Think like Kiki: Hayao Miyazaki and Culture Shock

One of my favorite movies growing up was Hayao Miyazaki’s KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE. Now as an adult living in China, I started to see a parallel to the arc of culture shock.

Disclaimer: May contain spoilers for the film Kiki’s Delivery Service. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

I think I was about six years old when I first watched Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the movie is still one of my favorites to this day. Earlier this week, upon reflection that I’m going through an almost-identical experience as an adult, I was tempted to go back and watch the film again. After thinking about it, the film basically goes through the general arc of culture shock. Even if it’s technically a movie for kids (although I would say that people of all ages can enjoy most of Miyazaki’s films), it provides a great lesson of overcoming adversity, and discovering purpose and self-confidence. Now that I’ve arrived at my placement in Cili, Hunan Province, it feels like we’ve gotten past the tutorial section of a video game, and now we’re getting into level one, and I have to admit that I’m a bit nervous. Here are the lessons that I got from Kiki’s Delivery Service, and what I can expect from culture shock over the next few months.

Stage One: Initial excitement and curiosity. Thirteen-year-old Kiki, accompanied by her talking black cat Jiji, goes out into the world to begin her training as a witch. She finds a new city to live in and makes new friends like a baker named Osono and a young flying enthusiast named Tombo (the story takes place in a world that just started to develop air travel), as well as starting her flying delivery service after a fellow witch asks her what her skill is.

Kiki starting out.gif

When I first came to Changsha, I was incredibly hopeful for the year ahead, despite my nerves about living in a foreign country for a year. We had so much work with lesson planning and working towards teaching practicum (four days in which we taught classes in a trial setting). I’m glad that we were all able to work together and we could ask each other questions about life and how to prepare to teach in a Chinese classroom.

Stage Two: Uncertainty and a sense of isolation. About halfway through the film, Kiki actually tells Jiji that she feels like an outsider, after having a brief “honeymoon period” of feeling great and meeting people. She feels estranged from Jiji after he starts a friendship with a neighbor’s cat (her name is Lily in the English dub).

Kiki flopping onto bed.gif

Even after spending a week in Cili, there aren’t as many crazy new things distracting me from what might be the beginnings of culture shock. In Changsha we had cafés that we could hang out in and we were almost never in our hotel rooms besides to sleep and use a Western-style commode. In Cili, I’m still in the exploring phase, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in my apartment. I’m hoping to make it so I’m out of the apartment more often, so I’m not tempted to sink further into any emotional funk I may have though self-imposed isolation.

Stage Three: Emotional crisis. Kiki loses her ability to fly her broomstick and her ability to communicate with Jiji. She says in the English dub, “If I lose my magic, then I’ve lost absolutely everything.” This is a low point for Kiki, and it requires her to step back and work through her emotions.

I would be shocked if I don’t have to deal with this during my time in Hunan Province. I didn’t bring any of my knitting or other art supplies because I wanted to have a full immersive experience in Hunan, but I can understand how I’d miss that in the times where I’m not feeling the greatest. I have a backup plan, though… :Cue fanfare:

I’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo! For those of you who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it’s a worldwide writing challenge that requires participants to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days during the month of November. It might be that I don’t know what a bad idea is anymore, but there is a method to my madness.

Freaked out Jiji.gif

I’m anticipating that the time surrounding October and November is when culture shock is going to hit me like a train, so if I did something like NaNoWriMo, I’ll have something to look forward to, plan for, and counter culture shock with, as well as being able to work through any emotional garbage I might be dealing with at the time. I’ll be tracking my progress with NaNoWriMo on here, as well as possibly showing what planning methods I use. Let me know in the comments what you want to see!

Stage Four: Rebuilding. Kiki reunites with Ursula, an artist living in the woods outside of town, and she invites Kiki to spend some time at her cabin to take a break from flying. Jiji stays behind to spend time with Lily. The trip is a change of pace for Kiki, and gets her out and about instead of having time to dwell on her loss. She also learns a lesson from Ursula, that she needs to find her inspiration, or why she wants to fly or train as a witch. Ursula also provides a lesson with the metaphor of her painting. When Kiki asks her if it’s worth the trouble to find inspiration or purpose, she mentions that she thought about scrapping an idea for a painting; Kiki mentions that the painting ended up being beautiful, and Ursula replies, “So then it was worth it.”

Ursula and Inspiration.gif

In this scene, Kiki is away from any trace of home (including Jiji), so she’s only able to focus on her own personal growth and working through what’s going on. I imagine that in Cili, I’ll have to think creatively to work with how I deal with my culture shock. I hope that I can work with my culture shock through working on NaNoWriMo, and focusing on creating strong lessons for my students. Another piece of advice I received was traveling once every three weeks to visit a cohort in another city, or to visit another place in general; the logic was that once every three weeks was enough to change up the pace, but not so much that one would get burnt out from traveling all the time. The other cohorts are a big support system even now, and I imagine it’s going to be even more crucial for us to stay in contact when we’re all going through culture shock; we’re already planning to visit each other at our placements, and planning trips together for longer vacations.

Stage Five: Growth. Kiki regains her powers, reestablishes a close bond with Jiji, and becomes a strong part of the town. A final montage shows that Kiki’s delivery service flourishes, and Jiji and Lily start a family. Even though she admits to her parents in a letter that she still feels homesick from time to time, she loves the town that she now lives in, and that she is much more confident in herself and her role with her delivery service.

Confident Kiki.gif

I can only hope that this is the path to culture shock that I take. I have no illusions that I won’t have any symptoms of culture shock while I’m here, so I can let this experience change me for better or for worse. There is a sticker left over from the previous resident on the wall of my apartment over my desk. It reads, “If you believe in yourself, anything is possible.” I’m hoping that I can take those words to heart.

We start classes on Friday here in Cili, but hopefully I’ll be back here next week with another article! See you then! Zai jian!


P.S. Despite all the Studio Ghibli merchandise here in China, I’m still trying to find a Jiji mug.

Jiji with mug.gif



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