Monday, August 18, 2008

I Would Like to Buy a Life Please

Cars here in Japan have some very interesting names. My own has a pretty meager and descriptive name; Wagon (suzuki), but there are some out there with more interesting names such as the Life (Honda), Wish (Toyota?), AZWagon (Suzuki), Saloon (Toyota?), March (Nissan), Joy (Nissan?), and Fit(Honda?). All of these are fun names and when a foreigner sees these they might snicker a little bit, but when you think about it they aren't all that bad. Some of them are even very descriptive of the car and its function like the Cube(Honda) and the Move(Toyota?) Just another interesting thing about Japan.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Whats With The What?

It’s been almost one year on exactly. Here I am, still in Japan. In the same apartment, in the same town, at the same school, but this year it’s different. I feel like I have just gotten to adjust to this country, not like I will ever completely, but at least to the point where I am not always surprised or confused. It’s awfully hard to tell how much I have changed since being here, but I got a good idea when I went back to the U.S. for two weeks.

A few of the expatriates that I have talked to in the past have told me that there isn’t reverse culture shock, it doesn’t exist. They are wrong. There is reverse culture shock, it does exist, but its only allowed to exist if you have changed in the other culture. If you haven’t allowed yourself to change, of course, returning home will bring no stress. If you have, however, the old world will not be the same.

Coming home was truly a measure for me of how things had changed, how I had changed, and of course a testament of how life moves on while I am absent from my former role. My nephews have grown older and started talking to some degree and of course my grandfather has grown a little older and my grandmother is gone. Those people are clear indicators of the passage of time, but only because they are on the periphery of age, hence showing the most change. My friends and family had grown as well but in different ways. Ways that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Maybe because it wasn’t them so much as my perception of them and the world in which their lives existed that had changed.

One of my friends and I had a very genuine talk in which they really questioned the core of their life and whether or not they had made the right choices. They said that they were envious that I had not chosen a normal path, that I set out over that far hill to see what was out there and got what I wanted. I have heard this before and in a corner of my heart I know it to be true and something that I take pleasure from. I chose a different path and from that I have gained a vast amount of wisdom. However living abroad has not brought about fields of daisy and days of leisure. Traveling has been hard work. Learning new customs and a new language is stressful and often lonely. It’s beset with frustrations and defeats day after day in what can appear to be a never improving situation. You are awash in another culture, so it’s up to you to find ways to adjust.

I got a big dose of this by bringing Aya home with me to America. It was hard for her. Her English is good, not perfect, but good enough to communicate more than wants and needs. She has also spent some time around the foreigners here in Japan and in other countries. Yet, being in the U.S. was very stressful for her. She often made that known to me by complaining that I hadn’t brought her to the right store because they didn’t have the right peaches (true story) to telling me that I wasn’t helping her integrate into coversations (also true story, unfortunately).

Many people think that living in a foreign country is an adventure, which it is. Although they forget that it’s not an adventure you return home from in a week or two. You don’t get to sit on a beach, made for you, and learn just a few words to get by. It’s your life, not a break from it. It is the rare person that does it and that is mainly because of fear of the unknown, uncontrollable, or uncomfortable. Everyday presents some struggle whether its as simple as reading a label in the grocery store and guessing as to the contents or as difficult as explaining your cultural perspective in a tongue that is not your own to people who find your physical appearance enough reason to treat you differently, whether that be nicely or not.

I didn’t get here by backing away from what I was afraid of or what was difficult and I didn’t get here by one flawless victory over another. I’ve taken some big defeats getting where I am, Egypt being the most notable. Everyday there is a new struggle and everyday brings defeat in some way. You just have to take those in stride and focus on what you are accomplishing. One defeat or one victory doesn’t mean the struggle is over. One can’t expect to find much of anything in one moment. Anything worth doing takes persistence. So I persist here in Japan. Here as a senpai (elder person) to the new ALTs. Here as a teacher to my kids for a second year. Here as a foreigner. Here as myself.