A Response to an Almost Expat

I’m in no way an expert on being an expat.  I’ve only lived abroad for almost 8 months (holy cow!  8 months already?!) but in that short time, I’ve had so many new experiences and had to figure my way through situations that would never happen back at home.  Last time, I asked Mark a few questions about his worries and excitements about moving here.  I was so really happy to see everyone’s responses.  They made Mark feel a lot better about moving!  Thank you so much!

Today, it’s my turn to bestow my wisdom for him (okay, I’m not that wise and my advice isn’t that great) from my experiences from living in Japan, so far.  Even though I do this almost everyday…

JapanI’m not sure what this has to do with the post, but you can see this if you move to Japan!

Worries about abiding by the culture
Watch people.  Maybe that’s my anthropology background speaking, but really, watch people.  You can learn so much from just watching what other people are doing, whether it’s at a restaurant or at work.  It is important to read up about certain cultural practices before moving, so you’re not seen as completely rude and ignorant, but many times, you can’t learn everything from a book or a web page.  Like, I didn’t know that you’re supposed to flatten out your milk cartons after eating school lunch.  How exactly am I supposed to do that?  I watched the kids and a lot of them helped me.  (Fun fact: they recycle the milk cartons and they are made into toilet paper!).

Another random thing that it is really confusing is separating your trash.  Japan, I still don’t understand your trash separating!  If you’ve never lived in Japan, let me give you an example of something I thought was crazy: when you recycle a plastic bottle, you have to separate the cap, the plastic wrapper on the bottle, and the bottle itself.  That’s three different piles of recycles for one tiny bottle.  Isn’t it all plastic, you say?  Yeah, I don’t understand either.  Watch how people throw their trash away.  There are literally 2-3 different trashcans and sometimes they’re only written in Japanese.

Be excited!  Be be excited!
This is an amazing opportunity, but of course there will be ups and downs.  As I recently learned, the expat life isn’t all travel and fun.  There are times when your life will be monotonous and boring.  Once you get into a routine, your expat life just feels like normal, everyday life.  Remember to remind yourself that you’re living abroad, that there’s always adventure out there, new places to go, new things to eat, new things to learn.  When you feel like you’re in a rut, remember why you came here and take a trip (big or small) and explore.

Take a risk, take a leap, and breakawayyy (I don’t think that’s how that Kelly Clarkson song goes…)
Moving abroad, in general, is a HUGE leap of faith.  You never know what’s on the other side, what kinds of situations you’ll encounter or how you’ll react to living in a new culture.  I think an important thing is to remain positive and open minded.  Each day is a new day and a new adventure.  You’ll learn so much about yourself and your new country.  There will be times when you’re frustrated because you don’t understand people or they don’t understand you or you don’t get why they do this and the list goes on and on.  Take a deep breath.  Everything will be okay.  You can get out of situations more easily if you keep your cool.

What life in Japan like?
I think the hardest thing for me is communicating with people, since my Japanese is very elementary.  The worst people to talk to with elementary Japanese are the post office people and the train people.  Most of the time, I can understand 60-75% of what people are saying, but with at the post office and the train station… 0-5%.  I think it’s because they use a really formal language there, which in Japanese, is completely different from everyday speaking.  I’ve had most of my panic moments talking to these people.

As for teaching, since we weren’t technically trained, I found it a “learn as you go” process.  I had an idea of the kinds of activities I wanted to do, but as the months went on, I found out what works and what doesn’t.  I found new activities I wanted to try to make my lessons more exciting.  I still have a lot more to learn, because there are days when I think my lesson is completely boring, but as for now, I will continue to look for new activities and learn from the teachers I work with.


Those are some of the things I’ve learned and experienced in the past 8 months living as an expat.  Everyone’s experiences are different, so I can’t speak for all people.  I’m sure you (Mark) will have a different experience than me and will eventually have you’re own advice for new expats.  My closing words would be:

Go out there and enjoy this opportunity!  Soooo many people out there would love to have an experience like this and aren’t able to and remember why you came here! 



  1. Amy @ the tide that left

    The comment about fitting in culturally, or rather, not standing out is a really important one I wouldn’t have thought about necessarily. In cultures where customs and traditions, as well as social norms, as so strongly observed it can probably make someone nervous when they don’t know what those norms are.

    I remember moving to Russia and being highly offended by how rude people were in Moscow, but actually that’s the norm. Saying ‘thank you’ for everything, moving out of people’s way, or holding doors open for people, were not the norm and as a result I looked like a crazy lady!!

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