When I first landed in Japan, I never imagined for a second thought that I would stay for 2 years. The thought had crossed my mind, but quickly enough that I never expected it to be a reality.
The mental and emotional path that I have been down to get to the end of a 2nd year has been so crazy – for anyone who has ever thought that they would like to escape their life, completely change careers, flee to a foreign country – think long and hard because it is not an easy thing!
There are definitely stages that you go through and I’m betting that those of us living outside the US have had similar feelings. First, there’s the excitement and sense of wonder that comes with something new. The awe of strange foods, smells, sights and sounds can be overwhelming at first, you don’t know what to think about it all, or how to take it in.
I’m not sure at what point things start to get routine… it probably helped that I have almost the exact same weekly schedule, which for me was/is extremely weird after almost 4 years of working at my own pace. Honestly, it’s a good and bad thing for me, because I think that it makes me feel less productive outside of work but makes work predictable and survivable. Anyways, that’s not super important, it’s just something I’ve had to think about, especially since I’m job hunting again and probably should consider work environments at some point.
Ok, so, routine can be nice when you live abroad, it something that helps you feel a little more normal, a little more comfortable in your life, to do regular every day things. But, somewhere in this process is when you start getting tired of certain things, or of the way things are done “here”. That small voice in your head reminds you that sometimes things are easier back “home” or make more sense and then the honeymoon is over. After that, it’s more of a struggle to keep positive about having to do those everyday things. For example, the novelty of riding a bike becomes a deterrent to wanting to do anything or go anywhere. I’m not that girl – if I ever wanted to ride a bike, it was cruising along the beach, not rushing to the supermarket before work.
Of course, you can talk yourself through any of that if you have a goal in mind. I was here 4 months before I bought a plane ticket home for Christmas, which made the next 4 months go so much faster and smoother. But going “home” and seeing your family, friends and everything else that you miss can actually make things harder when you have to leave. When I returned after the new year, those next few winter months were horrible for me. The weather was miserable, especially cause I’m not used to that kind of cold (& riding a bike in it) and I already know that I need sunshine to keep positive (4 months in Sweden let me in on that secret) so I won’t lie, I was not happy, not sleeping, and was leaning towards coming home when my contract was up. Seemed simple.
Then 3/11 happened. It’s weird to say “three eleven” like Americans say “nine eleven” but it was that much of a tragedy and I was here so I’ll call it whatever I like. It was confusing and scary, not sure what news to believe, who to listen to, what to do… but a week of deliberating and a really big miracle got me home to SoCal for spring break. And a break it was – a mental and emotional break from the chaos. I needed it…for sure… but it also made me sure that I had to come back to Japan, honor my word and finish out my contract.
I think this was enough of a break in the routine that I could start being more positive about living here and I could picture staying another year without just “trudging” through it. I was starting to enjoy Japan again.
I think that it was easier to stick my chin up, take a deep breath and dive back in whole heartedly to teaching and taking what enjoyment I could in the little and big things knowing that I had a survived the first year and a lot of craziness and that a second year could only be easier.
Last fall was a little bit of a challenge with Theresa having a baby and taking some time off, but I was so blessed to have my mom be able to come to Japan for 7 weeks to live and work with me. Of course she’s a natural teacher though she’s never taught ESL before… and it was awesome to get to take her to Kyoto and go to Hiroshima together, places she had never been to despite being to Japan 3 times. It’s kind of fun “playing” tourist after years of traveling together for reasons other than just sightseeing.
After the chaos cleared, I headed home in time for the holidays to savor them with my family and friends. It’s a little bittersweet to have such a short time with the people you love, but it’s always worth it and boosts the spirit more than you can imagine.
I pretty much had decided that I wasn’t going to stay after the spring, but after the New Year I had to make that decision official. It was hard, or at least as not as easy as I thought. I have a life here. It’s a very different life than in the U.S., but I do have a life. I have some good friends, a job, an apartment and the opportunities to experience some very cool cultural and historical places and traditions which definitely are not found in America.
And that’s what I have to chalk the last 2 years up to – a wonderful experience, a period of time in my crazy life full of adventure and tedium, longing and joy – in other words, life, just in a different location, different people and with some bigger emotional extremes.
I read somewhere that people remember things better when they are tied to their emotions, good and bad. This might be true, but I also think that while all the up and down moments are still tied closely together right now, in a few months or years, all the fun and fabulous memories will be the clearest and the rest will fade away…