At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Thursday, August 21, 2014

ただいま! Welcome Home: Reverse Culture Shock

Hello!  お久しぶりですね。

I've decided to update here to let you know that I finally left Japan after living there for 4 years.  It was difficult to leave and the process of re-acclimating to the USA is already proving to be even more difficult than the heartbreak I felt as I said goodbye to all my friends before getting on the plane in Naha.

Moving is never an easy thing to do and moving across the world is double the work.  I couldn't have done it without my close Japanese friends, whom I can never thank enough for all their help, their support, and kindness.   Even after I left they were still emailing and messaging me to find out how I was doing in the US. 

I never expected to live in Japan for so long, and especially in Okinawa, but life took me in that direction and now it has sent me in another direction.  I'm now back in Florida and have been here for almost 3 weeks.  It seems like I've been here much longer, to be honest.  The transition back has already been super rocky.  I feel like many people think I lived a glamorous life in Japan and maybe from a distance it seems that way, but the way I was treated at my school by some of my co-workers was as far from glamorous as the moon is from the earth.  I think it's hard to understand that living overseas isn't necessarily always this wonderful, fun-filled exciting life.  It's a life, like any other except the culture isn't American.  Some days are awesome, some days are wretched and horrendous, some days make you feel like a superhero and some days remind you that you speak the local language like a 6 year old does and that you aren't anywhere as independent as you thought you were.

Reciting my 10 minute goodbye speech in Japanese!

Goodbye speech at my school.

Saying goodbye to my students.

Coming back has made me realize a few things:

1.  I'll never be who I was before because a part of me has internalized Japanese culture/world perspective. I think it's a good thing though.

2. I want to keep traveling.   I need to find a job/career that supports this desire of mine.

3.  I want a job where I'm able to work independently and receive respect for the skills I bring to the job.

4.  I miss my friends in Japan so much already and cannot believe I may not see them again soon.  It's almost surreal that I won't be returning to Okinawa in a few weeks, as I have always done after the two short visits I made during my 4 years there.

5.  I need to find a community here and start diving into my interests/passions/hobbies because I already feel isolated.  I'm really hoping I can connect with Japanese expats or fellow returnees who have lived in Japan who are now living in the Tampa Bay area.

6.  I miss having my own apartment, so I need to sort that out soon.  I'm considering moving to St. Petersburg to be closer to the beaches. 

 7. I wish Tampa was a more accessible and culturally forward looking city, but I also have to realize that it's not a horrible place to live either.  It's more dynamic than many places to live.

 8.  I need to stop comparing my life in Okinawa to my life in Tampa, because that's how I got into trouble in Ishigaki when I started comparing my life on that tiny island to my life in NYC.

9.  Leaving Japan doesn't mean I have to leave it.  I've been trying to stay up to date and in contact with Japanese culture on a daily basis by reading about current events there.  Luckily for me, I follow a ton of really informative sites like Kyoto Review, Asahi, Ryukyu Shimpo, Spoon and Tamago, Tofugu, and a number of awesome personal blogs from bloggers all around Japan such as Sophelia's Adventures in Japan, Lost in Translation, More Things Japanese, and Zooming Japan, among others that I enjoy reading.

10.  (I guess this is actually an extension of #9):  Thanks to social media, my friends in Japan are always there and I can always reach out and message them, see their photos, keep up with their lives via their posts.  But I know that it's not the same as real life.  Still, it's better than not being able to see them or a part of them on a daily basis. 

Some of the gifts my students made and gave to me

I've become really aware and careful about being openly critical towards America right now, because I know that probably won't come across very well to my friends and family and other fellow Americans.  It also doesn't show my Japanese friends the good side of my culture.  

Some days are hard and I feel like the lens I'm peering through isn't matching the culture I'm living in.  One of the most recent things that has come up is the feeling that I'm in a sink or swim situation here in America, and that despite having lived away for 4 years in Japan, people around me act as if I never left in a way that makes me feel like my presence is taken for granted.  Everything seems so hard and harsh at times.  I recognize that part of this has to do with the fact that in Japan, I was always the guest, always the foreign novelty, always special, and even when treated badly by jealous individuals, I was still cared for in a gentle way by others around me.  America just isn't about the hand holding, gentle, indirect behavior or language, and I'm not really special here.

My last month in Japan included a trip to Yonaguni, my favorite island.  This is the view from the most Western tip of Japan.

I guess I'll eventually get over it.  I have to constantly remind myself that transitions are difficult and I'm going through reverse culture shock and that I need to be gentle with myself, even if others around me are not aware of how brash or abrasive they may seem to me.  I can't fault them for being themselves or for just being from a culture with different communication modes, different values, etc.

In some ways, I know that moving home was the best thing for me to do.  I could have stayed in Japan another year, but it would have just been another year there and my life there was limited due to cultural and language barriers.  The hardest part about Japan was not being able to eat food freely due to my dietary issues and at least in America I have way more options. So that's good because being exposed to gluten on a regular basis has not been that great for my health, though it did lead me to learn how to cook healthy foods and to fend for myself in restaurants.  

My students taught me how to perform tea ceremony.

Final month foodie memories (しゃぶしゃぶ with local organic veggies).

At the beach in Onna, Okinawa.

I have to look forward now and keep my eyes open as I re-learn what it means to be American and what it means for me to be living in the US right now.  If you've experienced reverse culture shock after a long time living overseas, what advice would you give to re-acclimate to your home culture?

By the way, I've decided to continue this blog, even though I am no longer living in Japan.  Who knows, maybe one day I'll return. Or maybe I'll go off and live in another country somewhere else.  But I feel like I don't want to compartmentalize my time in Japan as something that is cordoned off between then and now.  My experiences there are always with me and I feel that in keeping this as my permanent blog it symbolizes that. My time in Japan is still with me no matter where I end up in the future.  Isn't that better than just looking at it as one part of my life that's cut off from the next?  

Overnighting with friends at the JET sayonara party.
Bonfires on the beach with friends.

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