By Sonya Dubinina
I just booked my ticket to go home for Golden Week. It’s a week of a string of public holidays in Japan at the end of April/beginning of May. Most people get the week off and my job is generous enough to tack on an extra Tuesday off at the end. I’ve been so incredibly homesick all of February that I decided that I’m not staying in Tokyo for the week, I’m flying home. I know, it’s silly to fly home for a week, the flight is long and expensive, and can’t you just Google Earth Seattle or something? But it must be done. IT. MUST. BE. DONE.
I left a year-and-a-half ago with a heart full of hope and giddiness. I booked my liberating one-way ticket to Prague and braced myself for a roller coaster of adventures and a sweet careless life of an English teacher. After all, isn’t this how a lot of fresh graduates do this? And why? They go abroad to “teach English,” travel all over Europe or Asia with barely a sober moment, and return home with “international experience.” Partying abroad is easy, my friends. It’s often cheap and full of surprises. Who knows where you’re going to wake up! Living a responsible life of work and chores isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other is doable, of course. You work, you get paid, you pay your bills, you go to bed on time, you follow the contract. But what do you do when you don’t care to get wasted with strangers every chance you get? What to do when the words “pub crawl” make your skin crawl? What to do when your days off are everybody else’s days on?
Here’s a list of DO’s:
- Meetup.com – find like-minded individuals who like to do stuff and gather to do it every so often. Join all 10 language exchange groups, go have pointless conversations you have at work every day. Go to a singles party and drunkenly chat up strangers. Seize the day, damnit!
- Do sports. Go running, get them endorphins going! Buy a bike, ride away! Work out as if you’re in prison and need this to stay sane. Just stay in shape and everything will be ok!
- Skype friends. Nay, coerce friends into skyping, because you know they will get busier and busier, and they need to make time for you. Lest they forget you exist. Bug them via whatsapp, e-mail often! Facebook pictures of your existence! Don’t let yourself fall off the edge of the earth. Because you’re thousands of miles away, and out of sight often means out of mind.
- Cajole co-workers to hang out? I don’t know. I’m fresh out of ideas.
- Don’t complain that you can’t find friends abroad. You’re not the only expat. They’re everywhere! Just go to a bar alone and approach everybody who looks like he/she is not from around here. You’re bound to make lasting connections!
- Don’t expect anything. Guns don’t kill, expectations kill. So you think you’re going to instantly make friends with the awesomest people in the world – after all, why are we all here??? Clearly we’re all amazing in our choice of life style, job, and location. What else do you need? Unfortunately, the English teaching abroad is a more or less easy gig, and it invites just about everybody. Likeness of minds not included. Batteries sold separately.
- Don’t not enjoy the fact that you are abroad and get to have this international experience every day. Oh my god, look at these people, they are so different, yet so similar to us! Look at this architecture, look at the crazy black q-tips, look at it, don’t you just love life here???
And finally, don’t despair. If it’s not making you happy, give it a few months. Then pack your suitcase and go elsewhere. Or just book a liberating one-way ticket home. Start from scratch. Start over in your hometown or choose a different town altogether. Start over in a place where everybody speaks your language. Remember this life like a good dream and enjoy the fact that you did it – you tried.
Sonya found plenty of castles and a long snowy winter in Prague last year. Frankly, she just didn’t care to reminisce about being snowed in and animal skin-clad for 7 months out of the year, and so here she is – a lizard in the sun, the rising sun of Japan that is. She is now spending her days in Tokyo confused and often lost, mesmerized, and bewildered.