You never fully understand the bubble you inhabit until you see it from the outside. As a Japanese-American and recent college graduate who had dabbled in the professional world, I felt pretty confident that I understood who I was and what Japan and the U.S. were. That understanding was greatly challenged and deepened when I left my little bubble in San Francisco to live and work in Minamiboso City, Chiba as a Coordinator for International Relations.
Challenges to my understanding and ‘common sense’ occurred every day, whenever coworkers, community members, and I noticed differences between us. Some differences, such as not worrying about the safety of purses, were extremely welcome. Other differences, such as the emphasis on group consensus over individual initiative, took more time for me to embrace. Even then, I can’t say I completely conformed to every aspect of Japanese life or fundamentally agreed. However, that was the beauty of it --- every difference was another opportunity for cross-cultural exchange. Mundane things such as my dark purple nail polish led to conversations on femininity in our respective countries, while my surprise at a cheap dentist bill got us talking about health care reform. Though the city hired me to translate, interpret, and plan cultural activities, I believe these everyday differences were what really challenged all of us to better understand our culturally-specific selves and others.