Houston 8.9.17

My Dearest Friend,

I’m back in the States. It’s been a long year since I was last living here, but I suppose it’s good to be back. I loved Japan. I loved living in Kyoto and looking out my window to see mountains circling the city. However, I think I have learned what there is for me to learn in Japan at this point in my life. Living abroad, I learned a lot about myself and the world I live in, but I also found that there is much I don’t know about my own country and myself. Before I go abroad again, I have things to do here.

First, I want to continue developing myself and my interests. I tend to become mired in my work, so I forget to pursue interests and hobbies. Worse yet, I sometimes forget to enjoy them once they’ve been added to my daily to-do list. I want to make a focused effort on having hobbies and extracurricular activities that I enjoy outside of my major and career goals. Related to that, I want to keep working on my language skills, now for my own sake rather than for classes. I’ve spent a lot of time on my Japanese, and I want to keep it up. I want to become bilingual. Living in an international dorm for a year, most people I knew spoke at least two if not three or four languages. I want that too.

The next primary goal over this next year is to continue my journey toward self-sufficiency. I’m finally living in non-university housing for the first time since I left home. I’m also working on getting a part-time job to pay for as many of my day-to-day expenses as possible. As a college student in America, I have always had a foot in both worlds, childhood and adulthood. After having been mostly independent and self-sufficient for a year abroad, I don’t want to go back to being a pseudo-adult. I’m not in a position yet where I can shake it off completely, but I can start a conscious journey toward being fully independent.

Lastly, I want to further invest in my relationships, both here at home and those I built while abroad. I have always struggled to stay in contact with people I no longer see regularly. For much of my time abroad, I had little if any contact with people from home. However, I also was reminded of how wonderful my friends from OU are and how important they are to me and my life. I want to actively invest in and develop those relationships further while maintaining the friendships I spent a year building in Japan. I am no longer content to take a passive role in my friendships. My life is only as fulfilling as I make it.

I have changed a great deal over the past year. Now that I’m in motion, I don’t want to stop. There is so much more out there for me, and I am capable of so much more than I have in the past expected of myself. This year, back in a comfortable place with a group of amazing friends nearby, is the perfect time to explore what I can do. Once I have tested and expanded the limits of my capability, I will be ready to explore the world more fully. My next flight is coming soon—I want to make sure that I’m ready for it.

Sincerely,

Kestrel

Kyoto 6.23.17

My Dearest Friend,

With a month left of my semester and a month and a half until I leave Japan, the end of my time in Japan is drawing close. This semester has flown faster than I could ever have imagined. The month since I last wrote has been a blur of flashcards and readings, trying to keep up with my workload. Now with the end of the semester in sight, my normal work has been supplemented with presentations, exams, and research reports. It will be very difficult to make sure I don’t let my busyness get in the way of enjoying my last few weeks here in Japan.

I did have a break this past week however. Two of my close friends from the States are studying in Asia this summer as well, and they stayed with me in Japan for a few days on their way. It was fun getting to catch up and show someone else the city that I’ve loved living in all year. I also finally visited the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji, along with the Ritsumeikan World Peace Museum. It was a relief to have a break from my studies and to explore the city a little more. I also had forgotten just how much I missed my friends from home. So despite being very sorry to leave Japan, I know I’m returning to great friends who love and miss me.

Before I leave I’ll sit down and try to put into words all the things I’ve learned here, but one is already on my mind. Growing up, I loved studying ancient history and civilizations. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese—these groups were so much more interesting to me than politics or modern cultures. It still makes sense to me. I’m a lover of fantasy, so civilizations with their own histories and cultures that were fundamentally removed from me were more interesting to me than the mundane realities of my world. What I didn’t understand until recently is that modern European or Asian countries were no more real to me than their ancient counterparts. I was just as removed from the modern world. Growing up in America, especially living in one city for the majority of my life, everything outside America was either the same as America or didn’t really exist. Even after visiting China last summer, I still didn’t really understand that people live in ways that are fundamentally different than how I always had.

It turns out, I don’t need a car, a dryer for my laundry, or even to be home with my family on every holiday. All of those are good things, but they are not necessary aspects of life. There are also things I always expected to be part of my future that don’t necessarily need to be. I expected my future to be defined by working long hours before coming home to a silent apartment, living out my life in the States. That doesn’t have to be my future. I can travel. I can live in a new country every few years. I can find things I love to do and work to support myself, even if it’s not building a glamorous career. I don’t know what my future holds, but that’s half the fun.

My friend, when I return we will have so much to talk about. I hope you’ll still recognize me. I feel like I’m so different than I was when I left. Honestly, I think I’ve grown into a stronger and more beautiful person. Hopefully you’ll agree. I’ll try to write again once finals are over.

Sincerely,

Kestrel

Houston 2.24.17

My Dearest Friend,

I’m so glad I got to come home and see you and others these past couple weeks. Last semester was long and I needed my time at home resting more than I can say. However, as I sit here on the plane headed back across the Pacific, I’m more excited than ever to resume my adventures in Japan. I have so much left to see and do, and I don’t want to waste the rest of my break or the upcoming semester. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I want to fully enjoy it.

While I was at home visiting, I had a frustrating realization: I don’t have many stories from my time here so far. I could talk a bit about my classes and how difficult they were. I could also talk about my general impressions of Japan and Japanese culture. Outside of that, however, I didn’t have much to say. Most of my stories ended up being stories about other people, some of which I hadn’t even witnessed. How did that happen? I know a few reasons. First, experiences don’t usually make good stories without other people in them. I’ve explored a bit and seen some places, but I usually end up going by myself. This is excellent for collecting pictures but isn’t great for stories. Also, a lot of the time people are hanging out together, there’s alcohol involved. We’re all legal, so it isn’t a problem, but the party nature of most international student interactions decreases my chances both of being involved and recounting stories of it later.

I’m not really sure what to do about this dilemma. As much as I’d rather travel Japan with a few close friends, I don’t always feel like I have that option. I don’t tend to have much success planning excursions or events, and I can’t control whether or not I’m invited to come along when someone else has planned the trip. Most of the interactions I am invited to are nights out and the like. These are fun and I try to go occasionally, but allowing them to make up all of my stories paints both my time here and myself in a bad light.

I’m trying to find opportunities to make memories that I can share, but it’s difficult. Hopefully I’ll do better this semester than last, but that doesn’t set a very high bar. Wish me luck. I’ll try to write again soon.

Sincerely,

Kestrel

Kyoto 1.22.17

My Dearest Friend,

My first semester here at Ritsumeikan has finally ended. The last of my tests have been taken and papers turned in. I now have two months to relax and explore Japan before my second semester begins.

This semester was difficult and full of new experiences for me. It has been my first time living abroad, my first time living for a significant period of time without access to a car, and my first long-term experience with a language barrier. I’ve met people from all over the world who speak every language I can imagine. They come from so many backgrounds and are working toward a myriad of futures. Honestly, it makes me feel small. I’ve seen and done so little compared to most of these people. I’m trying to learn Japanese as my second language, I’ve only been to three countries in the world, and I’m already in my twenties. I have friends here who worked abroad in high school. It makes me wonder how much I missed on account of being born in America.

Don’t get me wrong, I love America. I grew up there, and it’s my home. However, it’s not perfect. The rest of the world seems so far away and insignificant as a child in the US, but it’s not. The world is a vast and marvelous place and has much to teach us, both as individuals and as a country. Many of the issues that are tearing apart America have found various resolutions in other countries. Instead of fighting about what ifs, why don’t we look at the outcomes? As Americans, we like to look at the rest of the world as if it was still in the 18th century. We talk about freedom and our unique place in the world. Yes, we are still a great country wielding a lot of power. But where the rest of the world has seen great progress in the last 200 years, we keep looking back at “the glory days.” I love the foundation of our country and the ideals of our nation. But the world is not the same place as it was when we were founded, and it’s naïve to act like nothing has changed.

When I left America to come to Japan, I didn’t know much about the rest of the world. I thought I did, but I was wrong. I still know very little, but I know some things. And the biggest thing I’ve learned is that while the US has an incredibly strong military, we are not the only important players in the world. We don’t know everything, and in a lot of areas, we’re falling behind our peers. So instead of arguing about the precise meaning of a centuries old document, can we agree to open our eyes and start doing something? I’ve met so many people here who would not go to America if you paid them, not with the way our country functions right now. And I can’t really blame them. But it is my country, and I won’t abandon it, not if I can help it.

My friend, please try to learn something from my experiences here. I know it’s hard to see clearly from inside, but try. We have to do something, and we can’t all get up and spend a year abroad. All we can do is try to bring that global awareness back with us in our suitcases and share it. I miss you dearly. Hopefully I’ll see you soon.

Sincerely,

Kestrel

Tragedies

These days the world seems increasingly frightening. You only have to turn on the news to be inundated with horror stories of violence and sorrow. Every day it seems a new tragedy strikes our world. It’s easy to wonder what happened. What caused this increase in pain? I’ve spoken to many young adults of my generation and heard them asking this and similar questions. Studying history has led me to an uneasy answer—it hasn’t increased. The world is no more messed up than it was in the past. In fact, many aspects of society have improved. Death rates have decreased and many victims now have legal recourse against assailants. For much of history, most victims of violent crimes had to suffer in silence. So what did change? Why does the world appear so much worse?

The short answer is technology. Through radio, television, and now internet, we see atrocities. We know the death tolls and the faces of the victims. We see the results, and we hear of these occurrences immediately. The other change is actually positive—we care more. Most ancient civilizations had at least one group of people they considered lesser, sometimes not even seeing them as human. This mindset led to the targeting of women, children, and minorities often with little to no societal or legal repercussion. Today, most people have a visceral reaction against such ideas. Thus, when a shooting or rape occurs and is reported, most people are upset and offended. This shows how far we’ve come.

The problem is the people who haven’t progressed with the rest of humanity. Some people still look at certain groups and deny their personhood. Does an individual renounce their humanity when they move to a new country or they choose someone to date? Of course they don’t. So it’s time to stop living in the Dark Ages. Murder is a crime. Rape is a crime. The victim is a person, so there is no excuse for the perpetrator. It doesn’t matter what boxes we can fit them into, we’re all humans. We live in the 21st century. Don’t let fear or hatred turn back the clock on society.

The Road Ahead

Three weeks left. It’s a crazy thought. How did it become the end of the semester so soon? I’m three weeks away from being half-way done with my college career. Where did it go? And even scarier—it’ll be over a year until I next sit here on the OU campus. When I move out of my dorm room and make the drive home, I won’t be coming back until my senior year. Thinking of how much can change in a year or a month or even a single day, what will life be like when I return? Will I know my friends still? Will they still know me? This year has been a roller-coaster of growth and laughter and pain. I don’t know if I could have gotten through it alone. Now I prepare myself to bid these wonderful friends goodbye and embark on my first journey alone.

I’ve spent summers productively in the past. Last summer for instance I traveled to China and took a variety of classes both home and abroad. This year I could take classes once again, but I’d rather find an internship. I’ve been searching since winter, and I haven’t had much luck. However, I have a couple leads left, so there is still hope for me. I want to grow. I can be productive and get classes out of the way, but I won’t grow by testing out of classes again. I really need this opportunity to put myself in a new situation. Then again, when the summer ends I’ll be plunged headfirst into a new world, so perhaps a summer of comfort isn’t such a bad idea.

For those who don’t know, I’m studying in Japan this upcoming year. I’ll be at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. It’s incredibly exciting, but also quite scary. I’ve never been to Japan. I’m not fluent in the language. This upcoming year will likely be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. However, despite all that, it may also be one of the best times of my life. I’ve been waiting for this forever. I’ve spent almost two years now studying Japanese diligently to prepare. And now it’s time to see the results. Now it’s time to fly. The paperwork is turned in. I’ve looked through the class list and attended the pre-departure orientations. Now, I have to wait. Wait and watch the skies. The future awaits.

Modern Women

I am a woman. I grew up knowing that pink was the proper color for me, that I should one day look like a Barbie doll, and that boys were gross. These were all parts of my childhood, though I later grew to realize their inaccuracies. As I grew older I believed that I could be a scientist, author, lawyer, even a corporate executive if I were willing to put in the time and effort to succeed. Now, I know that, although I can be whatever I want, I will have to be willing to work harder than my male peers and make sacrifices that a lot of my female peers will choose not to make. We’re all “equal,” but in a tie between me and an equally qualified male, I lose. All of these are facets of my life as a modern American woman. However, I’m not staying here. I have flying to do. Birds aren’t meant to stay in a single tree their whole lives. So what does it mean to be a modern woman somewhere else?

The other day, I attended a lecture on gender in contemporary China given by Kevin Carrico, who focuses his research on China and the dichotomy between tradition and progress in modern Chinese culture. He was telling us about “Ladies’ Academies,” finishing schools of sorts scattered across China. In these institutions, men graciously transform wild modern women into pure, traditional Chinese women. These young ladies learn important feminine skills like cooking, embroidery, and a deep understanding of the Chinese classics that define a women’s place. Dr. Carrico went to one of these academies to talk to the men who ran it. They explained that these academies were necessary because the balance of yin and yang was off; that women had ceased to be women and thus men were turning to gambling and alcohol and prostitutes to satisfy the emptiness in their homes. Apparently, all problems in modern Chinese culture can be traced to this failure of women to keep to their sphere. Men in all these changes have been the victims. And what of the women who come to these schools? Many are seeking to make themselves more attractive to men in order to find a husband.

I’ve wondered before how my life is going to play out. I don’t want to raise a family or stay at home, yet many of my beliefs and values are very conservative. The balance between liberal goals and conservative values will always be a difficult line for me to walk, and it will only get harder as I one day begin to look for another to share this journey with me, so I understand the motives of these young ladies. However, the idea of preying on fears of solitude in order to promote a worldview that treats women as a scapegoat for all society’s problems is sickening. The world has changed over the past centuries—this is a fact. Not every change has been good, but that doesn’t mean all progress is evil either. Perhaps the changed role of women has been one of the factors in the larger societal changes, but no problem is simple enough to assign all blame to a single player.

The lecture made me stop and reconsider my own place again. My role as a modern woman is infinitely more complex than I had imagined. I will spend my life fighting to be seen as me, Kestrel, not as a faceless woman, modern or otherwise. I believe that my gender is part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. I can be strong and a leader and successful. I can be ambitious and put aside the idea of raising a family in favor of building a name in the world. Does that make me some sort of societal ill, upsetting the delicate balance of the universe? I’d like to think the universe is much less sensitive than we humans are. If the universe does in fact care about the minutiae of what I do with my life, I think we may have bigger problems than me choosing not to be a housewife.

Cowboys, Gentlemen, and Samurai

Growing up I always loved cultures. I loved learning how different people from different countries could hear the same stories and understand them in different ways. I wanted to see the world through the lenses of other cultures, so that I didn’t miss those other meanings to the common stories of my childhood. As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to see that culture affects far more than just stories. The effect of culture and language on brain functions, values, and business has only become apparent to me recently. But now that I have been exposed to these new sides of culture, I thirst to learn more.

Earlier this week, I had the incredible honor of working as an honorary intern at an event hosted by the Texas TriCities chapter of NACD, a nonprofit that works with boards of directors. This particular event was a fireside chat with Lady Barbara Judge, a pioneer and champion for women in international business. She has worked in the United States, Great Britain, and Japan in both the public and private sectors. Listening to her discussion of cultures and the business climates of these three vastly different countries was exhilarating. Although I wish I could cut off my words here and instead post a transcription of the conversation, neither of us has time for that. Instead, I will share her analogies for the specific business cultures of the three countries.

The United States, where I and probably most of you live, is filled with cowboys. As a native Texan, I fully understand this imagery. Cowboys like open spaces. They live freely and ride out towards the horizon with little thought to where exactly they are. However, cowboys don’t trespass. In general, if they see a fence, they’ll stop and find a new direction to ride. This is how business in the United States works. Generally, people do what they want and ride as they will. But we have laws, and they are not meant to be broken. We keep our fences brightly painted to make sure they are not missed.

Unsurprisingly, Great Britain is not inhabited by cowboys. The Brits can best be described as gentlemen. Gentlemen, unlike cowboys, don’t ride alone. Gentlemen sit in clubs and their actions are defined by the group. There are no set rules most of the time. And yet, people all do essentially what they are supposed to because gentlemen have codes. These codes keep the gentlemen together and in line. Unlike rules, which are meant to be followed, codes have an underlying theme of “comply or explain.” Not every code will be followed by everyone, but those who choose not to comply must explain why the code is not best for them. This allows for more flexibility in cases of diverse interests, but also limits the freedom of exploration that cowboys tend to embrace.

Lastly, you have Japan. In Japan, the idea of corporate governance is still new, and so isn’t as well defined yet. Most of what they have has been imported from the West, so elements of cowboys and gentlemen mix with the native culture. Lady Judge suspects that we will find that Japan is still filled with samurai. Samurai are strong, with the freedom and independence of cowboys and the codes of conduct of gentlemen. But samurai have something all their own: honor. Samurai and the business culture of Japan will be ruled by honor. Rules or codes will be enforced by the thought of the shame that would result from breaking them.

After Lady Judge finished her description of these cultures, the moderator, Anna Catalano, who has also worked extensively abroad, made a comment about having spent five years in London trying to work as a cowboy in a gentlemen’s club. Although intended to be a humorous comment, I realized that she was right. I was born a cowboy in a lot of ways. But if I want to find a niche abroad and actually succeed in other business cultures, I’ll need to learn to be a gentleman and a samurai and any number of other things. I will never succeed if I try to go abroad as a cowboy. Instead I have to become a part of whatever culture I’m trying to work in. Only then will I succeed in this vast and diverse world.

The Origin of Stigmas

Like perhaps many Americans of my generation, I grew up seeing items in stores labeled with the oh-so-familiar “Made in China” stamp. I thought this was a mark of poor quality and cheap materials. I had no foundation for this belief—it was simply that which I had always known. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that this stigma may in fact be unfounded. Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Dr. Elyssa Faison, a history professor at the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Faison’s lecture focused on the American views of the major economic powers of the East at the time of their rise, namely China and Japan.

In the late 1940s, just after the close of World War II, Japan was making great strides to rebuild its economy after the war. And yet, the American perspective on Japanese goods was less than optimistic. The label “Made in Japan” was a running joke because who wanted cheap Japanese goods? This all too familiar situation did not, however, stem from actual poor quality goods. Instead, a slew of propaganda created for the war had been slowly released from production and began to invade the minds of the populace. These “documentaries” and advertisements accused the Japanese of underselling Western products and pirating Western designs. Thus the global image of the Japanese economy turned sour. These ideas remained prevalent into the 1980s when Japanese electronics and cars began to find their way into the West. For years, the older generations were hesitant about trusting Japanese made cars and gadgets, but slowly the old stereotypes began to die and were replaced by a respect for the strong and unyielding Japanese economy.

As I listened to Dr. Faison’s lecture, I was struck by the similarity between these outdated ideas about Japan and my own childhood beliefs about China’s economy. Therefore, I was very curious to find out how these representations came to be transferred from Japan to China. The answer should not be surprising. Just as US propaganda painted the Japanese as scammers and thieves for the sake of WWII, the rise of Communism in China drove the US to declare a new enemy. Propaganda once again served its purpose and dictated a generation or more’s view of an entire nation.

That’s the path these ideas took to their resting place in my childhood beliefs. There is little to no evidence to back up either of these stereotypes, and yet they are very hard to displace. Many Americans still consider Chinese goods to be inherently cheap. Given time, we will, hopefully, overcome these misconceptions. Then we will be able to see other cultures for what they truly are, rather than for what an outside power paints them to be.

Heroes for Today

Last weekend the new James Bond movie came out. I didn’t grow up with James Bond, but since coming to college I have seen several of the movies and found that overall I enjoy them. As such, when a group of my friends decided to go see Spectre on opening weekend, I opted to go with them. I have no intention of weighing in on whether it was a good movie. I enjoyed it, but that’s all I intend to say about the movie. What I do want to talk about is the protagonist.

Since going to the movie, I’ve become increasingly aware of the admiration many Americans have for Bond. More importantly, I’ve realized that many of my friends have a surprisingly strong desire to be like him. Perhaps I’ve just missed something, but I don’t like Bond all that much. He’s arrogant, reckless, and, for all his strength and cool gadgets, unable to protect those he cares about. The movies are fun, but I don’t want them to be more than stories. I also don’t want my little brother, or anyone to be honest, growing up with a desire to be like James Bond. Bond is an outdated icon of a world many people are glad we have escaped.

Our nation and our world are currently embroiled in debates about diversity and equality. I generally try to avoid these debates because I feel as if I am unqualified to say anything about these issues. I try my best to listen to the calls for equality and embrace diversity in my own life, but I avoid joining the discussion beyond that. Today, I am going to make a comment—if we want to change our world, let’s start with our children and the next generation. Instead of raising our children with icons like James Bond, let’s find new icons who embody the ideals we desire to see in our young people. Does our world really need a James Bond in this day and age? I don’t think so. Perhaps it’s time we found better heroes.