Second Time Around

Living in a foreign country can be strange. It can be exciting and stressful, confusing and enlightening, depressing and uplifting. The experience is unique for everyone and unique in itself. This is my third time in Japan; my second time living here. My last visit was a whirlwind of excitement and without question the best vacation I ever had. My first time living here – despite its troubles – is still something I look back on positively.

There’s nothing like the first time. Everything is new. Everything is different. The discovery of similarities to your native land are as exciting as discovering the differences. One can easily become jaded and complacent as an adult. Having the simplest experiences feel novel is a refreshing return to youth. Best of all you have others to share this with, like grade school playmates. They, too, are finding this same elation and want to share it with you. Nick – my former partner in crime- commented accurately that living in Japan is like being a child again.  You can barely communicate, you understand very little and comprehending something new feels like a great triumph. Everything is a first.

The second time is not the first, nor does it hold the same excitement. I suppose that goes without saying. I did something uncommon in leaving and coming back. As a result I have a very different context than other people I meet. The every day minutia is not as exciting to me as it is my coworkers, for whom it is their first time in Japan.  I also am not settled into the country the way those who are second or third year ALTs are settled. Consequently I often feel I have trouble relating to other foreigners here. This is improving, but it is a frustrating place to be. Excited as I was to return, the second time around is different.

The second stage of culture shock is the Negotiation Phase. The former feelings of elation fade to frustration and anger from displeasing encounters. Having lived in Japan before I thought myself exempt from such shock, but obviously I was wrong. I entered into this situation with a lot of expectations that were not fulfilled. What I am left with is not bad, but in my arrogance I sometimes blind myself to the good around me. In knowing and wanting something else I miss what is there.  When I knew not, I wanted not and grabbed hold of each experience. Truly, ignorance is bliss.

I will adapt again. I know this. I also know that the friends I have now who I can relate to are something special.I learned that the last time as well. When you go back home, it’s like you’ve left a part of yourself behind. You want the best of both worlds. You will always feel split between them. You see how much has changed in your home and  in your friends. But the biggest change is the hardest to see.  That is the change in yourself. You share something special with the friends you go through that with, or friends you meet who have also gone through that. You understand each other in ways most people won’t. This isn’t a bond made with everyone, but the few people it is made with it are priceless.

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