When I was in high school, I finally began to analyze my identity more closely; as a collection of parts as opposed to a big picture. I also started to think about what those parts meant, or why they were a part of my identity. Some were easier to define and understand (I was white, American, female, straight, etc.), while others had changed over the course of my life (my level of education, my interests, my beliefs). When I reached college, however, I not only had to analyze myself, but I also had to see how I fit into my community, and what privileges I had that others did not.
Analyzing my personal lens and biases has made me more mindful of the world around me, but my observed perceptions of the world have been mostly experienced in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Abroad, my actions and identity could have completely different interpretations. A major part of my lens is that I was born and raised in the US by parents who had experienced the same. Currently, the world’s perception of America is rapidly changing, and as our nation becomes seemingly more divided, the stereotypes or perceptions of Americans are becoming more confusing and inaccurate. I believe that this will certainly be a major theme in my time abroad, not just because national identity will be a topic of study, but because I and many others are questioning what it really means to be an American as of late.
Some of my personal views contradict those held by both American and Japanese societies at times. I strongly believe in social and educational equality of the sexes, but women’s treatment in Japan is very different than it is in Seattle. For example, only a third of Waseda undergraduate students are female (at Tokyo University, Japan’s top school, only a fifth are female). Women rarely hold managerial or high-ranking executive positions, and the social expectations for women are very similar to what they were decades ago (where they are expected to take care of their children and husbands). In the United States, educational statistics are very different, but women still face discrimination, especially under new proposed government policies. While more people may identify as ‘feminist’ at UW or in Seattle, this is not how the rest of the US or Japan is, and I will have to learn how to handle that as an observer.
I’m very excited to be able to return to Japan, this time as a student instead of a tourist. I will have to constantly see myself and my new environment from an analytical, yet open-minded viewpoint.