If you’re wondering if you too can take on life as an expat in the country you’ve been admiring from afar, the answer is yes, you can.
Here’s the thing: My trip to Japan actually started years before I even set foot on the plane. I’d heard about the Japan Exchange and Teaching program (more commonly known as JET) in my first year of University, and given my love at the time for everything I knew about Japan (which was pretty much Final Fantasy, Dragon Ball Z and neon leg warmers) I was determined to sign on once I had the required degree. But…I was scared. At that point I don’t think I’d even been away from my parent’s house for more than a week. Plus I’d been researching — reading about what life was like for foreigners in Japan on blogs and forums, and it wasn’t always positive. Mixed in with stories about ultimate temple crawling and sushi so delicious it could bring peace to the Middle East were anecdotes about racism in Japan: TV shows that catered to stereotypes, Black Sambo dolls, Mr. James (a caricature of a clueless Caucasian foreigner used in a McDonald’s ad campaign) and silly questions and comments like, “do you play basketball?” (if you’re a black foreigner), or “foreigners can’t learn Japanese”.
Fast forward four years and I’d graduated from University, but I needed internship experience to get my journalism diploma from the college I had also been fast tracking through at the time. And that’s how I found myself in an office, working that 9-5, instead of saying a teary goodbye to my family at the airport.
I finished the internship, but stayed on to pay my student loans. One year at the company turned into two, and then three, and suddenly I found myself stressed out over deadlines wondering “whatever happened to Japan?” I started researching Eikaiwa schools because I knew that if I worked with JET I’d probably get sent out to the bush where no one spoke English, and moving to Japan was already tough enough. Finally, after spending a fitful night worrying about an issue I would have to fix at work on Monday, I woke up one Sunday morning, turned on my computer and just applied online to the school that seemed the best fit.
It’s just an application. I told myself. Even if I do get an interview I don’t have to go.
Well, a couple of days later I got an email, and sure enough I did get an interview, and I did in fact go. I told myself:
I’m just going to the interview; I might not even get the job. And if I do, I don’t have to accept it.
But strangely enough, after the interview the fear started to give way to excitement, and I found myself really hoping that I got the job. Even though the guy who interviewed me said it would take about two weeks for them to let me know, I couldn’t help checking my email every day until finally I got the answer I’d been both hoping for and dreading: I had got the job, and if I accepted I’d be moving to Japan.
Ah yes, now there was a serious decision to make, but once again I just had to trick my brain into believing it was no big deal: I’ll say yes to the job, I can always back out if I change my mind, and I can always move home if I hate living in Japan.
And armed with the knowledge that nothing is forever I was able to take that leap across the globe, and now no matter what happens, I’ll never have to wonder what it would have been like if I had moved to Japan.
I can’t say life here has been perfect, it’s been challenging as you’ll see in some of my other blog posts, but the fact that this is the challenge I chose makes it easier for me to face it. And I’ve only been here ten months, but I feel I’ve learned so much about myself, and gained a lot of confidence too. I guess successfully navigating life in a foreign country will do that to you.
So I say if you’re thinking about moving abroad, and there aren’t any tangible obligations holding you back (such as a family) then why not take that first step? After all you don’t have to go through with it…but you probably will.