Half a year ago I wrote about how awkward Japan was for me because I’m overly shy and neurotic. Though there are days when I still feel socially inept, I’ve come a long (like, a really long) way. At some point–probably around the same time certain people left or entered my life–I decided that allowing myself to be that way was a waste of time and energy. It was both physically and mentally draining for me to feel so alone so often in a country that I could honestly see myself living in for a very very long time. Luckily a new, happier me has emerged.
When my brother came to visit this summer, I realized how much I truly missed America. I think it was hard for me to admit that before. But missing people you love doesn’t make you any less strong or able to live abroad. In fact, someone recently told me that people who allow themselves to feel the range of their emotions are actually much stronger. So yes, I do miss my friends and family and cheese, but now that I know that, I feel much freer. Some weight has been lifted. Being honest with myself and my emotions has actually made me a lot happier, because it’s no longer weird for me to tell my mom and dad or best friend that I need them. Trapping all those feelings and refusing to feel them was really toxic. There were times I wanted to cry and just couldn’t because my control wouldn’t allow it. It’s a weird phenomenon to describe, but letting go has certainly helped.
Around the same time my brother came, I met someone really lovely. A boy. No, a man. Having never met a real man that I could be romantically involved with, I was/am scared. But something about this new relationship has helped me realize who I am and who I want to become. I don’t want to reveal too much, but he too has allowed me to feel. That’s crucial. Not only that, but he’s proved to be more helpful than any Japanese textbook, so naturally my confidence in speaking has improved. He’s become an important part of my life, and I’m really really lucky. I found myself a good ‘un.
I’ve also just been here for a while. And the longer I stay, the more comfortable I get. Picking up the language, learning the cultural quirks, and making lasting human connections have shaped me to a much more able person. It’s hard living abroad, especially in a place as culturally unique as Japan. Culture shock does happen. Depression happens. But I’ve learned that letting unfavorable things happen and not dealing with them in the proper way is dangerous. Now I make a point to tell someone when something scares or confuses me. I tell people when I’m feeling down. And the more Japanese I learn, the more I can talk to my students and coworkers, which is really important if I want to continue living here. The more I listen and learn, the more I understand about the world around me. Obviously.
My advice to you is to first see the world. See the world and learn about other people and cultures. Try to understand the native people and why things are they way they are. Ask questions. Never be afraid. If you feel alone or confused or stressed, tell someone. Find a way to deal with it. It doesn’t make you weak or stupid. It doesn’t mean you should catch the first plane back home. It means you’re growing. You are becoming a more improved, more enlightened you. There are things that I probably never would have discovered about myself had I not come here. I can mostly live in another language. I can drive on the left side of the road. I can be friends with old Japanese men. I can be away from so many people I love and still think about them all the time. I can love. I can eat fermented soy beans. I can eat whole fish. I can live alone. And work in an environment where only 5 people speak English. I can be a friend, a coworker, a teacher, a girlfriend, an foreign inhabitant in Japan…in a country where things are not always easy. I just can.
I will take so many more trips and make so many more memories, so please look forward to it. For now, I leave you with this: