Everything is ok except for my curfew. My family told me directly that it would be at midnight on week-ends. Originally they told me it was because they are worried and didn't want me to walk home alone. But through subsequent events I've discovered that Haruko just doesn't like me to go out because she thinks that defeats the purpose of the homestay.
I come home early on weekdays and so far I've only come late (around 12:00) 3 times. This is beginning to really bother me since it's making me feel a bit trapped. Haruko gave me all these examples of other students' lives at their homes (from my same program) to indirectly tell me that she only wants me to go out about once a month. I've tried to tell her that I want to go out with Japanese people and learn the young college students' culture and the language. But I don't think that really helped—I really hate the indirectness!
My host father ("Tom") is a regular salaryman, who comes home about 10:00 on weeknights, and leaves at 6:30 a.m. I spend time during the week with Haruko, who tries to talk to me in Japanese. But because there is no child and Tom always comes home late, it's quite boring. Also, because they are a young couple, I sometimes feel like I am invading their privacy, and at times feel uncomfortable, especially in the evening when he returns. I wish I had a family with children (which is what I requested).
I don't have much time on week-ends to spend with both of them because I often have field trips on Saturdays and on Sundays. But even when I don't go, they go to the gym and work out most of the afternoon leaving me at home by myself. And when Tom is home he speaks mostly English to me. So I'm really not learning much about the culture from him, although Haruko tries to tell me things on weekdays in Japanese.
After writing this I just realized I'm quite unsatisfied with my family! What should I do about the curfew? (which isn't really a curfew) I've talked to many Japanese students and adults about this and everyone thinks that being able to stay out til 12:00 only once or twice a month is ridiculous for a 23 year old. I did tell Haruko that no one has a curfew but she always has a line ready for rebuttal.
I only have about 1 1/2 months left and I really would like to see everything I can and because I'm so busy on the weekdays with school, I just want freedom on week-ends, especially Saturdays. I do have a plan to go out with some Japanese friends and Americans this weekend in Tokyo and I'm still thinking of a way to tell them. I may be late or stay out all night for that matter. And my so-called "mongen" (curfew) is becoming a real obstacle.
Homestay Program Director's Comments:
The following is a summary from the Homestay Program Director whom Li Ming went to consult with about her problem:
Li Ming came to me feeling unhappy that her family didn't want her to go out much at all on week-ends, and she was feeling trapped. I asked her to tell me how the homestay was going in general, both on week-days and week-ends, and she gave me an account of the general situation, that she was unsatisfied with her family, especially over her curfew.
Then I called the Uchidas, her host family, and spoke with her host mother. I inquired about the general progress of the homestay, and whether the family felt things were going satisfactorily. The host mother felt that Li Ming conveyed that she was bored in the homestay, and she didn't seem that interested in learning from them, or talking to them. The director then asked about whether Li Ming had a curfew and whether there were any problems around the curfew. The host mother said there was tension because her husband came home late on weeknights, so the only time they had to spend together as a family was in the evenings on weekends. But those were the very times that Li Ming wanted to go out with her friends. If Li Ming went out every week-end, the family would have no time to spend together with her, so she thought it would negate the purpose of the homestay. That was what was behind the curfew.
Li Ming and the Curfew Problem: Mutual Compromise
As director, I decided to try to work out a compromise. I didn't think that Li Ming should just "tough it out" (gaman suru) in the situation she is in now until the homestay ends. I discussed with her the host family's viewpoint about why they wanted her to spend time on weekends with them. I also explained that even leaving the curfew aside, I didn't think from what both Li Ming and the family told me, that "everything else really was going ok". In other words, the curfew wasn't the only problem (and probably wasn't the main problem) with this homestay. Because the Uchidas weren't the type of family she had requested, Li Ming felt unhappy with her situation. Because Tom spoke English with her, she considered this to be a loss in learning about Japan. And although Haruko did speak Japanese with her, she was bored being alone with Haruko during the week.
I first suggested that even though Li Ming was disappointed that her family wasn't what she requested, she didn't have to let this disappointment define her attitude toward them. If she tried to take advantage of the family that she does have, she might find more there than she has seen so far. For example, I encouraged her to take the opportunity to speak with Tom in English about things she wanted to know about Japan. There would be a payoff in speaking English, since she could get more depth in her conversations than she can at this point in Japanese. Li Ming agreed to try this out.
I then suggested the following compromise to both Li Ming and her family: Li Ming needed to take a more active interest in her family during the rest of her homestay, so I suggested she should spend time with them on some weekend evenings. But she should also try to keep some evenings free to go out with her friends, and to do this, both she and her family needed to try to open up other times on weekend days for doing things together. For example, Li Ming could stay home from a field trip now and then so that she and her family could go places together on Saturdays. Or sometimes the family might take Li Ming to the gym with them on Saturday afternoons.
I thought that if Li Ming really tried to become interested and involved in the Uchida family, and managed to be with them at times other than week-end evenings, this would remove the barriers the family had to her going out with her friends on those evenings. Both Li Ming and the Uchidas agreed to try to follow these suggestions.