Intercultural Communication & Skills

Why International Research?
What Is Culture?
Communication and Culture
Culture Shock and Re-Entry Shock
Time Orientation and Culture
U.S. vs. Japanese Culture

Why International Research?

Scientific exchange has long been part of U.S. and Japanese relations, and it is an appropriate place to encourage cross-cultural exchange. As reported in the National Science Board’s 2016 Science and Engineering Indicators, currently the top three R&D-performing countries are the United States, China, and Japan and account for 57% of all global investments [1]. Together, the United States, the EU, and Japan account for 51% of the world’s S&E publications in 2013. Collaboration on S&E research publications can be an indicator of interconnections among researchers in different institutional settings and of the growing capacity of researchers to address complex problems by drawing on diverse skills and perspectives. Collaborative S&E research facilitates knowledge transfer and sharing among individuals, institutions, and nations. Between 2000 and 2013, collaboration has been increasing, with higher shares of scientific publications with institutional and international coauthorships [2].

Given that the global scientific collaborations are becoming the norm rather than the exception, students in S&E fields should have opportunities to participate in experiences that build the skills sets necessary to successfully collaborate and communicate with researchers from different cultural backgrounds, and international STEM programs may be one effective approach. International research experiences provide an opportunity for students to learn new technical skills while participating in cross-cultural scientific teams. For this reason, they may help students become ‘globally competent’, empower students to make informed career choices, and acquire global or transcultural experience.

By preparing S&E undergraduates in the U.S. and Japan with research, technical, and inter-cultural skills the Nakatani RIES Fellowship will ensure that participants have a solid foundation in the skill sets necessary to pursue international research collaborations throughout their academic and professional careers.  For more on the impact of the Nakatani RIES Fellowship see our Alumni Updates page.

Impact of Study Abroad for Japanese & U.S. Students

Overall Trends

Impact of and Challenges To Studying Abroad For Japanese Students 

Impact of and Challenges to Studying Abroad for U.S. Students 

Prior Research on Impact of International Research Experiences For Students

The Nakatani RIES: Research & International Experiences for Student Fellowship was modeled off of the 2006 – 2015 NanoJapan: IREU program. The NanoJapan program model was shown to be highly effective and was nationally recognized in a National Academy of Engineering report as a best practice in Global Programs for “infusing real world engineering education”into the S&E curriculum. NanoJapan also received the 2008 IIE Heiskell Award as a ‘Best Practice’ in education abroad for the expansion of opportunities for S&E students. 

In an assessment of program outcomes, students identified three major impacts of the international research experience:

  • Enhanced confidence: Students report the experience conducting scientific research and living independently in Japan simply made them more confident in general. One student shared, “[R]elocating to a different lab in the U.S. will always pale in comparison to relocating to a lab on the other side of the world.”
  • Training for graduate school: Many students report that the international research experience provided a first exposure to the realities of graduate school. One shared, “. . . my NanoJapan lab gave me a realistic taste of graduate school life (the good AND the bad) that many students lack when they apply for graduate school. I know more than a few people that have left their graduate programs because research was not what they expected.”
  • Professional network: Many alumni report remaining in contact with their Japanese research hosts. They also say that the program provided them with a network of motivated peers in their field to discuss graduate school and career options.

See the NanoJapan Archived website for more articles relating to the education program model and assessment of program impact.  

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What Is Culture?

 

Culture is a complex set of shared values, beliefs, and behaviors that are taught and learned, often unconsciously , and passed from generation to generation.  While mainly out of our awareness, culture influences how we make decisions, who and what we listen to and believe, and how we behave. Culture is not just what we can see/hear/feel/taste.  A lot of culture is unseen, ‘under the iceberg’, and reflects cultural/societal values, norms, or ideals.

For more on culture, click on the topics below.

 

Cultural Iceberg

In 1976, Edward T. Hall developed the iceberg analogy of culture in his book Beyond Culture.  If the culture of a society was the iceberg, Hall reasoned, than there are some aspects visible, above the water, but there is a larger portion hidden beneath the surface. What does that mean? The external, or conscious, part of culture is what we can see and is the tip of the iceberg and includes behaviors and some beliefs. The internal, or subconscious, part of culture is below the surface of a society and includes some beliefs and the values and thought patterns that underlie behavior.

What does this mean for U.S. and Japanese students? First, it is important to remember that things will be different.  After all, that is one of the reasons that you applied to do research abroad isn't it?  Wanting to know what it was like to do research/science and live in a different country? You may expect the food to be different but did you know that expectations of friendship may be different too?  Have you considered how our different educational system may influence what is expected of an 'ideal' or 'good' student in each country?  These all relate to things that may be cultural values or societal norms that we can't see/feel/hear or touch – they are under the iceberg.  

When abroad, there may be times you frustrated/confused/unsure/or just feel like you don't quite 'get it' or understand what is going on.  These are the moments when it is important to step back and ask yourself, "Hmm, maybe there is something going on here under the tip of the iceberg?".  It is also important to understand your own cultural iceberg as well as the culture of your host country.  Students who have multiple cultural backgrounds (multi-racial/multi-cultural/hafu) may also find they have more than one cultural iceberg. While abroad, you will likely learn a lot about yourself and what it means to you to be an 'American' or 'Japanese' student through your day-to-day encounters with cultural differences.  These are some of the things you may want to write about in your weekly reports.  

Experiencing difference is part of the reason you signed up to go abroad, but that doesn't always make it exciting or easy.  You will have many different reactions to some of the differences, and similarities, between U.S. and Japanese culture that you experience while abroad.  A key thing to remember is that just because something is different doesn't mean it is wrong.  Different cultures, societies, and people have different ways of approaching the same topic/issues/problem. 

This is particularly true since research groups, in the U.S. and Japan, are increasingly made up of students and professors from many different countries.   Therefore, even if you are a Japanese student working in a Japanese lab you may need to take some time to understand a bit about Indian culture and what is 'under their cultural iceberg' as there may be a number of Indian students working in your lab.  In the U.S., labs typically have more international students than American students, so there could be a very diverse range of cultures/backgrounds represented in your group.  Understanding and appreciating that a different approach is, well, just different, not wrong is an important first step to building bridges between and within the diverse research teams most scientists and engineers will find themselves working in.

It is also important to remember that there can be group/lab/organizational cultures as well. These are usually in alignment with the overall cultural values, but there can be some differences.  So, be sure you take the time to find out what your individual research lab group is like as not all Japanese research labs are the same and in the U.S. the only thing lab groups have in common may be that they are all different. 

Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions

Gerard Hendrik (GeertHofstede (born 2 October 1928) is a Dutch social psychologist, former IBM employee, and Professor Emeritus of Organizational Anthropology and International Management at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, well known for his pioneering research on cross-cultural groups and organizations. His most notable work has been in developing cultural dimensions theory. Here he describes national cultures along six dimensions: Power Distance, Individualism, Uncertainty avoidance, Masculinity, Long Term Orientation, and Indulgence vs. restraint. 

The Hofstede Insights website offers tools, consulting and training services based on Hofstede’s work in the field of business strategy, culture and change. Key among these are the Country Dimensions which enable students to learn about and compare/contrast countries using the 6-D model of national culture. 

  • Power Distance Index (PDI): This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of Power Distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. In societies with low Power Distance, people strive to equalise the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.

  • Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV): The high side of this dimension, called Individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families. Its opposite, Collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular ingroup to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society’s position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we.”

  • Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS): The Masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, Femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented. In the business context Masculinity versus Femininity is sometimes also related to as “tough versus tender” cultures.

  • Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI): The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? Countries exhibiting strong UAI maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior, and are intolerant of unorthodox behavior and ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles.

  • Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Normative Orientation (LTO): Every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and the future. Societies prioritize these two existential goals differently. Societies who score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future. In the business context, this dimension is referred to as “(short-term) normative versus (long-term) pragmatic” (PRA). In the academic environment, the terminology Monumentalism versus Flexhumility is sometimes also used.

  • Indulgence versus Restraint (IND): Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun. Restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.

Based on what you know, where do you think the U.S. would fall in comparison with Japan on the 6-D model?  Check out the links below to find out more. 

High-Context Culture: Japan

High-context culture and low-context culture are terms used to describe cultures based on how explicit the messages exchanged are and how much the context means in certain situations. These concepts were first introduced by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his 1976 book Beyond Culture. According to Hall, messages exchanged in a high-context culture carry implicit meanings with more information than the actually spoken parts, while in low-context cultures, the messages have a clear meaning, with nothing implied beyond the words used.

In a higher-context culture, the way words are said is more important than the words themselves, so many things are left unsaid, relying on the context of the moment and the culture as a whole to impart meaning. In a lower-context culture, it is very important for the communicator to be explicit in order to be fully understood.

Higher-context cultures tend to be more common in the Asian cultures than in European, and in countries with low racial diversity. Cultures where the group/community is valued over the individual promote the in-groups and group reliance/support that favor higher-context cultures. Coexisting subcultures are also conducive to higher context situations, where the small group relies on their common background to explain the situation, rather than words.

A lower-context culture tends to explain things in more detail, and it is thought that this may be related to the need to accommodate individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds. A lower-context culture tends to explain things in more detail, and it is thought that this may be related to the need to accommodate individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds. Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for some specific reason. In these societies, cultural behavior and beliefs may need to be spelled out explicitly so that those coming into the cultural environment know how to behave.

Japan is a high-context culture. To gain more insight on what this means for foreigners in Japan, read through some of the below articles.  You may also want to talk about some of your experiences with high-context vs. your more American low-context expectations in your weekly reports. 

See also the topic on Indirect/Nonverbal vs. Direct/Verbal Communication on this page. 

Low-Context Culture: U.S.

High-context culture and low-context culture are terms used to describe cultures based on how explicit the messages exchanged are and how much the context means in certain situations. These concepts were first introduced by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his 1976 book Beyond Culture. According to Hall, messages exchanged in a high-context culture carry implicit meanings with more information than the actually spoken parts, while in low-context cultures, the messages have a clear meaning, with nothing implied beyond the words used.

In a higher-context culture, the way words are said is more important than the words themselves, so many things are left unsaid, relying on the context of the moment and the culture as a whole to impart meaning. In a lower-context culture, it is very important for the communicator to be explicit in order to be fully understood.

Higher-context cultures tend to be more common in the Asian cultures than in European, and in countries with low racial diversity. Cultures where the group/community is valued over the individual promote the in-groups and group reliance/support that favor higher-context cultures. Coexisting subcultures are also conducive to higher context situations, where the small group relies on their common background to explain the situation, rather than words.

A lower-context culture tends to explain things in more detail, and it is thought that this may be related to the need to accommodate individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds. Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for some specific reason. In these societies, cultural behavior and beliefs may need to be spelled out explicitly so that those coming into the cultural environment know how to behave.

The U.S. is a low-context culture. To gain more insight on what this means for foreigners in Japan, read through some of the below articles.  You may also want to talk about some of your experiences with high-context vs. your more American low-context expectations in your weekly reports. 

See also the topic on Indirect/Nonverbal vs. Direct/Verbal Communication on this page. 

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Communication and Culture

Communication is a key aspect of culture that we often don’t think much about in our day-to-day lives.  But, when we go overseas, we may be faced with a culture or society that communicates in vastly different ways.  In some cases, the actual words you speak  may be different depending on who you are talking to and when.  Take a few moments to look through the topics below to learn more about communication and culture.

Japan: Indirect/Non-verbal Communication

Japan: Nonverbal & Indirect Communication

Japan: Keigo and Politeness in Japanese Culture

Politeness isn't just a social norm in Japan, it is a structural part of the Japanese language.  As a beginning Japanese language learner, you will not be expected to know much keigo (polite speech) beyond the basic honorifics.  However, you may notice that people in Japan sometimes speak in different ways to different levels/types of people.  Their words they use, tone of voice, and body language may all be different.  This is an indication that someone has switched to using keigo, or polite forms, of speech.  The more advanced you become as a Japanese language learner the more keigo you will learn and use. 

Due to the formalities of the different language structures in Japan, most Japanese language teachers will a expect you to speak in a polite/formal manner with them in the classroom.  Beginning students aren't really taught keigo yet, but they are taught the proper/polite forms of everyday/normal speech.  This is because, generally, Americans and non-native Japanese speakers have a natural tendency to be too informal. Therefore, by teaching you the more polite manner of everyday speech from the start there is less of a chance for you to 'mess up' and be impolite or too informal when speaking in Japanese.  Once you get to your research lab, your labmates will likely teach you some of the more colloquial/informal ways of speaking in Japanese with your peers and, if you are in the Osaka or Kyoto, you may even learn some Kansai-ben

Honorifics – The #1 Thing Beginning Students Need to Know

Keigo – What It Is and When You Use it in Japanese 

Politeness in Japan

U.S.: Direct/Verbal Communication

U.S.: Direct/Verbal Communication 

Knowing how to communicate in the U.S. is more than just learning English. It is also important to consider how people in the U.S., typically, communicate.  This includes verbal and non-verbal communication.  One of the biggest differences is that the U.S. values direct communication and values people who “Tell it like it is.”  We’ll talk more about this during a seminar on intercultural communication when students first arrive in the U.S. but here are some resources that may be helpful to review.

East Meets West: Size of an Individuals Ego
East Meets West: Problem Solving Approach
American Style Negotiation

 

U.S.: Greetings

One of the most common ways to greet someone in the U.S. is to say "Hi/Hello, how are you?"  However, this question can often be confusing for foreigners because if you try to respond by actually telling someone how you are feeling the American may look at you oddly or you may realize they have kept on walking because they weren't really expecting an answer. Why does this happen?  It's because "How are you?", when used as a general greeting, isn't really a question. It is just a social nicety and way of saying hello and often used when meeting someone you know in passing (for example when passing by someone in a building hallway).

The most common exchange when greeting an acquaintance or passing someone in the hall is:

"Hi, how are you doing today? (When used as a greeting)

  • I'm fine, thank you.
  • I'm good. You?
    • Yep, doing great.
  • Doing great! And how are you?
    • Good/Great! 
  • Good. Doing okay?
    • Yes, I'm good. A little tired today though.  

However, if you are having a conversation with a close friend or mentor and they ask you "How are you?" or "How are you really doing?" (usually in a private setting) then this is a true question and you can safely respond with a full/complete/honest answer.

Handshakes in the U.S. 

When two strangers first meet, particularly in a business/professional setting, they will typically shake hands.  Americans expect you to have a firm, but not too strong, handshake.   

Hugging in the U.S. 

It is also important to know that in the U.S., it is not uncommon for friends to hug when greeting or saying good-bye. This type of close personal contact is usually meant as a way of showing care/affection among platonic friends and the hugs are typically shorter and not as long/strong as if you were hugging your children or a loved one/family member.  This can be very surprising for Japanese students who are not accustomed to any form of close physical contact.  Not all Americans are comfortable with hugging though and you can usually tell by someone's body language.  If you do not want to be hugged, simply put your hand out as a gesture to shake hands when you see someone 'coming in' close and you think they may be getting ready to hug you.  

U.S.: Small-Talk, Friendliness, and Optimism

Small Talk, Friendliness and Optimism in the U.S.

There’s nothing small about the role that small talk plays in American culture. People from other countries are often surprised at how important small talk is in the U.S. and how naturally and comfortably people seem to do it — with peers, subordinates, men, women, strangers you have just met and even with superiors.

Americans overall are uncomfortable with silence and small talk can be a way to ‘break the ice’ and make conversation with those around you to ‘pass the time’. For example, people traveling together in the hotel shuttle van each day may have casual conversation about their day or what they plan to do, even though they have never met each other before and may never see each other again.  This is quite different from Japan where speaking with someone you do not know in a shuttle van, elevator or public space would be very uncommon and would likely make someone feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

In general, if someone you do not know starts speaking with you in a public space you can likely assume this is small talk and they are just being nice by talking casually with you. Overall, Americans are very friendly and like getting to know new people, especially those they believe may be tourists or visitors and it is likely you will be asked where you are from and why you are in Houston or the U.S. from time to time.

It’s also important to realize that how and when small talk is used varies by region in the U.S. too.  In large cities such as New York City, small talk is much less common than in the Southern or Midwestern parts of the U.S. And, someone’s individual comfort level with small talk can vary too. If you are uncomfortable with small talk or do not want to have a conversation with the person who is speaking to you it is okay to just give a very short or one-word answer and then turn away or begin to look at your phone.  Just as in Japan, looking at something on your phone is often a cue that someone does not want to talk or be disturbed. If you are wearing headphones and appear to be listening to music it is also less likely that someone will try to strike up a conversation with you.

For more on this topic see:

Question of the Week: What About Friendship in Japan?  Are there things that American Students find confusing? 

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Culture Shock and Re-Entry

You may have heard that many students who study abroad go through an initial period of transition, also known as culture shock.  But did you know you can have re-entry or reverse culture shock when you return home?  Learn more about some of the cultural transitions you may experience by clicking on the topics below.

 

Initial Culture Shock
The Study Abroad Waves – Or Roller Coaster. It's real and almost all students will go through these stages at some point while abroad or upon returning home.

Studying, living, and conducting research abroad is inherently stressful. Every day you are faced with speaking in a foreign language, dealing with different social and cultural expectations, navigating the newness of everyday tasks (e.g. where do I buy groceries, navigating public transportation, where can I get a haircut?, etc.). At the same time you are also conducting research in a new lab group where you may be working on a topic you have little prior familiarity with and often must try to make progress on your project in a very limited time-period.  Just one of these things is hard, all taken together can some days feel a bit overwhelming.

There are also some key and very normal emotional stages of studying abroad and these can sometimes feel a bit like being on a roller coaster.  There are also common stages of cultural adjustment that can be quite challenging to navigate at times. The Nakatani RIES program structure and mentorship model is designed to help students navigate these challenges and the inevitable ups and downs you will face while abroad.  Students are encouraged to turn to Nakatani RIES Program faculty and staff, both in the U.S. and  Japan, at any time throughout the summer for assistance.  Students will also be able to seek support from their host professor and mentor and assigned U.S. co-advisor; particularly with struggles related to research.  We also hope that the Nakatani RIES students network will also be somewhere you can turn as your fellow participants will best understand your day-to-day challenges and be able to offer suggestions and advice on how they dealt with difficult situations.

Some of the common feelings our students express include:

Japanese Fellows 

  • Preparing to Go: Excitement! I can’t believe that in one month I’m going to be in the U.S.. I’m feeling stressed too. I have to finish finals/exams, pack, and spend time with my friends and family because I won’t see them all summer. How am I going to get this all done?
  • Leaving Home: Wow, saying good-bye was harder than I thought. Did I pack everything? Did I forget anything?  What if I didn’t bring the right clothes, or gifts for my lab.  What will the food be like?  I’m really going to miss my own bed and my family/friends and pets. Am I really doing this?  Am I ready to spend a summer abroad? 
  • Arriving: Excitement!!!! Oh MY GOSH! I cannot believe I am actually here!  Did this really happen? I want to see, do, and eat everything. All the fellow students on the program are so cool.  They are already my best friends and I’m so excited to spend my summer with them.  I can't believe I'm really in the U.S.!!!!!!! 
  • First Week: Did I mention I’m in Houston?  Every day is a new adventure and everything is so cool!  I don’t want to sleep because there is too much to see and do. Jet lag is really rough. I’ve been waking up at 4 AM and by afternoon I’m so tired and it’s really hard to stay awake all day.  My brain hurts from thinking/speaking in English all day. I'm tired but I don't really need to sleep… I've got too much to see/do/explore!  
  • Second Week: Time to work! This is my first 'full' week in the research lab.   But I do miss home a bit. It’s hard to talk to family/friends due to the time difference and I'm starting to miss Japanese food – a lot. I've never had to cook on my own before…  I'm spending a lot of time with my roommate and the other Japanese Fellows but I'd like to meet and hang out with American students more.  Maybe I need to contact the U.S. Fellows at Rice University or ask the undergraduate/graduate students in my lab if they want to have lunch with me or go to dinner somewhere together?  I'd really like to try (XX) kind of food, maybe one of them will have a good suggestion of where to go? 
  • Third Week: I've got this…. I think??? Things are starting to come together.  I feel more comfortable speaking and thinking in English and have finally started to understand and get to do some 'hands-on' work with my research project.  It's hard to believe how quickly time is flying by though.  I need to start making a list of all the things I want to do as I only have two weeks left at Rice University and in Houston! Uh oh, that also means I need to start working on my research poster…. Yikes! I'm nervous about that, will my project really be done in time?  
  • Week Four and Five: I am so very, very busy.  I'm working in the lab almost all day and sometimes at night too to finish up my project. I had some research setbacks and those were really frustrating because I wanted everything to go according to plan. But I know that research setbacks are normal and have been able to work through them with my host professor/graduate mentor and by talking with Prof. Kono.  I've started to work on the layout of  my poster and the practice/coaching seminar was really helpful. But did I do enough?  Did I get good results? Is my professor happy with the research I did? What will the final poster session be like?  I haven't done one of those before and I'm really nervous about presenting in English.  Oh, I've got to go shopping and buy gifts too. But where do you buy omiyage in Houston??? Is it really already time to say goodbye to my lab and Rice University?   I thought five weeks was a long time but I feel like I just arrived yesterday… 
  • Week 6: Leaving Home, Again: The final research poster session was so much fun!  I can't believe how many people came and it was so much fun to talk about my research project. I'm finally done! The final week on the East Coast was a lot of fun and I learned a lot through our university and site visits.  I do miss Rice University and my friends/labmates though. I can't believe how close I've gotten to some of my labmates and fellow participants in such a short time.  I can’t believe it’s time to go back to home already and this time next week I’ll be back in the Japan? That’s crazy! It seems like I just arrived in Houston yesterday.  I wish I could stay longer.  I’m really going to miss my lab/friends/Rice University/Houston. But I'm really, really looking forward to eating Japanese food again!!!! 
  • Arriving Abroad, Again: Hm, coming back to the Japan is – odd.  Everything is so crowded, there are so many advertisements/lights everywhere, and everyone says sugoi when I talk about my time in the U.S. It makes me feel a bit odd. I'm really happy to be home though.  Everyone is so polite, everything is on time, and the food is good. I had to start classes right away so haven't had much time to process/think about everything but the Kobe Meeting and Final Presentation was really helpful.  It was nice to see all the other Japanese Fellows again but now the program really feels over.  Everyday in the U.S. was something new – now what?   

U.S. Fellows

  • Preparing to Go: Excitement! I can’t believe that in one month I’m going to be in Japan!But oh my gosh, I’m feeling stressed too. I have to finish finals/exams, pack, and spend time with my friends and family because I won’t see them all summer. How am I going to get this all done?
  • Leaving Home: Wow, saying good-bye was harder than I thought. Did I pack everything? Did I forget anything?  What if I didn’t bring the right clothes, or gifts for my lab.  What will the food be like?  I’m really going to miss my own bed and my family/friends and pets. Am I really doing this?  Am I ready to spend a summer abroad? 
  • Arriving: Excitement!!!! Oh MY GOSH! I cannot believe I am actually here!  Did this really happen? I want to see, do, and eat everything. All the fellow students on the program are so cool.  They are already my best friends and I’m so excited to spend my summer with them.  I can't believe I'm really in Tokyo!!!!!! 
  • First Week: Did I mention I’m in Tokyo?  Every day is a new adventure and everything is so cool!  I don’t want to sleep because there is too much to see and do. But man, jet lag is really rough. I’ve been waking up at 4 AM and by afternoon I’m so tired and it’s really hard to stay awake all day.  My brain hurts from thinking/speaking in Japanese all day. I'm tired but I don't really need to sleep… I've got too much to see/do/explore!  
  • Second and Third Week: I’m starting to feel pretty tired and maybe am getting a little sick? Uh oh, I don't want to be sick on my first day at my research lab. I guess I should probably stay in tonight and sleep/rest.   I can’t believe I’ll be there so soon! Time has gone by too fast.  But I do miss home a bit. It’s hard to talk to family/friends due to the time difference and I miss my college cafeteria and/or kitchen sometimes.  It’s a bit hard to constantly figure out what to eat (especially because a group of 12 people can never make up their minds). Maybe I just need to go out on my own and explore a bit more? I love my fellow participants but, sometimes, I get a little tired of the group and want to explore Tokyo on my own too… 
  • Week Four – Arriving at My Research Lab/Relapse: Excitement! I can’t believe I’m in (Host City Name)! And I’m going to get to start to do research – finally! It was great to meet my lab and I want to work hard and get good results to show by the Mid-Program Meeting.  But right now I’m waiting on training or they want me to read more papers. It’s kinda frustrating because I just want to do research but I haven’t quite started yet and I have such a limited amount of time.  Also, I’d just figured out where everything was in Tokyo and now I’ve got to find the laundromat, grocery store, and learn a new subway route in a new area.  It’s a little overwhelming… can I really do this on my own? I’m really missing home and my friends/family now since I’m on my own and not with the other Nakatani students too.  Maybe I should plan a weekend trip to meet up with (X) in (city name)?  That might help…
  • Week Five and Beyond – Settled In:  I’ve got this.  I’m feeling good about my day to day routine and have a better sense of what I should be doing on my research project.  It’s not all going smoothly but that’s okay, I know that’s normal, but I’m a bit nervous about whether I’ll get results and I have to give an introduction to my topic a the Mid-Program Meeting.  I’ve made friends in my lab/host city and have found my favorite restaurant/bakery/shop and am really enjoying exploring my host city. I’ve even done a weekend trip or two on my own to meet up with friends or explore Japan.  Overall, I’m feeling pretty good.
  • Week 12 – Leaving Home, Again: Wow, is the research internship really almost done?  I can’t believe it’s time to go back to home already and this time next week I’ll be back in the U.S.? That’s crazy! It seems like I just arrived in Japan yesterday.  Man, I’m stressed though. I’ve got so much to do in just a week or two. I’ve got to hurry up and finish my project because my poster is due and I also want to do (X, Y, and Z) before I leave Japan.  There isn’t enough time!!! I wish I could stay longer.  I’m really gonna miss my lab/friends/host city.
  • Week 13: Arriving, Again: Hm, coming back to the U.S. is – odd.  Everything is so big, the American flight crew on the plane back was so loud (and a little rude) and I’m really going to miss the subway and trains in Japan. I could so easily go anywhere I wanted but now (without a car) I’m a bit stuck.  The Re-Entry was good and I’m proud of the poster I presented but it feels really weird to now be back in my room at home with nothing urgent/pressing to do and no where new/neat to explore. Everyday was something new in Japan – now what?
Resiliency and Well-Being Abroad

You know that studying or doing research abroad is a roller coaster with many ups and downs. However, at times you may still find yourself struggling while abroad.  It is not uncommon for students who go abroad to have certain issues re-present or come up for the first time.  Being away from your day-to-day life while abroad often allows us more time and space to think and reflect on things we may not have had the time, or desire, to want to deal with before.  This can be good, but sometimes it can be difficult to process everything all by ourselves.  In these moments it can be very helpful to turn someone who can offer unbiased support about where you are today and help you identify ways to move towards where you would like to be in the future. 

The Nakatani RIES Fellowship encourages students to seek out the support they may need to ensure their well-being. Program staff/faculty are always avaialable via phone, email, Skype, or LINE to talk with you about any questions or difficulties you may be having. Also, if you have a concern about another student's well-being please let us know.  Feeling a bit homesick or 'blue' for a short period of time is normal when abroad but it doesn't get better or you get 'stuck' at the bottom of the roller coaster for too long let us know so we can help.  We will be here to help and support you in any way we can as the #1 concern of our program is for our participants’ well-being before, during, and after the program has ended.

These resources may also be helpful for students who are abroad:

Resilient Travel:  This is a website that was created by the University of Michigan to support their students and graduate researchers while abroad. Resilience is the ability to adapt or rebound quickly from change, illness, stress, adversity or bad fortune. The content on resiliency and its applicability to international travel was developed by the University of Michigan Psychological Clinic staff. The concern to develop psychological resilience in students going on overseas experiences came from many years of clinical work. We are aware of the profound impact that unforeseen challenges can have on students’ lives both in the field and when they return to university life. We offer these tools and insights to assist in that transition including modules on:

 
Resiliency: Homesickness While Abroad

Dealing with the Blues, Homesickness, or Depression While Abroad: Remember, what goes up, must come down.  And no matter how excited you are to be abroad there will be times when you feel lonely, homesick, or overwhelmed.  A down day or two is normal, but if it lasts for a long time and you feel you are getting stuck and aren’t sure what to do call the program staff or CISI insurance and seek out a check-in with a counselor to help give you the support you need.  We all need help and support at different time and learning how to turn to and utilize your networks is a valuable skill that will pay off in the future too. The following resources may also be helpful.

 
Resiliency: Mental & Behavioral Health Abroad

While Abroad: Mental and Behavioral Health

Traveling or studying overseas is not a cure for health conditions such as depression, eating disorders, attention deficit disorder, etc. Sometimes going abroad may in fact amplify a condition.  A student may not have adequate access to their prescription medication or mental health professionals and facilities.  In addition, culture shock, language barriers, and homesickness can deepen isolation or depression.  Young adulthood may also be the most likely time for certain conditions to present (first occur) and the stress of going abroad can cause a re-occurrence of conditions you may have dealt with in the past.

Rice University Counseling Center: All participants in this program are enrolled as visiting students through the Rice University and, if needed, can call or visit the Rice University Counseling Center for assistance and support.  

  • Japanese Fellows:  If you feel the need to speak to a counselor you can visit their offices, just next to the Rice Recreation Center, and ask to make an appointment.  There are a limited number of appointments available so you may not be able to speak to someone right away. You will probably need to make an appointment and come back another day.  Though this may be hard, try to make sure you return for your scheduled appointment. Counseling services are only available in English though they may be able to connect you to Japanese speaking counselors in the Houston area if needed. 
  • US Fellows: The counseling center number will be answered 24/7 and can be used in case of an immediate need to speak with someone. From Japan, you would dial 010 1-713-348-4867. Due to legal limitations, the Rice Counseling Center cannot conduct sessions via phone or Skype but they can be a resource and connect you with other resources if needed. You can also call the CISI International Insurance Assist America Helpline using the number on  your insurance card.  This is a 24/7 hour help-line that can be used for all urgent or emergency situations.  If you are abroad and need immediate assistance, contact the Assist America phone number on your insurance card and ask if they can connect you with a counselor. CISI may be able to arrange for you to see an English-speaking counselor in Japan, or speak with an English-speaking counselor via phone or Skype.  The US Embassy in Japan maintains a listing of English-speaking Behavioral Health Care Professionals in Tokyo and other cities throughout Japan.

Workable Plan: Before traveling, create a workable plan for managing your mental health while abroad.  The availability and quality of mental health services differ widely from country to country. Mental health care coverage is included in the CISI International Health Insurance policy that all Nakatani RIES Fellows will be issued, but the availability of English-speaking mental health care counselors or professionals will vary based on your host city. Additionally, some medication that is legal and commonly prescribed in the U.S. may be unavailable to illegal to prescribe or bring into Japan.  This is why it is very important that all Nakatani RIES Fellows self-declare any possible mental health issues or concerns to the program prior to departure. This will enable program staff to work with you, our insurance company, and your health services provider to put together a workable mental health plan before you go overseas.

  • If you have a medical or psychological condition that may require treatment while you are abroad, discuss this ahead of time with your doctor.
  • A vacation or study abroad is a great opportunity to try new things but this is not the time to experiment with not taking your medicine or mixing alcohol with medicine.
  • Research the social culture of your destination to learn about how mental illnesses are viewed.  Attitudes toward mental health can greatly vary between countries.
  • If you are studying abroad through your university, talk to your university about access to mental health services on overseas programs. Your study abroad office can help you decide what program would be best for you.
  • If currently receiving mental health services – including prescription medication – find out if those services and/or medication are available at your destination.
  • Consider the support system you’ll have in place while abroad.  If possible, know ahead of time who you can consult with about your mental health.  Please notify Nakatani RIES of any mental health issues so that we can provide any necessary assistance and support to you both prior to departure and during your stay in Japan.
  • Share information on your condition with the Nakatani RIES Fellowship so that we can advise you regarding the likelihood of any necessary health care services or support in Japan and work with you, the CISI insurance company, and your health care providers to develop a workable plan for the summer.
  • Be prepared for some homesickness or ‘down’ days while you are abroad but contact the Nakatani RIES Fellowship if these last more than 5 – 7 days in a row or if the symptoms are very severe.
  • While you are abroad, if you experience any new or re-occurring symptom that may be a concern, share this information with the Nakatani RIES Fellowship as soon as possible so that we may assist you to the best of our ability. If you have a concern about a fellow participant, call the Nakatani RIES Program office.

While Abroad: Eating Disorders and Food Issues Abroad

It is very easy when you are abroad to become susceptible to eating disorders or see an exacerbation or re-occurrence of any prior existing conditions. You are in a different place and the food is different and/or you may not like it.  Maybe you are trying to save money and not eating a well-balanced and healthy diet.  Maybe you’ve never had to cook for yourself and aren’t sure what to purchase at the store to maintain a healthy diet. You may also experience depression or loneliness/homesickness manifesting itself in the form of an eating disorder or food issues. If you think you may have a problem, notify the Nakatani RIES Fellowship so that we can provide you with additional support and assistance as necessary.

Please also turn to your fellow Nakatani RIES Fellows for support and encouragement during your time in Japan as they will likely be eager to explore new restaurants and types of food with you. They will also be able to better relate to your frustrations about the types of food that don’t agree with you or that you may be having difficulty with while abroad. Remember, you don’t have to like everything you try and there may be some days when you just want your 'regular' home-cooking.   Most major cities now have a range of restaurants and food/dining options from around the world so even if it is cab/Uber ride away or more expensive than what you would normally buy, some days it may be worth it to seek out food from your home country.   

Your Alumni Mentor and research lab members will also have lots of great tips and suggestions for you on great places to eat and food to try. Don’t be shy about asking someone from your lab to go with you to the grocery store too and help you find the ingredients you need to prepare some of your favorite dishes on your own. 

For more see our pages on: 

Resiliency: Other Resources

Other Resources for Resiliency and Well-Being: Yoga, mindfulness meditation, journaling, and exercise/sleep logs are all great ways to keep track of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being while abroad. Developing a new  healthy habit, such as meditating each day, can actually be easier to do while abroad when you may have more free time and fewer day-to-day demands that if you were at home and juggling school, work, family/friends, extracurricular activities, and research all at the same time. In addition to the resources below, you can find many related apps available for download on Google Play or the Apple Store.

 
 
Re-Entry and Reverse Culture Shock

Most students who study abroad expect to experience some culture shock when they arrive in their new host country.  But did you know you will also likely experience reverse culture shock when you return home?  Also known as re-entry, this is a period of time when you will be transitioning back into your normal or daily life.  At first you will likely be very excited to be back at home.  But, over time, you may find some things to be more challenging thank you expected.  You will have had many experiences abroad that may have had an impact on your outlook, future goals, and/or understanding of yourself and what it means to be American or Japanese.  Every day was a new adventure while you were abroad but, now that you are home, how do you explain/share the true and deep impact of your international experience and integrate this into your daily life?  Re-adapting to the 'American' or 'Japanese' way of doing things may also be harder, at times, that you expected. Also, it's not just you that may have changed, your friends and family will have had experiences during your time abroad that you will not have been there to share.  They may be expecting you to be 'the same' and you may have been expecting home to be 'the same'. It is the disconnect between these expectations and reality that can be challenging during the re-entry period.  These feelings might present themselves in various ways:

  • Boredom
  • Difficulty talking about your experience
  • Homesickness for your host country
  • Critical view of your home culture
  • Challenges with relationships with friends and family
  • Feelings of alienation
  • Fear of "losing" the experience

At the end of the program, we will discuss the Re-Entry Period and Reverse Culture Shock with program participants and strategies you may find helpful throughout your re-entry process. All Nakatani Fellows are also required to do an Alumni Outreach Project in the semester/academic year following participation in the program.  This is a self-designed project that provides a natural platform for you to talk about your Nakatani RIES experience and international research experience.  Most participants find completing their Follow-on Projects to be a helpful tool in their re-entry transition as it provides an opportunity to reflect on and share the meaning of your summer experience with your peers.  For examples of past Alumni Follow-on Projects see our Alumni Updates page.  Nakatani RIES Fellows are also encouraged to remain in contact with their fellow U.S. and Japanese participants as talking with other students who are going through a similar transition can be extremely helpful during this time.  The Nakatani RIES network was there to support you during your time abroad and you shouldn't hesitate to reach out to your fellow participants, program faculty, or program staff upon your return for help, support, or just to chat about what it is like to be back home.  

Here are some additional resources you may also want to review on this topic: 

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Time Orientation and Culture

Attitudes to time may differ between different cultures in often quite significant ways. For example, being late for an appointment, or taking a long time to get down to business, is the accepted norm in most Mediterranean and Arab countries. Such habits, though, would be anathema in punctuality-conscious USA, Japan, England, Switzerland, Germany, etc. In the Japanese train system, for example, “on time” refers to expected delays of less than one minute, while in many other countries, up to fifteen minutes leeway is still considered “on-time”.  Concepts of timeliness/punctuality, working hard, long hours, and lateness can all vary based on cultural and societal context. Learn more by clicking on the topics below.

General Overview of Time in Japan & U.S.

General

Japan: 

In Japan, punctuality is a strictly observed cultural and societal value and everything runs on time.  In Japan it is very simple, there is almost never a good excuse to be late. You should always show up at least 5 – 10 minutes early to a scheduled meeting or event. Trains and subways are never late in Japan and people time their commute down to the second.  If you are late,  you must apologize sincerely, multiple times, and bow deeply to ask for forgiveness.  People in Japan, especially 'salarymen' and corporate employees, typically work very long hours and do not leave their office/lab until their more senior employees or boss has left.  

U.S.: 

In the U.S., we often assign an economic value to time.  Therefore, much of what is written about punctuality and timeliness in the U.S. is written from a business/work perspective.  You do not want to show up 'too early' in the U.S.   There is a strong cultural value for punctuality in the U.S. but not everything runs on time. There are still people in the U.S. though that are always late and this is considered a 'bad habit' that many people try to change.  Public transportation, both buses and trains/subways, are notorious for being late in t

he U.S.  Since most people commute to work via car, traffic jams may make you late to work or late for meetings/events.  In general, there tends to be a 5 – 7 minute window in the U.S. where, as long as you show up within 5 minutes or so of the start time you are not considered too late.  You should always apologize for being late and, if you will be more than 5-7 minutes late, call or text the other person and let them know or ask to reschedule. If you are arrive more than 5 minutes early to a meeting/event there may not yet be anyone else in the room and you should never arrive early to a party/event at someone's home.  Arriving to someone's home 5-10 minutes late is better than arriving early. 

Everyone leaves the office by 5 or 6. Why do people say that American's work such long hours? Americans may not stay in the office or at work as long as is typical in Japan, but they may spend a lot of time working from home in the evening or on the weekends.  In the U.S., you do not have to be 'seen' in the office to be 'working'.   Results/output and working efficiently/effectively matters more than the total hours you spend at the office/lab each day. It is said that many Americans never stop working and we also do not have any federally mandated paid parental leave or paid vacation leave. Parental and vacation leave policies, and whether this is paid or unpaid leave, vary by employer/company.  

Working Parents: It is not as common in the U.S. for their to be a stay-at-home mom; two-income/dual working parents and single-parent households are more common. Working parents tend to start their day earlier than other employees.  To enforce timeliness, some daycares or schools will charge parents by the minute if they are late to pick up their children at the end of the day.  Due to this, most working parents (both men and women) may have to leave at a very set/strictly enforced time so they can arrive on time to pick up their children. Working parents will often also work from home on their laptop in the evening or on weekends.

Being On Time/Late in Japan & the U.S.

In Japan

  • The Simple Answer: This is a very simple.  There is almost never a good excuse to be late in Japan. You should always be on time. Trains are on time. Subways are time. Buses are on time.  YOU MUST ALWAYS BE ON TIME! 
  • Being On Time: To be considered on time you must arrive to a meeting at least 5 minutes prior to the scheduled start time. 
  • Being Late: You are considered late if you arrive at 9:00 or 9:01 for a meeting that is scheduled to begin at 9:00.  Schedules in Japan are tightly adhered to and start and end times are always fixed. If you show up at 9:00 or 9:01 the meeting will have already begun. 
  • If You Are Late: If you will not be able to arrive until 9:00 or even be one minute late you must call/text the person you are meeting, apologize sincerely, and let them know you are on the way and will be there by XX.  When you arrive you must apologize again, sincerely and perhaps multiple times, and may bow deeply to show your humbleness at inconveniencing the person you are meeting by your tardiness. 
  • End Times: End times are also fixed in Japan and often the end time of the meeting/event will be announced on the schedule you receive or at the start of the meeting. If someone says dinner will end at 8:00, everyone will be leaving the restaurant by 8:00 PM.  This is because all aspects of your day in Japan are typically scheduled down to the minute and if a meeting/event runs late that may make  you late to your next commitment.  
  • Time Management & Planning:  This means that you must carefully plan out your day and ensure that you leave in plenty of time to be sure you arrive at your designation 5 minutes early.  Websites like Hyperdia.com give you precise, step-by-step timetables of subway/train schedules, platforms, and estimated walking times.  Don't go by their schedule though, you need to build in extra time as you will likely be unfamiliar with the train/subway stations or not able to easily read the street signs or know which building to go to.  Get in the habit of building in an extra 10-15 minute 'foreigner' window when scheduling how long it will take to get somewhere.  If you arrive too early, there will always be a nearby vending machine or konbini where you can get a coffee or bottle of water and wait to go to the assigned meeting place 5 minutes prior to the scheduled start time.  

In the U.S. 

  • The Complicated Answer: Time is more complex in the U.S.  A high value is placed on punctuality but when you are considered truly 'late' may vary slightly. There is also more flexibility in start and end times in the U.S. 
  • Being on Time:  For a work/school/research related meeting it is always best to arrive 5 minutes early.  Some people may not show up though until 2 – 3 minutes before or right at the scheduled time.  Meetings tend to being with some informal greetings/conversation and won't truly 'start' until about 5 minutes after but this varies by company/group culture.  The meeting organizer may often say, "Okay, time to get down to business" or something similar which is a cue that it is time to 'get to work' and begin discussion of the meeting agenda.  
  • Being A Little Late: In the U.S., as long as you arrive within about 3 – 5 minutes of the scheduled time it is usually okay.  Enter the room quietly and sit at the back if the meeting has already begun.  
    • Some professors/teachers/companies place a very, high value on starting on time and it is not okay to be even 1 minute late to a meeting/class.  Participation is part of your grade in U.S. classrooms and some professors/teachers deduct points from your daily participation score if you are late.  
  • Being Late:  If you are more than 5 – 7 minutes late, you are considered late. You should always call/text to let someone know you will be arriving more than 5-7 minutes late. Apologize and ask if they want to reschedule.  You also need a 'good excuse' for being this late.  For example, bad traffic or a prior meeting running late.  
    • Professors in the U.S. typically have very busy schedules.  Be sure you always show up on time to meetings with professors. If you arrive 10 minutes late for a 30 minute meeting the professor may only be able to talk to you for 20 minutes as they likely have another meeting scheduled right after. 
  • End Time:  It is not uncommon in the U.S. for meetings to 'run late' or past their scheduled end time.  If you have to leave the meeting/event at a set/specific time it is okay to say to the meeting organizer at the start, "I'm so sorry but I'll have to leave at (time) because I have another meeting right after this." You should then sit by the door or at the back of the room. Then, at the time you need to leave you can quietly stand up and leave the meeting/room. 
  • What does 'Around' or 'About' (Time) Mean?:  In the U.S., particularly when setting meeting times with other students, it is not uncommon to hear someone say, "Let's meet about/around 10:00 AM".  What does this mean? The use of the word about/around is an indication that the schedule/start time is a little flexible and that the meeting/event will begin as soon as everyone arrives.  So, for example, the first person may show up at 10:00 but the other person/attendees may not show up until 10:10 or 10:15.  As long as you are within a 10 – 15 minute window it is usually okay, but its best to arrive as close to 10:00 as you can.  
  • Some days graduate students in my lab come in at 10:00, but some days they don't arrive until noon.  What's up?  In the U.S., working hours for graduate students tend to be highly flexible, though this varies by the lab/group culture.  Graduate students may have class commitments or other meetings at different times on different days of the week. So, they may be in class on Tuesday and Thursday mornings but not in class in the morning on M/W/F.  Also, working hours tend revolve around the demands of your project.  Graduate students may work very late, or even overnight, some days on their experiments in the lab (sometimes because that is the only time they can use that piece of equipment). To make up for that long day they may come in later the next day.  They can also work on the weekends in the lab if they choose.  Therefore each day/week in a graduate students life may be slightly different.  You may need to ask your graduate student mentor what their typical schedule is and ask them to let you know if anything will change.  Schedules can and do vary.  
  • My graduate student is never in their office or the lab. I need to ask them a question but never see them?  If you can't find a graduate student in their office they are probably in the research lab.  But, at most U.S. campuses there is equipment that is shared across multiple groups or the entire campus, so they may not be in your lab but may be doing an experiment in a different lab or building.  Also, remember that in the U.S. you don't have to be 'seen' in the office to be working.  If someone is working on data analysis or writing a paper/dissertation, they may be working on their laptop in the library, at a coffee shop, or from home where it is quiet and they can focus.  If a graduate students doesn't have any fixed/scheduled meetings or classes that day they may not always be in the lab or in their office on campus.  Most graduate students to check email regularly, sometimes on their phones, so if you have an urgent question you can call/text/or email them and they'll likely get back to you.  
  • My graduate student/professor told me that I should come to the lab by 9:30 each day and I'm always there on time. But sometimes I'm the only one in the office/lab and others, even my professor, doesn't arrive until 9:45 or later.  Why?  Remember, that in the U.S. public transportation is very unpredictable and can often be late.  Also, the majority of Americans commute to/from work via car and if there is bad traffic due to a car accident or weather their drive may take longer than normal.  While you should always attempt to be on time, it is not uncommon for workers to be 5 – 15 minutes late due to commuting delays in the U.S. Most workers would make up for this by staying a little later at the end of the day or maybe taking a shorter lunch, or even eating lunch at their desk.  
  • When do people eat lunch in the U.S.?  I never know when to eat? Most workers in the U.S. do not have fixed/set break or lunch times.  While many people do eat lunch from 12:00 – 1:00 some people may eat lunch earlier or later than this depending on what time they start their workday.  This means it is not very common for research groups to go to lunch together as a group.  Instead, each individual person decides when they want to eat lunch and some people don't even leave the office and just eat lunch at their desk.  To save money, many students pack their own lunch bag/box and may meet up with a few friends to eat lunch together in a break room, outside, or at the student center.  You can set your own lunch time based on what is most convenient for your personal schedule.  
  • When should I leave work? My graduate student said it was okay to go but she/he is still in the lab/office?  In the U.S., when you are done working for the day it is okay to leave, even if your mentor/boss has not yet left.  Conversely, your mentor/professor/other student may leave when they are done for the day and you may end up being the last person to leave the office/lab.  Your research project may need you to work late or on the weekends occasionally but you shouldn't feel obligated to stay late each and every night. Remember, it is not the number of hours each day you are seen in the office/lab that matters it is the results/output for the time you put in.  If your mentor/professor says it is okay for you to leave that day, they mean it. It is okay.  But, if you do want to stay late to work on your research poster, read papers, or other tasks you can just say, "Oh, thank you. I just want to stay a bit latter to finish up (task) and then I'll go home".  
  • My friend invited me to a party at their home that started at 7:00 PM. I didn't want to be late so I showed up at 6:50 PM and they seemed surprised. Why?  If you are invited to an event or party at someone's home it is actually considered rude to arrive too early.  The host might still be cleaning up or preparing food right up until, or even after, the scheduled start time.  For these types of social events it is best to arrive on-time or, sometimes better, even 5 – 10 minutes late.  Hosts may even tell guests, "I really need to have everyone arrive on time as dinner will begin promptly at XX time". This lets guests know that, in this case, it is not okay to be late.   However, keep in mind that America is a very diverse country and your friend may have a  different time orientation.  For example, someone from Germany may expect you to arrive promptly by 7:00 PM, or earlier, and be offended if you are five minutes late.  If you are attending a party hosted by someone from India or many South American countries, most guests may not even arrive until 15 – 30 minute after the scheduled start time.  It varies greatly by person/family though, so when in doubt don't hesitate to ask. You can always say, "I've never been invited to someone's home in the U.S. before. I know you said that the party/dinner would begin at 7:00 PM but what time should I really arrive? Or what time do most people arrive?"  If you aren't comfortable asking your host that, as a friend in your lab who knows that person for their advice.  
Future Orientation vs. Past Orientation in Culture

Future Orientated vs. Past Orientated 

Diverse Research Groups:  Keep in mind that as a scientist or engineering you will likely be working in a groups comprised of students and researchers from all around the world.  Depending on the country/cultural backgrounds, different group members may have different time-orientations.  When you first move to a new country/culture you will need to adapt yourself to the time orientation and working culture of your host country.  So considering time-orientation and how this impacts collaboration and working culture is a valuable skill set for scientists and engineers to have when working in an diverse group or when collaborating internationally.  

Future-orientated cultures tend to run their lives by the clock. The United States is one of the fastest paced countries in the world, perhaps partly due to the fact that many Americans are always looking to the future, striving for the “American Dream”. It is a culture that values busy-ness, which equates a hectic and frenzied life-style with success, status and importance. Japan is also an extremely time-conscious culture, although the Japanese probably lay more emphasis on time management and efficient lifestyles than Americans, and consequently may feel less constantly rushed and frustrated.

Past-orientated cultures, like that of India, for example, are much more laid back in the way they look at time. Unlike in Japan, it is not unusual for trains in India to be several hours, or even a full day, late, without creating undue stress and turmoil. It is possible that such cultures, with thousands of years of history behind them, have such a long point of view that time at the scale of minutes, or even hours, becomes insignificant and inconsequential.

For more, see some of the General Resources in the tab above.  

Idioms About Time

Idioms can help give us some insights into how different cultures value and emphasize time.

American Idioms
The most common idiom you will hear about time in the U.S. is: "Time is Money".  If you are not being productive you may be 'Wasting Time'.  Working effectively/efficiently and making 'good use' of your day is highly valued in U.S. society.  Yet, our idioms about time also indicate that there should be breaks between our working day and our personal life.  For example, "It's time to call it a day" is something someone might say at 5:00 PM after completing their 8-hour workday (though many Americans routinely work 9 – 10 hour days).  There are also many time-related idioms in the U.S. that highlight the cultural value that it is "Never too late" to do something.  For example, "No matter what your age, it is never too late go back to college or get a graduate degree." See the lists below for more time-related idioms.

Japanese Idioms About Time
In Japan, theres is a much greater value placed on hard work/effort/persistence over efficiency and results (though this is valued too).  Japan is also a much older country/culture than the U.S. so there tends to be a longer-term orientation to time.  Idioms in Japan tend to focus more on persistence/effort or the impact many small steps along the way can have such as 七転び八起き (ななころびやおき) or "Fall seven times, stand up eight" and  一日一歩 (いちにちいっぽ) or "One day one step".  Idioms in Japan about time also highlight the important to look back at the past to make good decisions in the future such as  温故知新 (おんこちしん) or "Review past, know future".  For more on Japanese idioms see:

 

The 'Typical' Work Day

Below is information on a 'typical' workday in academia. What you will quickly notice though is that there is not fixed/standard and the working day/hours can vary whether you are a professor, staff member, or student.    

The Workday 'Day' of A Professor in Academia (Applies to Both Japan & the U.S.) 

In academia, professors typically have a great deal of control over their schedule and due to their workloads may have different schedules each day or week.  Professors have a range of responsibilities from teaching classes, meeting with their graduate students to discuss research, writing/editing/reading research papers in their field, grant writing, serving on university committees, traveling for research conferences and meetings, and may even have a leadership role within their academic department/school in addition to everything else.  Most professors must also balance their working hours with familial commitments and do seek to have some 'work-life balance'. How do they get everything done in a 'typical' 8-hour workday? They don't. What you will find is that most professors never really stop working.  But you may not be able to see this, as much of the work they do isn't completed in their office or the research lab.

For example, professors, may wake up early and come into the office by 7:00 or 7:30 AM.  Very few other students and staff members are around at this time as the 'typical' start of the workday is 8:30 or 9:00 for staff and maybe not until 10:00 for graduate students. They use this 'quiet' time to check email, read/write papers or grants, and do other tasks that require focused attention.  Then, from about 10:00 – 4:00 PM they may spend most of their day teaching classes or in meetings. Professors typically have scheduled 'office hours' each week when their group members and students know they will be in their office and you can come by to ask a question.   When professors travel for conferences or other meetings, they may spend most of the plane ride writing or spend a lot of their early morning or evening hours in their hotel rooms writing/working.  Many professors come into the office or work from home on the weekend when it is quiet and there may fewer people around. In the U.S., professors may be on campus but may not be in their office. You may see many professors/staff having meetings at Brochstein or the Coffeehouse at Rice or working on their laptops there. When there is a pressing deadline for a research grant or other project, professors and staff may spend long hours in the office or working from home at their computers. Most professors also check and respond to email in the evenings after returning home as they may not have time to do this during the day.  In short, you may get emails from your professor at all hours of the day and night (particularly when they are traveling due to time differences).  This does not mean they expect you to immediately respond – that is just when they have time to check/send emails.  As long as you respond to their email within 24 – 48 hours it is usually okay unless there is an urgent deadline/project you are working on together. See also Working Parents in the U.S. below. 

 

Graduate Student Workday 

Graduate students and Post-Docs typically have fewer competing demands on their time and tend to work a more consistent schedule. However, their schedules are flexible as they may have classes at different times on different days.  Research project demands also influence a graduate student or post-docs schedule. Sometimes, they may need to spend long hours in the lab taking data and then the next week spend long hours in front of a computer to analyze the data or write up results. 

Below are some typical/general guidelines but each research group is different!  Group/lab culture can have significant influence on time orientation in a research group. If you aren't sure what to do, ask your graduate student mentor for advice.  

In Japan:
Workdays typically start at 9:00 and everyone usually arrives on time, though each lab group is different and some labs may have a later typical start time or students may come in at many varying times. Graduate students in Japan may come and go from the lab/office due to their class schedule. If they are close to graduation or working on a paper, they may not spend much time in the lab since they may be sitting at their office computer writing, applying for jobs, or studying for an entrance exam if they plan to apply for a PhD program.  It is not as common in Japan for students to work from home or remotely at a coffee shop/etc. when they need to write. Typically, they will do the majority of their writing in their lab office at the university. 

In Japan, many students work long hours, 10 – 12 each day, and will not leave until their senpai (senior/mentor) or professor leaves.  This is easier to determine since, in Japan, most research group offices are set up as one large/shared room with the professors office being in the same area.  So everyone can see usually see when others come and go.  Some labs may work or have meetings on the weekends, typically Saturday, but in other labs this is not as common. There is also a strong group culture in many labs in Japan and everyone may go to lunch together at a fixed time (but not all labs do this). 

It can be helpful to 'stay late' sometimes, even if you don't have anything 'to do/work on', because the evenings can often be a more relaxed time period when group members have more fun/casual conversations.  Usually, group members who don't have anything 'to do' are staying late to provide support and encouragement to a group member who may need to work late on a paper/assignment/job application etc.  You can use this 'down' time to read research papers, work on your research poster/abstract, or study Japanese.  It is also not uncommon for group members to occasionally go out to dinner together in the evening before going home.  A lot of 'work' gets done in these informal environments where some of the hierarchy may break down and it can be easier to talk frankly/directly regardless of seniority/rank.  

In the U.S.: 
In U.S. lab groups there is a high degree of flexibility and variance and each research group will be different. In the U.S. there is not as high a cultural value placed on the 'group' as it is a more individualistic culture.  Students, at all levels, tend to work independently on their research projects and students within the same group may keep vastly different hours. 

Offices in the U.S. also tend to be more separated and the physical office/lab layout will vary greatly depending on which building you are working in.  Newer buildings, like the BRC, may have shared office or research lab space for graduate students/post-docs. Typically, this large room is shared with more than one research group.  In older buildings, it is more common for there to be many small offices and research labs in different rooms.  Some groups may even have offices/labs in different buildings across campus. Professors, Post-Docs, and Staff offices are typically separated from the graduate student offices and they may not be able to 'see' when their students are coming and going. Typically, though, your professor's office will be in the same building as most of the graduate student offices and labs. 

Most graduate students will be on campus for approximately 8 – 10 hours per day. Some graduate students may come in early at 8:30 or 9:00 and then leave about 5:00 PM.  Other graduate students may start later in the day, typically about 10:00 or 10:30 AM and stay later until 6:00 or 6:30 PM. Students often bring a lunchbox/bag with them to campus and eat at the time they are hungry.  You may have lunch with 1 or 2 group members or other graduate students that you are friends with but usually not with the entire group. It is rare for  meetings or classes are scheduled on the weekend.  How long your work day is depends on the needs/demands of your research project.  Sometimes, you will need to work long hours or 'stay late' in the lab (or even come in on the weekends) to take data. Or, you may spend long hours at your computer analyzing data/writing. 

The location of where graduate students 'work' during the day also can vary. They may be in class, in the research lab, in their office, or elsewhere working on their laptop. When writing or doing data analysis, students can usually choose to work in their office, at a quiet location on campus (such as Brochstein or the Library at Rice), at a coffee shop or other location at campus, or at home.  So, just because you don't see many graduate students in their office or the research lab doesn't mean they aren't working. 

In the U.S. 'getting the work done' is more important than where you work and you don't have to be 'seen' by others to be considered 'working'.  A high value in the U.S. is placed on working efficiently and 'making good use of your time' so when graduate student are on campus or in the lab/office they may be very focused on the tasks they need to accomplish for that day. When they are done with those tasks or reach a 'stopping point' for the day they will leave the lab/office and go home. Even if their senior students/professors have not left yet it is okay to go home if you don't have anything you need to stay late to work on.  You can stay late if you'd like, but your professor, graduate student mentor, or other students may ask "Why are you staying so late? If you don't have anything to do why don't you go home?". 

Also, if a graduate student works very long hours or comes in on the weekend they may shorten their hours or come in a bit later the following day/week.  As long as you don't miss any scheduled meetings/classes and your professor other students that you are working with on the project know when to expect you that is usually okay.  Some students in the U.S. (undergraduates, graduate students, and post-docs) may also be parents or have other family commitments. 

Staff Workdays

Staff members at a university typically have a fixed/set working schedule.  In the U.S., staff members typically adhere to an 8 hour work day (40 hours per week) though many employees do work closer to 9 – 10 hour days.  Staff start times are typically between 8:00 – 9:00 AM and end times are typically between 5:00 – 6:00 PM. Many staff members take lunch from 12:00 – 1:00 PM. In the U.S., there is more variation in lunch times with some people eating earlier or later or even 'working through lunch' and eating at their desk.  Most staff members do not work in the evenings or on weekends, though some may check/respond to email 'after hours'.  If there is a pressing/urgent deadline or some other campus/community event that requires it staff may work in the evenings or weekends. In the U.S., typically the would 'make-up' for these additional hours by coming in later or leaving earlier on a following day/week.  In the U.S., depending on their job/role, staff members may also work remotely from other locations on campus or even from home when needed.  Some employees in the U.S. even work remotely from home all day.  If you are a student who has a question or needs assistance from a staff member on campus, you should be aware of their standard working hours. You need to plan in advance and email them or visit their office in the morning (if possible) so there is more time available in their working day for them to be able to help/assist you.   If you come to their office for help at 4:30 PM and it is not an urgent/emergency situation they may not be able to assist right then and ask you to return the following day.  Also, it is important to note that staff members have many varying roles in a university and some have very high-ranking/important positions.  You cannot assume that just because they are not a faculty member, that they are not very busy or do not have an important job.  You should be respectful of all people you interact with at a university, from the janitors to the faculty to the research administrators/office staff as each person plays a vital and important role to the running of a university campus. See also Working Parents in the U.S. below. 

Working Parents in the U.S.
In the U.S., students (both undergraduate and graduate), post-docs, faculty, and staff may all be working parents or have other familial commitments.  In Japan, it is much more common for wives/mothers to be stay-at-home moms/housewives than in the U.S.  In the U.S., it is more common for both parents to work and there are also many single parent households as well.  Working parents in the U.S. tend to start their workday earlier and leave earlier. For example, they may start work at 7:30, only take a 30 minute lunch break or even eat at their desk, and then leave between 3:30 and 4:00 PM. This is because they must pick-up their children from school or daycare by a specific time.  If they are late picking their children up, some daycares or schools will charge a fee for each minute you are late. After dinner and putting their children to bed, many working parents spend an additional 1 – 3 hours working from home on their laptops.  Rice University is also a very family friendly campus and it is not uncommon to see the children of faculty, staff, students on campus in the late afternoon or on school holidays doing their homework in the office as their parent finishes up their workday. So just because someone is leaving 'early' doesn't mean they aren't working hard. Indeed, most working parents are highly effective workers because they have be experts at time management to balance work and family demands. 

 

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U.S vs. Japanese Culture

There are lots of websites, videos, and other resources that highlight some of the differences between Japan and the U.S.  Based on what you know now, can you determine which of these differences reflect aspects of high-context culture in Japan or low-context culture in the U.S.?  Are the things being discussed at the ‘tip of the iceberg’ or able to be seen? Or are they ‘below the iceberg’ and the unseen culture that influences or social norms and behaviors?

Friendship in Japan and the U.S.

Friendship is often not something people think about being different in other countries but it is part of the deep/unseen cultural iceberg. Our attitudes towards who can be our friends, how to make friends, and the longevity/role of friendships in our lives can vary greatly. 

One of the top questions Nakatani Fellows have, both American and Japanese, is how can I make friends abroad?  Some of the resources below may be helpful for you to review and during the orientation/re-entry programs at Rice University we will talk with students more about some strategies they can use to form and maintain friendships with their fellow participants and members of their host lab abroad.  Nakatani RIES Fellows will also have a number of opportunities to meet and form friendships with their U.S./Japanese counterparts over the course of the program.  You have the built in advantage of getting to meet and get to know 12 other students from your host country that are also science & engineering students, interested in research, and living/working abroad! 

Question of the Week: How do you know when an American is just being friendly vs. when they are truly your friend? Everyone talks to me but often I never meet/hear from them again.  It's really confusing.  

Question of the Week: How do I really make friends in Japan? Everyone is so polite and helpful, but no one really talks to me.  People are really shy too… How do I really get to know someone in Japan? 

Honne and Tatemae in Japan

Honne is your real feelings and Tatemae is the façade or the face we show in public. Japanese people face a lot of criticism for the use of Honne and Tatemae. Some people view it as being two-faced or hypocritical but in Japan it is something that is used daily and is not viewed in a negative way. Actually it is considered proper social etiquette to be able to use Honne and Tatemae to keep the harmony of the situation.

This concept is a bit difficult for Americans, to see and always grasp but you will likely encounter moments in Japan where, in retrospect, you realize you were experiencing the difference between honne and tatemae communication.   Learning a little bit more about these concepts can help give you insights in those moments when you aren’t quite sure what the true meaning is behind what is being said; or not said as the case may be. 

The truth is every culture has some aspect of Honne and Tatemae. We don’t freely express all our personal thoughts and feelings to our boss or even close friends. We are careful as to the amount of information we share so as to not offend or hurt the people around us. So the concept of Honne and Tatemae isn’t just restricted to the Japanese culture, but what makes this concept one of the most essential aspect of Japanese culture is the extent to which Japanese people go to maintain the façade (Tatemae).  In the U.S., consider how we talk about 'marketing' or 'selling' ourselves.  What we present in an academic or workplace setting may be different than the true/real self we show with family and friends that we are close/comfortable with and therefore we can 'let down our hair' and be our 'true selves'. 

Uchi and Soto in Japan

The concept of Uchi Soto is one of the most unique aspects of Japanese culture. This concept is one of the keys to understanding Japanese society. 

So what is Uchi Soto? Uchi (内) literally means home, while Soto (外) refers to outside. The core concept revolves around the idea of dividing people into two groups, a in-group and an out-group.Your family and close friends are considered uchi (in-group), as well as your co-workers and superiors in your research host lab.

Most tourists in Japan will always remain Soto (外) or in the out-group but Nakatani RIES Fellows in Japan have a unique opportunity to truly join and become a member of their research host lab.  You will be new to the lab, and only there for a short time, so just like any close group you may remain a little bit towards the outside edge of the in-group but many alumni have shared that they really felt a true part of their research host lab group by the end of the summer.

Do Americans Do This? Yes, there are parallels with American Small-Talk/Friendliness here too.  For example, many foreigners find it odd that Americans will have a long, sometimes very personal conversation, with someone on a plane and at the end of the plane ride just stand up and say, "It was great talking to you!" and walk away.  This can seem a bit false as the other person may have felt you had, over the course of the conversation, become friends and were expecting to remain in contact.  Americans may be very free and open to talk about anything with anyone, but that does not mean we consider that person a true friend or 'in-group' member that we will maintain a long-term relationship with. This can be as equally confusing to many foreigners. When is an American just being 'friendly' and when are they my true friend?  For more on this, see the section on American Small-Talk/Friendliness in the Communication and Culture section of this page and the topic on 'Friendship in Japan and the U.S.' in this section. 

Perceptions: What Do 'They' Really Think of Us?

Question of the Week: What is it really like to live as a foreigner in Japan? I've heard that foreigners are called gaijin in Japan which literally means 'outsider'.  Will I really feel/be treated like an outsider when I'm there? 

Question of the Week: America is so diverse and Japan is a very homogenous society.  I don't look like your 'typical' American (I'm not white) so I'm not sure how people will see/treat me? And/or I don't fit the Japanese ideas for body shape/ability/size? What is it it like to be a minority in Japan?  

Stereotypes

A stereotype is "a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing." Stereotypes are often based, at least in part, in fact but you must be careful about believing that the stereotypes of any particular culture or group are true of everyone. For example, many people in Japan love karaoke but it would be incorrect to assume that all Japanese people enjoy karaoke.  Some may not. 

It's also important to know that there can be positive stereotypes, such as that Americans are very nice, as well as negative stereotypes,  for example American restaurant food is very greasy and heavy and therefore all Americans must be fat or unhealthy.  Stereotypes can give us hints about certain cultural values or rules that a society or culture tends to abide by, but each society and each culture is made up of individuals and it is important to recognize that not everyone may act, behave, talk or look like the 'stereotypical American' you may expect.

Stereotypes of Japan/Japanese 
The websites below list some common perceptions about Japan from American and foreign perspectives that may be interesting for you to read.  During your time in the Japan, you may experience things that either affirm some of these stereotypes or, perhaps, lead you to reject them.  You will also likely learn that reality is a little bit more complex than the stereotypical view and the best thing to do is come to Japan with an open mind and remain curious about each individual person you meet and the experiences you will have here.

Stereotypes of the U.S./Americans 
The websites below list some common perceptions about America from Japanese and foreign perspectives that may be interesting for you to read.  During your time in the U.S., you may experience things that either affirm some of these stereotypes or, perhaps, lead you to reject them.  You will also likely learn that reality is a little bit more complex than the stereotypical view and the best thing to do is come to the U.S. with an open mind and remain curious about each individual person you meet and the experiences you will have here.

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