Mika Oshige, BA '03, finds new interpretations-of life, in academics-as told in a letter to her sister in Nagoya, Japan.
It’s been already six years since I began studying in Canada. Do you remember that I came here to study English to become an interpreter? Who could have imagined that I would instead pursue a graduate program in educational psychology? Life is a mystery.
At first, the different cultural practices and value system frustrated me. Everything is opposite here. The roads, the grammar, and the manners! Surprisingly, men, even strangers, hold a door for you when you walk through it. It took me awhile to figure out how the Canadian cultural system works without thinking these men like me!
Living in Canada has been filled with new discoveries and re-discoveries about culture—and me as a person. When I came here, I felt like a baby. Whenever people asked me questions, I froze and could only answer them in simple sentences. I had common sense and knowledge as an adult, but my English ability didn’t allow me to articulate my thoughts in the way adults would respond. Even ordering coffee took courage and practice so that I would get as few questions as possible! I don’t know how many times I had cried with humiliation and frustration over my limited ability, especially when I was doing school work and exams. It seemed impossible to overcome this challenge no matter how hard I studied.
But later I realized that this linguistic discrepancy led me to truly understand what it’s like to be a minority both ethnically and cognitively. My disadvantage turned into my advantage in both my academic work and my life. I have insights on what people in ethnic and cognitive minorities might experience on a daily basis and can now empathize with their struggles. Thankfully, this realization added depth to my personhood and also became the essence of who I am.
I didn’t realize how much my native cultural values were intertwined with my beliefs and governed my behaviour until I left the country. Objectively and subjectively observing both cultures, I am now able to perceive phenomena from two different systems simultaneously and contribute to class discussions, bringing new perspectives into the topics. In Canada, this “creative” perspective is appreciated. Because of my unique experiences, I became interested in studying how cultural, societal belief systems influence human social development. I believe that deciphering cultural mechanisms will contribute to further understanding of human behaviour.
Although I still feel scared to publicly share my opinions, since this is against my traditional culture, this Canadian academic experience not only led me to grow as a person but also gave me a sense of personal success. I am thankful for this experience and also looking forward to other discoveries and re-discoveries, as well as people I will meet in the future. In the end, my original goal of becoming an interpreter took a different form. I’m an interpreter of human minds, rather than human languages.
Mika Oshige was named the 2005 “International Student of the Year” by the Canadian Bureau for International Education for an earlier version of her “Letter Home.” She’s pursuing her master’s degree in educational psychology.