"Um, where is that?"
I turn to the large world map behind me, find the United States, and point to the middle, up close to Canada.
"Ohhh! Is that city or country?"
"I live in the city, but it's mostly country."
"OH! You are city girl then!"
I had this conversation at lunch today in the EEC, or English Education Center, on the University's campus. It is a replica of conversations I've had with my students, fellow professors, and other English-speaking Japanese. Explaining where I come from is hard - "South Dakota by way of Texas" doesn't make a lot of sense to the Japanese students at my school. Frequently, they recognize Texas, but then explaining that I'm not actually from Texas, but somewhere else entirely gets a little complicated.
Not a whole lot of people in the United States could find South Dakota on a map, so it's no surprise that I have to keep spelling out S-I-O-U-X and D-A-K-O-T-A for official forms and stuff.
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about where I come from. If "coming from" some place was as simple as "this is where I spent my childhood," then South Dakota is my answer, no question. I spent the first 22 years of my life there. But if "coming from" means "Where were you directly prior to coming to Japan?" then my answer has to change. Reluctant to claim Texas as my own, the "South Dakota by way of Texas" was born.
But what if "coming from" means where I grew up, where I became the person I am? Then Texas, England and South Dakota all have a claim, and to a lesser extent, India, France, and Italy all do as well. Rarely have I visited another country without it becoming a part of me in some way. Having been here only two weeks, I can already tell that Japan is going to have a great effect in my life - I am living alone for the first time, living in a country that does not speak my native tongue, and basically having to relearn everything I know about feeding myself (I mean, cooking, not the actual eating process itself, though chopsticks are a fun addition to the arsenal of utensils). I will do a lot of growing up here - my teaching philosophy will have to change in many respects, and while I hope to keep the essence of who I am, I think my perspective on many issues will broaden out.
Being from South Dakota means a lot of things. I pronounce "wagon" like "wegon," for a start. But I also tend to view things through a much more practical lens. Being the daughter of a man who grew up in the country, in a family of seven, I tend to see things very practically - if an object doesn't have an immediately obvious purpose, I tend to regard it with skepticism. I have cushions on my couch not to look pretty, but to serve a function. I also know how to drive in snow, with a manual transmission, and know what sort of things to do in severe weather. I also have a healthy respect for nature, knowing that a storm can kill you in seconds, and you shouldn't really muck around with it.
Having lived far away from home though, I also see a lot of beauty in "seizing the moment." Living in England developed a lot of my independence and confidence, teaching me not to see my country as the end-all be-all of nations, teaching me how to make and treasure friends, and teaching me to adventure as long as I am able. England gave me a lot of the life philosophy that landed me in Japan.
In Texas, I came face to face with the concept of poverty. Waco, as the 16th poorest city in the nation, held more encounters with the homeless and the poor than I'd had before, even in England, where there were some beggars I saw every single day. The Christian bubble which Baylor is surprised and disconcerted me, and I grew out of previous prejudices and ideas about the poor. I learned to simplify my life, learning to let go of things I didn't need, and learning how to love those around me even more. That is a large part of who I am now.
India brought me face to face with the other side of the world. I saw beauty, grace, love and God there in some of the worst situations. I learned to see the beauty in another person, even if it was not on the surface obvious. I confronted a lot of different questions about my American lifestyle and how I wish to live.
In two years, when I'm finished with my tenure here at Baiko, how then will I answer this question?
Where do I come from?
Where do you come from?