16 Things to Know Before you Live Abroad

Monday seems like an odd time to be reflective, but my predecessor has been picked and the next couple months of my life have been filled with “things to do before I leave” plans. Here is a list of things that I’ve discovered both while living in Japan (on and off) for almost 3 years, and supporting students during their study abroad programs.

Adjusting to life abroad can be tough:

  • Realizing and accepting that friendships will change– some friendships will not last the distance, others will grow because of it. While you will most likely start where you left off with individual friends, the groups themselves will evolve- there will be inside jokes you don’t get, new people you don’t know, and when you do hang out with them again, you will almost feel as if you need to win them over again.
  • I miss you” will start sounding a little empty and a little more like a greeting than a true sentiment.
  • Having been to Japan about 13 times prior to moving to Tokyo and having grown up in a Japanese-American household, I find that it’s more difficult for me to cope with cultural things that I don’t quite agree with. I think that had this been a culture that I was more removed from, say, somewhere in Central America, I might be able to pass it off with “that’s just how things are here,” but being partially Japanese in heritage and culture, I feel like I should understand everything, which makes it fairly emotionally taxing when I don’t. That is OK.
  • Being sick and living alone, especially in a foreign country sucks. I suggest you buy some Skype credit so you can call your mother to whine because trust me, it definitely helps.
  • There will be things that people not in your situation will not understand. Moving somewhere new and immersing yourself in a different culture for an extended period of time on your own is no easy feat, and it’s hard to people who have not actually done that to empathize (though not for lack of trying).
  • On the other hand, it will bring you closer to those who do get it because they’re going through something similar, just in a different part of the globe. I’ve both made new friends and found that some friendships are strengthened by this because these things are learned only through experience.
  • Crying it out really does help. Some times you’ll suddenly look up and feel a little ridiculous for it, but you’ll feel better.
  • Find your thingFind something that really makes you happy whether it be reading, cooking, hiking, blogging, knitting, drawing, etc. This will provide you with comfort when you don’t feel like doing much else.
  • Take your time. It takes a while to adjust. Don’t stress yourself out just because you aren’t fluent and have a huge social circle (especially with local people) 3 months in. Those take time and cultivation.

When you come across something that strikes you as odd or rubs you the wrong way:

  • Ask someone the background behind the cultural aspect/issue– though this does not always make acceptance easier, you will feel less irritated about why men are never the ones to make tea and why it’s hard for women to return to the workforce after childbirth in Japan.
  • If someone says something borderline (or outright) rude to you in English, ask someone to translate it back into the original language first. A lot of times direct translations can end up sounding much more harsh than the speaker intended, and cultural assumptions discarded.
  • When something just seems too weird to be true, just smile/laugh (NOT AT IT & when appropriate). There are just some things that are too silly or just not worth arguing about. Smiling will help get you out of that bad mood and lessen your frustration.

Things that help me cope with homesickness 
(because it still strikes):

  • Bringing comfort foods– I am not a big eater of Mac and Cheese, especially not the heavily processed, boxed kind while living in the US, but I’ve found that it’s a good comfort food for me in Tokyo. When I go abroad from Japan as my base, I usually take a couple Japanese candies for the plane or when I’m nervous about something. It helps calm me down.
  • 2~3 select photos/items that remind you of home– bringing too many will make it worse, none at all will be worse still.
  • Limit your time on Facebook to lessen the feeling that you’re missing out on those events that had become tradition for you, your family and your friends. Sure you might want to flaunt what you’re up to, but you’ll find yourself spending hours looking at pictures of birthday parties, holidays, graduations, weddings that you were “supposed” to be a part of.
  • Create new traditions. For example, I Skype with certain people on Dec 26th (Christmas Day their time) so I’m still included in the traditional gatherings, just in a different way.

Anything I missed?

[Update]: Ooo! I just thought of another one!

  • You know that random person you met 3 years ago a couple times in college that now happens to live in the same area as you? Contact them. People change and tend to be different out of context. Even if you weren’t attached at the hip way back when, they could become a really good friend now. What do you think Facebook is for?!

Original post

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Erica Jordan
Features on our blog 

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