How to Deal With Getting Older Abroad

Portrait, Ha Long Bay
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Now that I finally had some time to sit down and compile my thoughts, I’m able to acknowledge the fact that I turned 24 way back in May last year. I know, I know, I’m super behind the ball with this, but better late than never (Right?)? Judging by the fact that we’ve finished 2018, and 2019 has practically slapped me in the face, I’d like to review my second year as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) on the JET Program (although I’m well into my third), and also simply as an expat living abroad. Some would say that 24 isn’t really a milestone–“get back to me when you hit 30,” some might say–but these next two years seem like they’re gonna be kind of busy, so let me take the mic for a second. 

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Moving your whole life abroad and living in a place and doing a profession that many people see as transient, it makes you do a lot of introspective thinking. Being an ALT on the JET Program, you get a lot of support as a professional individual and as a person. We come in with a large group of people and have the ability to make connections with people from all over the world. At the same time, because our connections are with people all over the world, those relationships we make are often temporary (even if we try hard to keep in touch). Of course, that’s the true dilemma of expats all over the world, but even knowing that fact, that goodbyes don’t get any easier. 

While I’m living what people would consider “the life,” the friends that I made during some of my most formative years are moving on with theirs, creating permanent careers and creating families. Sometimes Japan feels like a dream. It feels like I closed my eyes for the past roughly three years and when I finally wake up, everything will be different back home. Ultimately, Japan feels like I’m on borrowed time with my life on hold. Society puts a clock on age and aspirations, and as I get older I feel it more and more. 

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Over the almost three years that I’ve lived in Japan, my plans have changed ever so slightly, but in a way that has changed my trajectory completely. When I left the US, I had it in my mind that I would do two years in Japan and two years in Korea, go to graduate school for two years, and join the Foreign Service to be a diplomat. Those dreams haven’t completely changed, I still want to go to graduate school and be a diplomat, but I didn’t move to Korea, and I still live in Japan a year after my “deadline”. I thought I had it all figured out, but I find my plans changing every year. Now, I wonder if I could live in Japan more long-term–I mean, I’ve studied Japanese for almost 12 years (that’s over a decade!)–and that has made me think more about where I’m going. My dreams are pretty much the same, but living abroad has made me think about other ways to get from point ‘A’ to ‘B’. 

Taking the huge step to move to another country has been an experience I’ll never regret. I’ve been able to experience so many different cultures, visit more countries (and counting!) than I ever thought I could, improved my Japanese so much, and made connections that I would never have had the pleasure of experiencing had I stayed in my little suburban town back in the States. Living in Japan is, and will always be, an amazing experience. I devoted over a decade of my life to the language and the culture, so nothing I do in Japan is a waste. Japan is an experience that has continually allowed me to grow as an individual and as a global citizen. Living here and traveling abroad, I’ve learned so much more than what can be written down on a list on the internet, but here are some things I’ve learned in my short 24.5 years of life and while living abroad: 

  1. People may only be in your life for a season and not the whole journey. 
  2. It’s important to slow down once in a while. 
  3. Life is a journey and not a race. The people around you may seem like they’re “winning,” but they’re just in a different stage of their journey. 
  4. Take more chances even though it scares you. 
  5. Pessimism or inward negativity can be a shield, but it is also a sword.  
  6. What is meant for you, you’ll get.

These are things I’m sure others have said before. They may not be the most profound revelations, but as someone who’s very type-A, they’ve helped me learn to allow myself to make mistakes and make changes to my “plan.” I raise my glass to the next five years of my life as I know I’m in for a whirlwind of change.

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If you’d like me to talk more about my life on the JET Program (other than travel or about Fukui) or something in particular to Japan, comment below!

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