I can’t believe it’s already September! It’s been a little over a month since I arrived in Japan and lets just say, I’ve already experienced so many things. I had my culture shock moment after all these little everyday stresses started building up. Everyday is a new adventure for me, filled with so many different emotions, even if I’m just going to the grocery store. Trying to find vegetable oil took me about 15 minutes (turns out they don’t have it at my store). Sometimes I need to look up the Kanji for certain things I’m looking for and match them up on the labels because I can’t read Kanji. Little occurrences like these are a learning experience in itself, because I get to interact with the local people and I’m learning what it’s like to be one of the community here. Along with learning about culture, I’ve also learned a lot about myself and my relationship with Mark.
There are some little things that I’m trying to get used like the fact that you walk on the left side of the sidewalk. I’ve almost ran into other bikers because I’m walking on the right side. Another thing that I’m trying to get used to is finishing all my food when eating in front of my co-workers and when school starts, my students. You’re basically expected to finish all your food, which can be difficult when you’re full or there are things on your plate that you don’t like. At school, I will be eating school lunch with the students. The students are expected to finish everything in their lunch and as their teacher, I have to set an example and finish my lunch too.
I’m learning more about myself each and everyday. I know that I can get myself out of situations, even when I don’t know the language. It can be so easy to be frustrated and give up, but doing those things will not get you anywhere. I know that I truly love traveling. I was bitten by the travel bug early, since my parents took my brother and me on a vacation every summer. Once I started traveling internationally, my love for it skyrocketed. I don’t know how my love for traveling will be factored into my future, but I really hope I can travel somehow. I believe that traveling and learning about different cultures makes you more open-minded, compassionate, and patient. You get to see how beautiful the world and its people are. There are differences, but there are also so many similarities between cultures. You realize that people have the same conversations you have about life, love, work, the weather, food. They do the same things you do – they laugh, cry, they have worries. You get to experience all these similarities and differences, which gives you a better appreciation and understanding for other people.
Then, there’s the hardest part of it all: going through a long distance relationship. This is the longest and furthest Mark and I have ever been apart and the months are going to keep going by. In this past month, there have been misunderstandings and lonely times, but we both knew these things were going to happen. It’s inevitable when you can’t talk all the time and know everything the other person is doing. Sometimes longing becomes so powerful that it trumps patience. I know this happened to me a few times, but I have to keep telling myself, it’s going to take some time before we can be together again. When I travel, it sometimes makes me sad because I think of how much more fun I would be having being able to experience it with Mark. But, I need to look at it from a different view and think, “We will be here together later! And I get to be the tour guide/expert! Enjoy every traveling experience you get.” This is a huge learning and growing experience for the both of us. We have goals to look forward to that keep me motivated. I know we’ve become stronger as a couple in this past month and I know we’ll keep growing and becoming stronger with the months to come. And thank goodness for video chatting and texting apps. They’re huge lifesavers. I’m also really happy that I came across this post about Vanessa’s experiences with a long distance relationship. It made me excited and hopeful and gave me a different perspective on long distance relationships. To look at a long distance relationship as another spark to your relationship. The next time we see each other, it’ll be like a new flame was lit.
In just a month, my life has changed and I’ve learned so many new things. I still can’t believe that I’m actually living in Japan. I’m so excited about the months to come, because this is such an amazing experience. I would like to keep on growing as a person, a partner, and a cultural ambassador. I’m starting to teach today, so that will be another experience in itself! I’m excited and nervous to meet my students and co-workers and I can’t wait to get into teaching.
Culture shock. Culture fatigue. I heard about it so many times at orientation, I couldn’t count the number of times it was mentioned. They explained the roller coaster of emotions you’ll have throughout the year after you move to another country. Some people will go through this earlier and other will go through this later. This chart was ingrained into our brains at every orientation we went to:
I never really thought about culture shock, even after the million times people talked about it, but it hit me. I experienced it. Last night, I broke down when I was video chatting with Mark. I didn’t even realize all these emotions were building up inside me over the past month, waiting to explode. Then it happened… I’m so stressed out. I kept saying that over and over again. I don’t think I’ve cried this hard in a long time, but it was at this point in time when I realized, yeah I’m stressed out from my new environment.
So what happened? For me, it wasn’t a huge event that triggered this, but it was built over the past month. I had a little experience living in another country, since I studied abroad. I also knew some aspects of Japanese life from watching dramas, talking to conversation partners, and reading about Japan. I’m also part Japanese, so I’ve learned about cultural points from family members. When I got here, it wasn’t so much, OMG I’M IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WORLD AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO EXPECT kind of thing.
What happened to me was the fact I can’t understand or communicate with people. One year of Japanese is barely getting me anywhere. I can only answer and understand super simple conversations, but obviously, people don’t talk like they’re five years old. I’ve been getting frustrated because I can’t answer questions when they’re directed toward me and I always have to turn to the other JET to help me out. When I study, sometimes I get discouraged because there is so much I have to learn and it feels like I’m not retaining anything I study. I know becoming conversational isn’t going to happen overnight so I need to keep pushing through and keep practicing and studying. I just really hope that my co-workers know that I REALLY REALLY REALLY want to be able to talk to them and understand that they’re saying and that I’m working hard.
Everyday, during lunch, we sit together and I pretty much just sit there and eat my lunch quietly. I try to understand and engage with what they’re saying, but I can only understand about 1/32 of what they’re saying. There are times when they ask me questions, but I can only answer back with really short sentences. Sometimes I feel so lonely even though I’m surrounded by people. With this, each day my little frustrations have been building up, which led to my break down.
Now, what can I do? I know that I can survive. I know that I’m able to live comfortably here and get myself out of miscommunications. I just need to take a deep breathe and keep being patient, because learning the language is going to take some time. It may not even happen in one year and I need to realize that and keep working hard. Sometimes I lose sight of what my goals are, when I start over thinking things. I need to stay healthy, go out exploring, and always remember my goals and why I decided to come here.
This is an amazing, once in a lifetime experience, and I’m grateful for all the opportunities that I’m having and will have here. I’ve experienced so many things in the past month and my year here is only getting started. But I’m also excited for the moment when Mark and I will be able to experience this together. I’m working hard for him and he’s my motivation to keep going and think positively about everything. Part of my battle is not being able to see Mark on a daily basis; not being able to hug him, hear his laugh, or talk about random things. I need to stay strong for the both of us.
Everyone goes through some variation of culture shock and I kept thinking to myself, “You got this. You’re gonna love it the entire time you’re there.” A little cocky on my part, because truthfully, it’s impossible to always be happy with where you’re living no matter if it’s the home you’ve always lived in or a new one. I’ve accepted my faults and I’m now open to growing and becoming stronger and stronger each day. I need to realize the little things that stress me out every day and not let it build up over time. I love my co-workers. They’re extremely nice and welcoming and I’m so glad that I’m living here and working with them. I know that they are happy to help me out and teach me about Japanese life. I need to take that energy and put it into my studies.
Here’s a great post I found about the different stages of culture shock and how to overcome low points: The Complete Guide to Culture Shock
Have you ever experienced culture shock? When was the moment it finally hit you? What did you do about it?
cr: The Guardian
Okay, there’s more to Japan than sushi, cherry blossoms, and anime, but those were the first three things that came to mind as I typed the title of this post. Other things that pop into my mind are mostly food… ramen, curry, yakisoba, udon. I love noodles. Okay, moving on from food.
I saw Taylor’s post about going to South Africa and I thought, what am I worried about or what will be different about moving to Japan? I’ve gathered some of my thoughts about moving.
- The language barrier – Will I be able to survive barely knowing any Japanese? I will be in a small town where I’m sure foreigners aren’t present. I need to keep reviewing and studying! My plan is to try to study at least three days a week. It’s always been a dream of mine to be fluent in another language.
- On having an actual job – I’m a working woman now! I’m going to be working for my own money and living off of it. This is a first! I hope it’ll be an easy transition to the working hours. I still feel like a little kid that has to go to school, so hopefully I can fit into the working world lifestyle. I’m totally not a morning person, so we’ll see how this goes.
- Making friends – I always worry about this no matter what I’m doing. I’m always afraid that I won’t make any friends and I’ll be super lonely! This time more than any, I’m worried for this. I will need people to distract me from being homesick and being Mark-sick (I’m pretty sure that will become a thing eventually). I want to surround myself with great people and awesome activities to be busy.
- Seasons! – For the first time in my life, I will be experiencing season changes! Here in Southern California, it’s pretty much summer all year long. There are no leaves changing colors, no snow, no super blossom-y flowers, and barely any rain. There are palm trees lining my street, so there’s is no way they’re changing to firery colors. And I don’t even own an umbrella or rain jacket! As you can see, experiecing seasons in Japan is going to be TOTALLY different. I’m kind of worried how I will handle the cold weather and snow though… But I’m excited for it! (Kind of…)
- Travel – how often will I be able to travel? A reason why I wanted to live in Japan was to travel around the beautiful country as well as go to other countries in Asia. I love traveling and I hope that my schedule (and my salary) will let me go to all the places I want to visit.
These are a few things that have been on my mind lately about moving to Japan. There are a lot more things I’m thinking about and will mention in future posts. Even when I move there, I’m pretty sure that there will be a ton of things I’ll be confused about! I’m already confused about the whole separating your trash thing.