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All in the Family: The Blessing and Curse of Social Media

While being so connected to family and friends eliminates some of the homesickness and isolation of living abroad, it also has some downfalls.

By 5 min read 1

In this day and age, we are rarely truly ever cut off from everything we previously knew in our home countries. When my older sister studied abroad in Germany back in the 1990s, the Internet was still a novelty item and not widespread. Cell phones were large brick-like screen-less keypads carried by only a select few individuals. Aside from calling us on a landline maybe a few times a month, she was entirely immersed in her new culture and language. As a result, by the end of her year abroad, she was fluent in German and sitting all of her exams in German like other German students.

By the time I came to Japan, Skype and social media in general were featured regularly in the lives of college students no matter where they ended up. It didn’t matter if I was in my American dorm room or in my Japanese seminar house. Other than time zone differences, I was only a click away from all my friends and family.

While being so connected to family and friends eliminates some of the homesickness and isolation of living abroad, it also has some downfalls. Maintaining your connectedness to your original community and culture sometimes makes it a bit more difficult to immerse yourself in the new culture and language around you. Balancing your life on social media with your new life in Japan can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. You simply need to let social media work for you, not against you.

Making Japanese Friends The Hard Way

At my university in Japan, we were actually quite isolated from the other Japanese students. All of our classes were limited to the foreign student building. Even if we did venture to other parts of campus, there were times we still wouldn’t see any Japanese students. We were on the American school schedule, and the Japanese students were on the typical Japanese schedule.

We started our semester at the end of January and ended in May, which meant that we saw the Japanese students in reclusive study-mode finishing up exams and then leaving in March. New students would come in around April, but we were leaving in May. The only Japanese students who were on our schedule were those who had returned to the university from a study abroad program and were continuing their English studies by taking classes with us.

In this mostly English speaking environment, I still wanted to make the best of the situation. I signed up for a language exchange partner. I also met a few other Japanese girls in the lounge of the foreign student building. I was a little disappointed because all of them only wanted to talk in English about traditionally feminine things, while my interests seemed to disappoint them because I was a bit ボーイッシュ (boyish). Trying to befriend the boys on campus was completely disastrous because most couldn’t talk with me, let alone maintain eye contact.

I made friends, but not the sort of deep, lasting friendships that I was looking for.

Perhaps if I had more patience and continued to approach a wide variety of people, I could have eventually met Japanese students with similar interests. I made friends, but not the sort of deep, lasting friendships that I was looking for. Making friends in general is quite difficult as you get older. Doing so in a foreign country can be even more of a challenge.

Making Japanese Friends The Easier Way

The best approach I found was to go back to social media. Sure, I had a lot of English speaking friends, but I also had some Japanese acquaintances. I made friends through their friends. On social networking sites, I could meet all sorts of people from all walks of life that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

I was able to form my own Japanese online immersion environment and was able to improve my Japanese a little that way. There are some Japanese social media sites to choose from, though most of the major international sites have a strong Japanese presence now, so you really don’t have to sign up for anything new. It really depends on your interests and how much effort you are willing to put into making friends online.

Does It Really Work?

This one Japanese guy contacted me about his band because I followed similar bands on social media and was studying in Osaka, where his band played. I listened to their music samples and thought they were cool, but was also happy to meet a guy who seemed to like the same stuff that I did.

We sent messages back and forth about the band, but also about life in general. I was elated to actually have made a real friend with whom I could truly make a connection. In a month or so, it was really obvious to me that he was becoming my best friend.

I was a little nervous about finally meeting him in person, but I already knew all about online friendships and safety. I knew better than to meet someone in a potentially unsafe area or situation. We were going to meet at one of his band’s shows, and the band was certainly a real band playing at a real venue. There were going to be other people around. If my online friend wasn’t the guy I thought he was, I could easily just make a polite exit after the show and never deal with him again. No harm, no foul.

In the end, he was every bit the guy I had befriended. This process of making a friend online was absolutely successful. He is still my best friend. He also happens to be my husband and we just celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary.

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