Potluck of Cultures

Mariko

This is Mariko. She is from Japan. “The most difficult thing about moving to the United States was saying goodbye to my lifestyle in Tokyo and starting everything from the beginning in a new place.”

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When Mariko and her husband Mattia first met, he had recently bid adieu to his home in Italy and was enrolled in a temporary internship exchange program in her home country Japan. They caught each other’s eye during a zen meditation class and were inseparable for the remainder of his stay. Eventually though, Mattia’s internship came to  an end; and after one year in Japan, he went back home to Italy, while Mariko stayed in Tokyo. Determined to make the best of their situation, however, the couple braved the distance between them and started a long distance relationship. When the couple prepared to tie the knot a few years later, they both knew that they had had enough of living on opposite ends of the globe. So, in 2014 Mariko left Japan to join Mattia in Atlanta, where he had already started his PhD in Computer Science a few months earlier. She tells us that living with someone from another culture has proven to be surprisingly easy. “In Japan we say: you have to sense what other people want or think… and somehow Mattia knows how to do that! (laughs)”

16819276_735015096646953_5106776521814739675_oAs it turns out, Mariko loves living abroad. Ever since she was a young child, she has always been curious about the myriad cultures and countries of the world and interested in learning about their various perspectives and worldviews. Even Mariko’s studies at college, which focused on intercultural communication, and her former job organizing homestays in Japan for foreign visitors have all been inspired by her passion for international relations. Now, she enjoys experiencing the different types of societies, cultures and lifestyles she encounters in her new home. In Atlanta, joining the Georgia Tech International Spouse Group has also played an important role in that experience, as it provides a place to meet and connect with people from all over the world. “Being part of this group, you don’t feel like you’re totally alone in this world when you are new. Also, being friends with different people from different countries always allows you to learn something new and we can do a lot of things together too!”

16804245_735015093313620_9221510469928967001_oEven though, initially, Mariko was scared of leaving everything in Japan behind, she admits that it didn’t take much time for her to start feeling at home in Atlanta. “When I am back home in Japan, in the country itself, I still feel like I am home. It was interesting though: last summer was the first time that I felt that the life in Atlanta is my life now. I don’t know why, but when I came back to Atlanta after our vacation and I saw the skyscrapers and buildings from the car, I thought ‘Oh my gosh, this is my life’! (laughs)” For Mariko, the fact that she so easily adjusted to her new environment rests as much on her own flexible nature as it does on the cordiality and relaxed and free spirit of the American people. “People are friendly here, even if you don’t know them, sometimes they will say hi or ask how you are doing and make small talk. People in Japan are friendly, but in a different way. We need time to get to know people. Here, even if you don’t know people, you can start talking about something!” Unlike Japan, where you always have to be mindful of those around you and, more importantly, of how they regard you, Mariko loves the casualness of life in the United States and of its people; free to dress, think and behave as they see fit, without having to worry too much about what other people might think. Above all, she admires the candor of the American people. “In Japan, people won’t say what they think in public often, but here, people can say what they think and others can accept what has been said, even if they don’t agree.”

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Of course, there are also certain things from her home country Mariko misses, most importantly her family and friends. While Mariko tells us that she is not usually the type of person to get homesick easily, living so far away from them for such a long time has made her realize the importance of family, especially in times of happiness or sorrow. Now, she skypes with them every week. She also tries to include both elements of Japanese and Italian culture into their home in Atlanta. Even though she jokes that, while she loves to eat, she does not really like cooking all that much, Mariko still brings the flavors of their home countries to life by preparing traditional Italian and Japanese dishes every day. “When I came here, I remember that my husband only had salt, pepper and ketchup in the pantry (laughs), so I had no idea what to cook. Now, I have all the Japanese ingredients and I have learned to cook homemade pasta, pizza, Italian desserts, etc. Even though I still don’t like cooking, my skill is improving!”

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Interview and writing by Tineke Van Varenberg

Make up by Denise Batista

Interview and Photography by Sonal Sukheeja

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