Has it really been six months?
Yes. Yes it has.
In the past six months, I’ve moved to a new home, tried new foods, worked to absorb a new language, met lots of new people, and made new friends. I’ve experienced the frustrations of culture shock and the confusion of trying to figure out my identity in a new context. But overall, it’s been an enriching and satisfying experience.
In the process of reflecting on my six-month anniversary, it’s time for one of my favorite activities: making lists!
Things I miss about America:
1. American camaraderie. Specifically, in the workplace and in more formal interactions. I don’t have a ton of varied work experiences, but I feel like in America there tends to be a more level playing field and more informal interactions. The hierarchy, politeness, and sometimes almost groveling present in work/business relations and among strangers can seem a bit stifling to my American mind. It makes me nervous to know that I might be found offensive if I forget to thank someone for a favor done, or to greet someone at the appropriate time. On the other hand, it’s all a matter of what you’re used to, and sometimes I wonder how rude we Americans must seem, with our brash talkativeness and our nonchalant attitudes about authority and formality.
2. Shopping in English. Of course, it’s fun to shop in a different country. I love going to the grocery store and buying new products to try – or continuing to buy favorite products I’ve found, things that I can’t get in the States. The frustrating thing is trying to read the labels, especially if I’m checking for a specific ingredient or nutrient. Luckily, the technology on Smartphones these days allows my friends and me to use electronic dictionaries and translation apps. It’s all part of the adventure, and it’s a good way to learn new words and symbols!
3. American scenery. This area has some beautiful scenery – sharply sloping hills, dense forests, and wide rice fields. For all that, I still miss the familiarity of American scenery. There’s something comforting about being surrounded by the nature you’re used to. For me, that’s the gentle hills and wide fields of home. And especially sunsets over the lavender patch!
Things I love about Japan:
1. Customer service. The extreme politeness I mentioned above? Well, it makes for a great customer service experience. Of course, everyone is human and not all cashiers and customer service workers are bright and bubbly. But still, overall I would say there’s a much better customer service experience here than in America. For higher-end services, the standards are even better. For example, the few times I’ve taken the shinkansen (bullet train), I’ve noticed that the attendants and the conductors all excuse themselves when entering a car and bow when leaving it. I was a little surprised when I first saw it, but not really, because after all…this is Japan.
2. Walking everywhere. I guessed, when I moved to Japan, that I wouldn’t miss driving that much. And I don’t. I do miss the convenience of it – and granted, I haven’t had to walk during the winter yet, so I might change my mind! But I like having a good reason to get outside and exercise. Nothing like toting a backpack full of groceries home from the store to (hopefully) build muscle and get some aerobics in.
3. Kind strangers. People here are amazing. I’ve had different opportunities where I’ve had to ask strangers questions, or ask for help. And every time, I’m met with kindness, attentiveness, and often actions that go above and beyond what I originally asked for. Their kindness and hospitality – especially if they feel a sense of concern about you, as with our employers – is unparalleled!
Six months gone, eighteen more to go. It remains to be seen what the next year and a half holds…