Advice for Living Abroad: Find a Safety Blanket

Here you are in Japan. You got yourself hired. You’ve said your goodbyes and came a few days early to get in some sightseeing. You’re training in Tokyo, a city where time moves faster than you’re used to but it’s okay because you’re finally here. You see the sights, try the food, do your training, shake hands with everyone, and it’s–bon voyage!–off to wherever they send you.

Maybe you’re fresh out of college and this is your first time living by yourself. But in the first few months you’ve adjusted well and that makes you feel good. You’re Sir Francis Drake circumnavigating the globe, Marco Polo having audience with Kubla Khan, Francis Peary, first to the North Pole. Even your troubles you meet with a smile because, after all, they’re foreign troubles, another story for parties. Oh, you’ve hit some lows, but none have been too bad, just moments where the loneliness gnaws at your edges, but you know that tomorrow you’ll wake up to another adventure. And that will remedy that.

Then something happens–a break up, trouble at work, something–and your low gets low. For the first time you consider what you told yourself you would never consider, because it would mean failing at your grand experiment.

You consider going home.

“No. I can do it,” you say, which is enough to shake you out of the gloom. But that flagpole you raised quickly loses its enchantment. It carries you on for a bit, but eventually you’ve overdrawn from the well of self-sufficiency, and it’s dry.

Now you need something. That little Japanese apartment they set you up in most certainly does not provide any comfort. The shape is different, the walls an unfamiliar texture, the dimensions just wrong. It’s not home. No. Never home. It’s midnight, and your sick neighbor suddenly has another coughing fit that you know will continue till the wee hours. There’s a fog of sickness crowding the other side of your wall and the situation on your side is, in your state, no better.

You need something, something that will make it okay, something to get you through the night because, you tell yourself, you’ll be okay again tomorrow.

You pick up your cell phone and check the world clock that you have set to both Japan time and your hometown’s. No. It’s too early there. You don’t want to wake up your family. Your problem isn’t that bad, but it is, but it isn’t. You can’t make up your mind whether to call. You know you they’ll forgive you, but you don’t want to disturb them.

Your phone gets clipped back in its charger.

Now, for the first time, you seriously entertain the notion of packing up and going back home. Because you know, quite frankly, that you can–without repercussion. Your family wants you to. Nothing would delight them more than to hear your voice on the receiver say “I’m coming home.”

So that’s where you are. And you’re wondering if that’s where you’ll stay.

Now, I would hardly consider myself the most successful pilgrim to Japan, but I certainly have gotten by well enough, and think I have a few things worth saying on the subject. So I was thinking: what’s the best piece of advice I could give about living in Japan, living anywhere, for that matter?

Well, my best tip for weathering the storms is to get a trusty umbrella. Or a blanket. A “blanket of security and happiness.” Like Linus, from Peanuts.

Your security blanket doesn’t actually have to be something you carry around with you (nor should it be, I imagine) but you need to have something when you have a really, really bad day. And you will.

A friend in the Army carries around incense sticks. When he’s thrown off to whatever part of the world he’s thrown off to, his only personal space one of four narrow bunks in a confined room, he lights his incense. With that familiar smell, his bunk is converted to his special place of security and happiness. “Instant home.”

For me, Pizza Hut pepperoni pizza makes things better. It’s my comfort food. Back in the states I would have a frozen pizza once a week. Since Japan has no decent frozen pizza, Pizza Hut serves to bring all those warm, fuzzy memories of reclining on the couch with my family and watching NCIS to the present. Nothing more “home” than that.

We all need something like that, because you came here for a reason, whatever it is. And you can’t let one bad day decide your future. Not in Japan, or anywhere else.


Question of the Day: Do you have any words of wisdom to share for living in your neck of the woods?


2 Comments on “Advice for Living Abroad: Find a Safety Blanket”

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    October 18, 2013 at 12:54 am #

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    • introvertnathan
      October 18, 2013 at 7:47 am #

      Hey there. I’m using the WordPress theme Currents, by Woothemes. It might look different because it’s not offered for free via WordPress.

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