The Worries of an Almost Expat

It’s mid March, which means I can count the number of days until Mark moves here on my fingers!  I get more and more excited as that day gets closer and closer and he can start his new adult-y, expat-y life.  Of course, I’m super excited that I will be able to a bit more often, but we do have some obstacles to overcome being that he will live about 3-5 hours away (depending on what kind of train I take).  I will cherish every second that we’re able to spend with each other since we’ll be living quite a distance from each other, but at least we will be in the same country and time zone.  There will be more opportunities for us to spend time together.


Mark has a wave of emotions running through right now, as do most people who move abroad.  I thought about all the things I wish I knew before moving here, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to ask.  Sometimes you have an image of what life will be like once you get there or you believe that it will be similar to life back at home.  It’s not until you’re actually in your new country when you realize and think, hey, maybe I should have asked about this or read about that before moving here.  It’s hard to know what to prepare for.

This is what we do when we video chat.

I “interviewed” Mark about moving abroad, since I could definitely relate to that feeling before moving to the other side of the world and was curious about what was on his mind.  When I moved here, everything seemed like a blur.  Looking back on it, I barely remember my first week or two here.  I told Mark to brace himself for that, but it only made him more nervous.  Ganbatte!  がんばってマーク! I’m sure many of us have been in the same position, even if you’re not an expat.  Moving to anywhere new is daunting and exciting.  Read on for Mark’s thoughts about moving to Japan!

An Interview with an Almost Expat

So Mark, you’re moving to Japan soon…

1.       What are you most worried about in moving to Japan?

I’m most worried about Japan is being able to abide by their culture, whether it’s to remember to bow or be respectful in a certain manner.  Also being able to communicate with others is one of my biggest worries.

 2.       What are you most excited for?

I’m most excited about living in a different country and experiencing an amazing culture.  Even though I am scared, I know being in another country will help me build my character, whether it’s patience or understanding.  I guess also to break out of the life I’m used to.

 3.       What kind of advice/pep talks are you giving yourself in preparation?

If I can give one advice to help prep myself, it would be to think positively, as simple as that, even though it may be difficult to do.  For example, I am really sad that I am going to leave my friends and family, but I want to say WHO GETS A CHANCE TO LIVE IN JAPAN or this is a great opportunity for your career.  I’ll always have my friends here in California but it’s time to make new friends.  I wish I can give myself more advice but right now I am still nervous.  But I still cling on that positive attitude.

 4.       What are some things do you want to know about life in Japan as an expat or being an English teacher? 

Life in Japan – I want to know how to use the different services in Japan, like the postal service, transportation, and other government services.  The types of services we take for granted back in the US.  What if I want to go to the electronic store and buy a TV?  I need to be able to communicate effectively.

Teaching – I feel confident about knowing the material, but I’m not confident in being able to get it through to the students and have them learn the material.  That’s the biggest worry that I have.  I’m reading these manuals about the definitions of what it means to be an ALT, but I worry about whether my students will learn from the way I teach.  I want to know how to communicate at all levels, what I’m teaching.

 5.       What is something you want to know about moving to Japan?

How will I budget myself in a new environment?  It’s my first job so I would like to learn how to budget accordingly.  Also at the same time I want to learn how to spend my own money wisely.  I want to know how to live independently and to be able to afford nice things.

I also want to know different holidays and cultural days and be able to celebrate accordingly.  Pretend that day is some sort of sacred or religious holiday, it would be interesting for me to be engaged with it as much as possible.  I want to enjoy the moment to its fullest.



Mark’s first international trip was when he came to visit me back in January, so this will be a very big change for him, but I know he’ll be okay.  We talk about his move every time we video chat and I reassure him that everything will be okay.  I’m always there for him.  It’s important to remember to be patient and understanding, things will be different and people won’t be able to understand you, but those are just some of the hurdles you’ll face when you move to another country.  I know that Mark will have an amazing time teaching English and living in Japan.

If you’re an expat, do you remember what you were worried about?  What advice would you give to Mark and first time expats?



  1. Samantha Angell

    When I first moved to Sweden (from the US) I think I was most worried about fitting in and making friends. Now, I think the biggest thing I should have been worried about is the language difference and how it will affect every day life in ways you hadn’t even thought of- for example, grocery shopping. My best advice is to study the everyday language (directional signs, food items, etc) so that you at least feel you can accomplish every day tasks!

    • Mark Rufin

      Hey Samantha. that is exactly how I feel! The everyday things, the everyday communication! I will do my best to study! Thanks for the advice :)

    • Mark Rufin

      Hi Kaelene! Yeah the language is my biggest worry because it just ties everything together, from getting around to making friends. I wish you luck on learning the language you want to learn!

    • Mallory || Sweet Smores

      Communicating is such a hard thing and for me, the worst places are at the places I need to be able to communicate the most: the post office and the train station. Trying to buy stamps one time left me beyond flustered and I had to tell them I would come back with my letters. I never did…

  2. esther julee

    hehe i like how all his concerns are mostly very practical.. i think my main concern moving to new places is always how to find a good community. i think it’s also one of the hardest parts of moving… esp when i tend to be shy!

    • Mark Rufin

      Hi Esther! I always worried about the essentials for me. In terms of finding a good community I hope I can find one too :)

  3. Amy @ the tide that left

    I think all expats have been where Mark is in one way or another. When I first moved to Libya I think I did nothing but ask questions that couldn’t really be answered. It was only when I arrived and nothing was as I’d expected that I realised you can never really prepare for such a big change. Just be open to it, keep talking about how you feel once you arrive and be prepared to take some rough with the smooth.

    That said, in agreement with Samantha and Kaelene below, moving to Russia was a big shock language wise and I’m really glad I learned to read the alphabet before I went so that I could find my away around town (and eventually learn a few words) I imagine learning Japanese isn’t easy, but knowing some words will surely be helpful.

  4. Polly

    That’s so exciting that it’s almost happening!

    My move abroad was fairly spur-of-the-moment, I’m not even sure I was worried. (That is definitely a reflection on my lax standards, not my great coping capabilities.) Glad at least SOME people are practical-minded before moving abroad!

    • Mark Rufin

      That’s what Mallory told me her experience was. She told me that since there was so many things to think about she never had the chance to think over what was going on until she was really there. But since I saw her go through it and since I had this whole year look forward to it, I am really really nervous.

  5. Margo

    Mallory, I really appreciate your honesty with this post. I’ll hand it to you, this is definitely not the funnest or easiest piece of moving abroad with someone. I spent a lot of time in Germany before getting the opportunity to move here, Dan however had never been outside of the US aside from a brief trip to Spain a few years ago (I’m not going to count spring breaks in Cancun, ha). The poor guy had a one-way ticket to a place that I swore was great and google image searches. On the day of his (and our dog, Stuart) arrival, I prayed that the sun would be shining and it’d be a beautiful first impression. That was last August. Now we’ve been here for almost 7 months it actually does feel like home and we’re really happy with our new lives as expats. Like you guys, we don’t speak the language, but we’re getting by. There are definitely highs and lows, but from my own experience it’s the anticipation that’s really challenging. In a lot of ways, I think it might have been easier if we were forced out of Virginia in a hurry. Having months to say goodbye to our nearest and dearest almost made it harder. So kudos to Mark for coping with this interim “what the heck am I doing” stage AND kudos to you for being a great support. It’s all SO exciting but I’m definitely think of you guys as you work through these last few days! :)

    • Mallory || Sweet Smores

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I feel like we’re kind of in the same boat :) After reading some of the comments below, I realized that maybe the fact that everything happened so fast before I moved here, helped me not be as nervous. I didn’t have time to think about it, while Mark has had a ton of time to think about it.

      I’m so glad that you two are more settled into your lives in Germany! It does take some time getting used to, but it’s a great feeling once a place feels like home.

  6. Rachel G

    Oh wow–that’s a big step! My husband and I are going to be ex-pats in the near future, in a country where I’ve lived before but he’s never lived. I’m excited but I also know that this will be a big transition for both of us, maybe a little harder on him because it’s completely new to him!

    • Mallory || Sweet Smores

      I wish you the best for your move! I’m sure you two will be a great support system for each other. It’s great that you will be able to experience it together. I do think it’s fun being the one who knows more about a place. I love being the “tour guide” :)

  7. Kate Hall

    This is lovely that you are so excited to see him soon! I remember stumbling across your blog when you’d freshly moved to Japan and thought how hard it was going to be for you guys to be apart. Whatever the obstacles now, you know you can face them :).

    • Mallory || Sweet Smores

      As each day goes by, I get even more excited because I know he’ll be in the same time zone soon! I can’t believe how much time has gone by since I first left. This whole LDR thing has been super difficult, but rewarding at the same time.

  8. Jamie | ink + adventure

    I’ve made a few cultural no-no’s in Taiwan, like sticking your chopsticks upright in your rice bowl [apparently that means death to whoever sits across from you] but I’ve found the people here to be very kind and forgiving. I think as an expat it’s also important to be kind and forgiving to yourself, especially at the start. things that used to be easy and routine [like grocery shopping or mailing a letter] will suddenly be complicated. remember that you are learning a new culture and cut yourself some slack! also, don’t be afraid to ask other expats for help in figuring things out. the veteran teachers at our school have been invaluable in telling us where to find things and how to get around. other than that just be open to the experience and enjoy it :)

    • Mallory || Sweet Smores

      I need to tell Mark to read your advice! It’s great Jamie! Like you said, you need to be kind and forgiving to yourself too. Even laugh at yourself at times if you make a mistake, to keep you lighthearted. It’ll be a funny story eventually.

      And I really hate going to the post office… I didn’t know that buying stamps would end up into being asked 20 questions.

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