I’ve been living in Japan for nearly three years now. I’ve come to adapt to life here to a certain extent. But, this move was definitely different from the first time I moved to another country. It can be an intimidating thing moving somewhere new, and it can be even more scary if that somewhere new is another country. Even with this in mind, going to other countries to live can be an experience that will change you in all the best ways.
When I finished university in California I decided that I wanted to get out of the United States for a while. I was offered work at a school in China, so I went with it. I’d always wanted to visit Asia, but had no idea where to start. Once I had my job lined up it was time to figure out the visa process for the first time in my life. As a special note, I had never even had a passport before this. I had been to Canada and Mexico with my family, but when I was young we didn’t need a passport to cross the border, just our school ID was enough to get us back in. Most Americans my age didn’t have any need for a passport until they were well into their teens, or even graduating from University like myself. But, it was something that I needed to make out of the country this time.
I mention all of this because I want to let you know that moving to another country can be confusing and difficult at times. I sometimes found myself feeling lonely or just literally lost. And while I could probably fill a few books with problems or difficulties about moving abroad, that’s not fun or really interesting. Plus, for every bad or difficult experience I have, I have ten amazing, exciting, eye opening, or wonderful experiences as well.
I’ve never been much of a planner. I just let things happen as they will and go with the flow. But, trying to fit everything I needed for the next year into two suitcases that needed to weigh less than 23kg and a carry on. How do you decide what to bring with you when you’re going to be gone for an entire year? Packing for a weekend or a week holiday is easy. This was not. The only advice I can give is that you should only take what you need. While this sounds tough, this actually helped me realize which of my many possession were really important to me. I might also mention this was a lot like Marie Kondo’s organizing ideas. It was stressful in some ways, but fun in a lot of others and I spent a lot of the time with my mom deciding what to bring. That’s time I’ll always treasure.
The second thing that is jarring about moving abroad is a complete loss of common knowledge on how things are done. Even if you speak the local language, which I did not. You will have to find the apps, companies, and stores in your area that handle the day to day needs of living. Seeing as I didn’t really speak any Chinese, I took beginner Chinese in university, I couldn’t really communicate well with the locals or read.
That’s where a fun game I came up with really helped. I call it ‘menu rulet’. This was especially fun for me because I love food. Eating is one of the best parts of visiting other countries, but even more so when you live there. When you go on vacation you have to pick what foods you want to try and plan where you can get it. But, when you live in another country you’ve got time to explore.
My first residence in China was a hotel for the entire stay, so I couldn’t cook even if I wanted to. This meant I had to go out. I couldn’t read more than 肉面 on any menu so the first place I went I saw those kanji and ordered it. Knowing that it wasn’t a good idea to only eat beef noodles for an entire year I decided to just start picking random foods off the menu. Not only did this allow me to become a much less picky eater it also got me to try a bunch of foods I had no idea existed.
This was probably one of my favorite things to do in my first year in China. This was the reason I wanted to go somewhere so different from my home. I wanted to experience new things and try a lot of new foods.
The last thing that some of us, people living away from their family, might have come to have dealt with was homesickness. I’m a very independent person and so is everyone in my family. That doesn’t mean I never miss them, I just tend to focus on what’s right in front of me. You’re going to feel this, I won’t lie. And I say this not to scare you, but to encourage you.
Ask anyone you know who has been away from home for a long period of time and they’ll probably say something similar. Make friends. One of the best reasons to go abroad is the chance to meet people. I’ve made friends from all over the world in my time traveling and living in different countries. They’re friends that might last the duration of my trip, or friends that will last a lifetime.
One of my best friends from China happens to be an Italian woman from a smallish town near Rome. When she had to go back to Italy we were all sad to say the least, but we still talk to this day, seven years after she left. She has since had a baby and just like the rest of us is living her life however she feels best. I’ve been to see her twice in Italy.
Once about a year after she left and once a couple years later, I really wanted to meet her baby so I made a special detour on a vacation I was on tour through Europe just to spend the day with them. It was definitely one of the best parts of my trip. And as soon as I can I want to visit them again.
With my last story about this done I want to say, moving to a new country is a wonderful experience and can do many things to broaden your horizons. It can be a very scary thing, but no matter how scary it is it will be worth it. I’ve had the pleasure of living in three different countries and while some things were difficult, these last seven years living around the world and meeting new people have been some of the best years of my life and I wouldn’t change it for anything.