

Not having any alternatives, Gwen moved into the new house with the family, but although they never mentioned anything about her leaving, they made it increasingly difficult for her to live with them. Incidents that happened after the move included the following:

  1. The family had gotten new appliances and Gwen had an air conditioner on the wall of her room. Gwen asked the mother how to use it, and she replied, "Maybe it's broken" and took away the remote control. Gwen simply had to put up with the heat in August.
  2. The family also got a new automatic wash machine. Gwen asked the mother how to use it and the mother wouldn't show her. Nor would she include Gwen in the household laundry, so there was no way for her to do laundry. Gwen asked the older daughter how to use the machine and she showed her. But the daughters also became very distant during this time.
  3. Gwen had a routine in the morning when she got up and exercised, then took a shower. The mother now happened to be cleaning the bathroom every single day when Gwen was going to take a shower.
  4. The family now hid Gwen's chopsticks (Each family member had his or her own set of chopsticks.)
  5. One evening the family locked her out. She found the door dead bolted when she came home. The family was clearly home, but it took them ten minutes to come to the door. They said, "We didn't hear you."   But Gwen didn't believe this.
  6. Gwen had always sent her clothes out to the dry cleaners with the family, through a dry cleaner who came by the house each week. After the move she asked about the laundry schedule and the mother told her, "There is no laundry pick-up here. You have to take your clothes yourself" (to someplace down the road, a 45 minute walk). Then one day she noticed that the laundry truck was coming again, so she put her clothes with those of the rest of the family. Afterwards she discovered the mother had kicked her clothes out of the way, behind a plant, where they had been left.

Gwen was now quite furious with the family. "This was a woman who was so nice--she couldn't be happier to drive me all over their city. Now suddenly, she was ostracizing and shunning me completely." All during this time Gwen repeatedly went to the director requesting to move into an apartment. He always said it was impossible to move in the middle of the term and Gwen felt completely stymied. (Apartments in Japan require substantial deposits along with a guarantor, so it is difficult for students abroad to rent an apartment.) She wanted to leave her homestay in the worst way. But how could she get out?
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