My family had never hosted a student before, and they were very concerned and tried hard to make me comfortable. But as time went by I became worried that we would never get past the point where we seemed stuck: of them treating me like a child who had to be watched over carefully. I felt constrained by my curfew, and felt that we couldn't communicate very well, even though I had had enough experience in Japan and had studied enough Japanese that I thought we should be able to manage somewhat better.
I had already been to Japan two times before this, and had done a homestay with a family in Nagoya that was really great. Inevitably, I guess, I couldn't help but compare the two families, and my present family didn't stack up to be nearly as good as that one.
In our class on "The Japanese Family" we began to have assignments that we had to discuss with our homestay families. For one assignment I was supposed to ask my family to explain their genealogy to me, after we had studied about genealogies in class. This ended up provoking some interesting conversations, which went back and forth in discussing and comparing my American family and my host family. This was the beginning of a lot of conversations which began over the class assignments, but then continued into other subjects, and went well beyond the assignments.
There was also a major turning-point with the family, which happened through the counselors (student teaching assistants in the Japanese language classes). The counselors were Japanese students who had studied abroad, and they helped us by trouble-shooting with problems we had. About half-way through the semester I was still frustrated with being treated like a child by my family and finally went to talk to Fumi and Tets (the councilors) about it. They tossed plans back and forth for awhile, and finally came up with something they hoped would change the family's image of me. In line with this I was supposed to carry out the following: I was to put on a complete dinner, with all the food preparations, including getting the food, cooking, and cleaning up, to be totally done by me. The family would be complete guests at the dinner.
I chose an American dinner, invited the family, and we decided on the date. I also invited the counselors, as my friends. I then planned the menu, did the shopping, and even had my own family send me some recipies. For the dinner I made lasagna, which I served with French bread, string beans, my mom's special jello salad with fresh fruit, and topped it off with hot fudge sundaes for dessert—the works. Throughout the meal the councilors related to me just naturally like they did at school, (and like I was the kind of person for whom it was perfectly ordinary to carry out this kind of meal). I knew that the family liked the meal, but I had no idea if the counselors' plan was working or not until, as I was clearing up the dishes, the otoosan suddenly tossed me the car keys and told me it was fine for me to use the car to drive my friends back to the train station. It seemed I had grown up years in the space of that meal! Of course now I was really panicked—wondering if I could handle my new-found maturity. But I also knew that, after all this effort, I had to carry this off. So I got in the car and inched my way very slowly and very carefully to the station.
After this, things changed dramatically in my host family. My curfew ended. My cooking became a standard feature in family events, and I tried out every dish I knew (and then some). It also became my duty to pick up my host brother or sister at the train station when they arrived late. Being able to have my own role and duties in the family made me feel much more comfortable. And throughout this time, our discussions continued. I had been planning to stay on in Japan after the semester ended to try to get a business internship. During the last month my family invited me to stay on with them after my semester ended. I felt that they truly meant this invitation, so I accepted.