As I've mentioned before, one of my students is attending a U.S. college on a military base. In one of her recent lessons with me, she told me that she feels very isolated from others now despite the fact that she is encountering more new people than ever before. It's not that people aren't friendly with her on the base per se but rather that she finds herself in circumstances she wouldn't have anticipated.
On the one hand, she has Japanese friends who she feels she has less and less in common with. When they communicate with her (usually via e-mail), she doesn't have much to share with them because her experiences as a 44-year-old college student at a U.S. school are so different from theirs as Japanese housewives and mothers. When they invite her to go do things with her, she feels torn between wanting to do things with them and feeling that the fatigue and possible awkwardness in communication now that they've grown apart will not be worth whatever pleasure she gets from the experience.
Her family is also no comfort because her husband constantly criticizes her for failing to live up to his expectations of a Japanese wife. He tells her that she can't do anything right and they frequently quarrel. To me, this is ironic because she has taken 3 classes so far and gotten an "A" in each of them. Her husband once had me correct his English for an abstract for a medical paper he'd written and I daresay he could not cope nearly as well as her with the all-English instruction, essay-writing, and environment. All of this makes her feel as if she's drifting away from the other Japanese people in her life and can no longer relate to them as their values are increasingly different from hers. Unfortunately, she completely embraces her husband's assessment of her and gets depressed and feels like a failure.
When she's on the military base, she feels like a visitor in a foreign land which operates very differently from her expectations. She often complains to me about how the teachers don't answer her question in a timely fashion or how they fail to assist her when she needs help. Her expectation is that the teachers will behave like Japanese teachers, who are often expected to ensure their students pass and to spend their free time dealing with student problems. She also feels a lot of stress because she can't understand the way in which many of the military personnel she takes classes with speak because many of them are from the south and/or African American and she finds their cadences and accents difficult to follow since most of her exposure to English is to slower-speaking teachers (myself included) and those with measured voices that contain little accent on T.V. and in instructional materials.
My student is in a situation which is oddly similar to mine. She has a lot of her social activity centered in a "foreign land" and she feels disconnected from people in her own culture. For me, this is rather expected because I am far from my home but, for her, it's a bit of a hard experience to understand because she still lives in her home country. In fact, in many ways, she is worse off than I despite having the "support" of her family literally at her back-door (her parents live in the other half of a divided house with she and her husband) and her long-time friends a phone call away. Not only do I have an incredibly supportive husband where hers is always tearing her down but I expect my difficulties and actively work to understand and address them because I know they're a part of being in a foreign country.
I've tried to comfort her and boost her confidence but I don't think she understands where I'm coming from when I tell her things like she doesn't have to live according to her husband's expectations and that a lot of people discover their lifestyles and their friends' lifestyles are diverging as time goes by. In the end, I don't think she can break free from thinking that conformity to the expectations of those around her is more important than an objective analysis of her accomplishments (which would be a very positive one) or finding her self-worth within herself alone.