One of my long time students, a young woman who I've been teaching since October 2006, had her last lesson last Wednesday. She's going to the U.S. to attend university for a college year and I hope that she'll have a good time of it. She's only 20 years old and has never lived on her own so I'm a little concerned about how she'll get on. She and I had a good last talk about her departure preparations which revealed a few cross-cultural differences which I found very interesting.
First, she told me that her parents reaction to her imminent departure was one of 'shoo, get out of here already!' I told her that I was surprised and jokingly asked her if she was a bad child that they wanted to get rid of. She told me a Japanese word for what her parents were doing that translated into the idea that they felt that clinging too tightly to her or acting overly sentimental about her leaving would "spoil her." I'm not sure that "spoil" was the best translation, but essentially it meant that they were worried she'd be too dependent if they clung to her so they want to push their baby bird out of the nest and force her to fly.
After this discussion, I told her that a Western parent would not hesitate to cry and profess his love for his child with such a separation at hand (at least if that parent was comfortable expressing emotions). In fact, unless the relationship between the child and parent was bad, there would certainly be some heartfelt feelings passed between them at the prospect of a long separation. She said that this explained why her host family during her brief homestay in the United States was so appalled that she didn't feel it was necessary to call her parents when she arrived in the U.S. They knew they'd want their child to call upon arrival in a foreign country.
When I asked her if she had done anything else in preparation, she looked thoughtful for a moment and then her eyes grew wide and she blurted out, "I got a boyfriend!" Since she has not had a boyfriend since I started teaching her and she is leaving for the U.S. tomorrow, this was truly surprising. I asked her how this came about and she said that he was someone she had a part-time job with for several months (which she quit about a month ago) and he called her last week and asked her on a date. During the course of the date, he asked her to be his girlfriend and she said "yes." When asked about how she felt about this young man, she said that she was decidedly so-so about him and that she wanted two boyfriends, one in the U.S. and one in Japan though she wouldn't tell either about the other.
Since I felt it was very odd indeed to get a boyfriend she had little passion for when she was leaving and who she had every intention of two-timing, I queried further and she said that she accepted her former coworker because he was gentle and treated her as having the same status as him. She told me she hated men who treated women as lower than themselves in status. Also, when he asked her, she "could think of no reason to refuse." She also mentioned that she would find his sympathetic ear via e-mail useful while she was lonely in the U.S. because she didn't want to tell her family her true feelings. At this point, I felt it wise to make sure that she knew that any boyfriend she may have in the U.S. will not enter into a relationship so passively with her and that she needs to be cautious.
This is one of those occasions when I have to really suppress the inclination to be ethnocentric. While I think it'd be wrong to conclude that my student was typical, I don't think it'd be incorrect to say that she's not entirely atypical either. It'd also be easy to conclude that she's "using" her Japanese boyfriend, but I don't think it's quite like that. I think it's more like the kind of boyfriend-girlfriend relationship that you sometimes see among kids who are in elementary or junior high school where they say they have a bond, but don't really feel it deeply or act on it in the ways adults do. That is, it's actually just a friendship with the potential for a bond to develop rather than what we'd call a romantic bond.
I've had students stop taking lessons before after very long associations with them and they always say they'll write or e-mail. In fact, most of them ask if they can e-mail me then they never do. This particular student has asked for my e-mail and Skype information and I wonder if she'll stay in touch or vanish like the others. I hope she stays in touch and that I can see her again after her two semesters in the U.S. are over. I'd love to see how she turns out after a year back home.