The Other Sides Of A Year Abroad 2
The bias of nationality and ethnicity combined with an inferiority complex
Introversion and Social Anxiety
If you haven’t noticed through my former blog posts already, here I am, telling you once again that I’m a really introverted person and sometimes I think that I do have some minor case of social anxiety. After finding people who I became friends with so fast after entering university, I kind of thought that I was miraculously cured. At that point I didn’t even think about this concept called ‘social anxiety’. I have always been aware of the fact that I have difficulties striking up a conversation with someone or connecting with people, but I thought that I was just shy. There is a difference between shyness and social anxiety and for me it might be a combination of both. Shyness can be a character trait of a person and is normal, however social anxiety is not. I get stressed out in social situations without people I feel safe with and I tend to overthink. ‘They probably find me boring’, ‘was it weird what I just said?’, ‘do they think I’m weird?’, ‘maybe they think I’m annoying’, ‘was it the right time to bring myself into the conversation?’, ‘maybe I interrupted their flow’, ‘do they keep talking to me, just because they don’t want to be rude?’, ‘maybe they prefer talking to each other and it would be better to excuse myself from the conversation’. I tend to smile a lot, which exhausts me, and I try to seem overall friendly in order to not scare people away. Except, it doesn’t feel like I’m being myself. It feels like I’m trying too hard in order to be liked and when I put that kind of effort into a conversation, I know that in most cases it won’t work out. You can often feel it, when you find the right people. There is usually that kind of spark that let you know that it is right.
The bias of ethnicity
I don’t think that I suffer from social anxiety on a daily basis, however, if I think back about my time in Tokyo, I might have to admit, to myself at least, that there were some traces of social anxiety, sometimes more, sometimes less, combined with what I call my ‘inferiority complex of being Vietnamese’ which I would like to talk about in another blog post in detail. I pretty much avoided every larger social event that came up at my university, because I didn’t see any point in attending those. I thought that I was just not interesting enough. In my opinion the aspect of ethnicity or nationality was way too important when it came to friendship and connections, at least compared to what I know. Of course it’s always interesting, knowing where everyone comes from. Nevertheless, to me it felt like there was an unconscious ranking for every ethnicity which determines the likelihood of being a ‘desirable’ friend to a Japanese person, with Americans on the highest ranking and then maybe followed by North Europeans and on the last places would be the Asian ethnicities. There aren’t any scientific studies that would prove this and of course I don’t want to lump together every single Japanese person concerning that matter, it’s just my personal sentiment. Most international students come to Japan in order to get to know Japanese people and Japanese people want to meet international students, preferably from America or other English speaking countries and from Europe. I come from Germany, but am I German? On paper, yes, but my appearance says Asian and I can’t even say I’m from Vietnam. I was born in Germany, but I am probably not German enough to ‘compete’ with my blue eyed, blonde or brunette comrades. And I assumed that the Asian part of me was just not interesting, since the countries aren’t far from each other and to be honest, because of some incidents, it seems that in some aspects the relationship between Vietnamese and Japanese citizens are not that good. Let’s just say, Vietnamese people don’t enjoy the best reputation in Japan, compared to Germans for example. I thought or hoped that those were just false assumptions and that in reality I just fail at making friends. It is possible that this very mindset of mine was actually jeopardizing all the chances I could have had. However, I spoke to a classmate from Hong Kong and his sentiments were very similar to mine. He told me, that he didn’t really attend any parties anymore because many Japanese people tend to flock to the Western looking students, whereas the Asian students are left to tend for themselves. He lived in a dormitory with a cafeteria for both international and Japanese students to use. He told me how he sometimes was having a conversation with some Japanese students, who, as soon as a German colleague joins them, would turn away from him and continue their conversation with the German person.
I find it really challenging to befriend a Japanese person. It always feels like there is an invisible wall that you can’t break through and it is often difficult to find out about their hobbies or what their genuine interests are. You just can’t go beyond of being a mere acquaintance from a foreign country.
I felt that, if you are Western looking, it is more likely to be spoken to by a Japanese. That would have made it easier, for the introverted part of me, at least. It probably sounds like it is the ultimate goal for everyone who comes to Japan to have Japanese friends and I won’t deny that it would be nice. I mean who goes to a foreign country without wishing to get to know the locals better? Nobody. You travel abroad in order to get to experience the country, the culture, to learn from the people. Yet, when I talked to a few people who kind of manage to actually befriend a Japanese person, some of them would say that they feel like some kind of trophy or achievement, which are used in order to brag in front of other Japanese people, to show everyone with a group selfie on Instagram and Facebook how internationally connected they are, to tell people that they are friends with ‘Germans’, ‘Americans’, ‘Italians’, ‘Swedish people’. The more you ‘collect’, the better. Some international students would tell me that they don’t feel like the people are interested in them as a person, as a human being with interests and hobbies. I don’t think it’s necessary to mention that there are exceptions and there will be in fact people who genuinely would like to become friends with you, to get to know you as a person, regardless of your nationality, but it’s hard to find them. Nevertheless, you are not at a university to limit yourself to Japanese people, that’s not the only reason why you study abroad. You go abroad to get to know people from all over the world, to share cultures and experiences. Maybe I could just try to get to know some other international students first and start from there, which is probably easier if our cultures are similar?
My experiences trying to make friends
At the beginning I tried to get along with someone from my dormitory and I even thought that maybe we could become friends. She seemed really sweet and kind. She messaged me quite often in the beginning, however I never initiated a conversation, too afraid of being annoying. She occasionally asked me whether we should go grocery shopping together and I was relieved, because grocery shopping with friends is something I certainly enjoy. I thought that the year wasn’t going to be as bad as it had started. I often met her by chance at the station before class in the morning and naturally I greeted her. One time I invited her to attend an event together in another city, since she showed some interest in it when I told her about it. I asked her again a day before the event to make sure she was coming, but didn’t get an answer until I came home from the event the next day. She apologised, saying she had a rough night. I didn’t think much of it.
One time I was on Twitter and randomly found her account with a tweet that said something along the lines of ‘Commuting time is music time’ and the people who can’t get the hint of that really get in the way of a peaceful time in the morning. I looked at the time when she posted it and noticed that it was shortly after a morning I met her at the station, where I had greeted her like I always did. Of course I don’t know for sure whether she was in fact referring to our meeting. But we didn’t meet any other people we knew that morning. It was just me and her and we stayed together until we reached the campus. Well, I wish I could say that I didn’t care. However, I really thought that, since she was always the first to message me, it would be okay to get friendly with her and talk to her when I see her. Apparently I never have reached that level.
Of course, I’m well aware of the fact that I have a fair share of people I rejected myself, so I’m not one to talk, but I think I have always made it clear, when I didn’t want to associate with someone anymore. I’d rather be honest, even though there is a high possibility of coming across as rude, than pretending to care or to be interested enough to become their friends. That way they won’t hold onto their expectations and they won’t waste their time on me, which they could use to look for someone who can be a perfect match for them. I don’t go and repeatedly initiate a conversation with them.
When we still talked, she would also tell me, that she can’t manage to find Japanese friends and that she was pretty unhappy about it and I could relate to that. I thought about how friendly she was. She always smiled when she talked to you and spoke with a soothing voice, on top of that she is really beautiful. So I thought that she won’t have any problems finding friends, may it be internationals or Japanese. Though you probably should never assume things based on looks, be it positive or negative. Everyone has problems they have to deal with. Nevertheless, in the end I felt like I have been a nuisance to her, a waste of her time and efforts since I’m not Japanese. Or maybe she just realized that I’m not the friend she was looking for, let alone the fact that her best friend from her home country was also living in Tokyo during that time, so she wasn’t in need of another friend, which would be understandable. The fact that she is vegan, whereas I eat meat might have played a role as well, which also is understandable. She always seemed so sweet and kind, when we talked. However, in the end I’d rather she didn’t text me or associate with me at all. I would have preferred her to reject me right from the start, making clear she wasn’t interested.
Yes, even though I tried to deny it several times, I was pretty hurt by that simple tweet. You could say that it was just a tweet and that I shouldn’t put too much meaning into it, but I do know that a lot of people use twitter as an outlet, where they tend to write down their true thoughts, where they speak about their feelings freely. I was not hurt because she wrote it, but because all this time she pretended to listen to what I had to say, when in fact she didn’t care in the slighest. If I hadn’t stumbled upon that tweet I’m sure that I would have continued making an effort to become friends and if people saw my attempts they would have likely made fun of me for being so desperate. I felt stupid for hoping or even thinking that there was a possibility to become friends with her. It was for sure a blow to my self-confidence. It was my fault, since I read to much into her initial behaviour and I had missed the hints that told me otherwise. You could say that there might be a possibility that I jumped to conclusions too fast, but to me it was pretty clear. Shortly after I found that tweet, she didn’t contact me anymore, so I just assumed that my suspicions were right and that she was never really interested in me as a friend. I stopped greeting her whenever I saw her. If I saw her on my way to university, I either walked faster or slower to keep my distance. After a few weeks she moved out of the dormitory and our paths didn’t cross anymore.
At that time I didn’t think that the whole thing would affect me that much. I tried to convince myself that it didn’t. It didn’t work this time, so what? You can’t be friends with everyone you meet and we weren’t even friends to begin with. I could just try again. However, it affected me more than I care to admit, for the rest of the year even, because I unconsciously swore to myself to never get emotionally attached or start to hope for friendship a second time. I didn’t want to feel like that ever again.