The Importance and Uniqueness of Identity-based ModulesSep 26, 2022
Picture this. I'm 20, in my third year at university and I am getting ready to move to Japan for a year to study in Tokyo. This was not my first time living in Japan, so Japanese culture was not completely foreign to me. I had time to get used to the Japanese communication style based on indirectness and politeness, and I had learned how to find my way through the city's subway system, although, to this day, I still get lost inside some of the trickier stations. I could even taste the deliciousness of Japanese food just thinking about my move.
To say that I was excited was an understatement, but there was something I could not shake off that sat in the back of my mind. A year before my second move to Japan, I came out as gay to my friends first and then to my family. Coming out propelled a journey of self-discovery where I felt more and more comfortable with who I am at university, in public and with strangers. The confidence and joy I was experiencing being myself and experiencing love were things I did not want to let go of, but in my head I was thinking, what about Japan? Will I be able to be myself there too?
As people from minorities know very well, not all people and not all spaces are as welcoming as we would hope for them to be. I come from Italy, a rather conservative country, where sexual and gender minorities are not fully accepted everywhere. I was starting to worry whether Japan would be the same.
The reality was that I knew very little about what it means to be an LGBTQ+ expat in Japan, and even less about the Japanese LGBTQ+ culture. I had never heard a Japanese LGBTQ+ person talk about their experience living in Japan, nor did I know of other LGBTQ+ expats who could share any insight and tips.
Concerns from Under-represented Groups
These were some of the questions sitting at the back of my mind before leaving for Japan, and they never left until I started exploring and experiencing Japanese culture by myself. But these questions are not unique to people from the LGBTQ+ community. All under-represented groups, be it because of gender identity, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, share these concerns when it comes to living abroad - even more so when your identity embraces multiple under-represented groups at once.
My experience was positive in different ways. Japan is a relatively accepting country when it comes to sexual and gender minorities. Its nightlife scene, especially in urban areas, offers endless options to meet new people, date and find people you identify with. I would get the odd surprised look when I came out to new acquaintances, but locals, on average, reacted positively. That said, there was no way for me to know beforehand. In a way, it was a gamble.
I am also lucky enough to be White and from a high-income country. That gave me considerable privilege in Japan, even as an LGBTQ+ person. Compared to the Black, Brown and other Asian people around me, and compared to people from lower-income countries, I did not have to deal with racism, colorism, and only to a minimal degree did I have to deal with prejudices about my culture of provenience.
Be Equipped to be Who You Are
Going through a life-changing experience away from home is already stressful. We all harbor uncertainties about embracing different cultures, new customs, and new environments. In addition to this, imagine having uncertainties about something you have no control over, like who you are. That makes for a lot of potential anxiety that could not only affect your performance at school or at work, but also every interaction you have with someone new.
Having access to resources that are not only country-specific but also tailored to my unique experience as a member of an under-represented group would have made a world of difference to my younger self. Learning from the experience of people who share my identity would have relieved me from the many concerns and the anxiety I felt around jumpstarting social life in Japan.
This is the thought and the lived experiences behind CulturaGo's Identities, Diversity and Inclusion modules. We take a rounded approach to what it means to be part of an under-represented group abroad. We make sure we give a voice to both the local communities and expats who have lived in the country while also providing practical advice and reliable information from our specialist authors. This way, newcomers can position themselves and find reassurance in the ever-growing content of our Identity-based modules. If you feel seen and can see yourself in other peoples' experiences, you will not be alone in your own.
Knowing the general attitude of the culture you will immerse yourself in, with regards to your identity, allows you to prepare in advance so that you can adjust and adapt to your new environment quicker. At the end of the day, all we want is to be able to give our best, make the most of our experience abroad and turn our journey into a stepping stone for our future.
Be ready, be you.