This year, I've been getting out a bit more and have been enjoying meeting new people and developing new friendships. This is a huge shift from my previous philosophy of limiting relationships. Crazy philosophy I know, but I was on a mission. I had serious financial and career goals to achieve and I simply didn't want to be involved too much. However, aside for the career goals and long working hours I put in, the foreign community here is quite transient. The foreign female community especially. I rarely meet women who intend to remain here more than three years. Thus, it can become quite discouraging to continue developing friendships, as it's almost inevitable that that person will be leaving within the next year and a half. It takes me that long to develop a true friendship!
Anyway, since I will soon be a mommy- I am in huge self-reflection mode. And as the morning sickness continues to go away and I become more genki, active, and return to a semi-regular routine, I've been attempting to reach out to more people. The conversations I've found most engaging recently are those with expats who are at the cusps of leaving here for good, or are committing themselves here for a longer period of time. I thought I'd take a moment to share my perspective on what I have determined to be the four stages of Japan life for expats.
I love this stage and I love meeting people in this stage. It's great and hilarious! This is the super euphoric stage, especially if you've been trying to get here for some time. When you finally arrive it's like a different world. You want to take photos of everything and you probably will. Most common photos are images of Japanese doing regular stuff like standing on the train, walking through an intersection, you know, just snapping photos of 'similar looking' Japanese in public places. I had this stage during my semester abroad. I remember getting off of the plane and at the airport, realizing that not only were the baggage buggies cooler than the ones in the US, they were also FREE! That was it for me! :) Later, when I was on the airport bus, I enjoyed viewing the Japanese road signs and the scenery from the airport to Tokyo. I remember it like it was yesterday. This was such a wonderful time as I felt such as sense of accomplishment. Finally, I had made it outside of the US to another country, my first international trip! Praise God!
You will want to go all over the place and do stuff. Thing is, you're kind of like a baby. Things are so different that it is a bit scary to venture out and do things on your own. Someone will have to hold your hand they will become a nice lifeline for you until you find your legs.
Also, I thought the people were super sweet, humble, and helpful. I thought Japanese would think I was cool because I was black and I'd make friends easily. I was fascinated with the way Japanese men and women dressed. I loved the nice slim tailored suits I would always see. I couldn't stand how some people walked in high-heels, but I kind of liked it too. I remember sitting in a cafe and looking around at the way Japanese women at their food and read books. I thought it was quite robotic and zombie like. Very contained and calculated movements, I thought it was a bit strange, but I liked it. Why? Because, I wanted to be here and everything was super-fantastic and amazing in Japan!!
One more thing about this stage, whenever you meet people who are stage 2, they really irritate you.Stage #2-- "I can't stand this backward place! It feels like I am trapped in the 60s, 70s, 80s... some other time era other than now!! Don't talk to me, get out of my face, leave me alone... can't wait to leave. Oh, English please!"
Now, this stage right here... This stage right here! Lord, let me tell you, it's a rough one. This is when you realize just how <insert nationality> you are. I've met a lot of people in this stage and I always have sympathy for them and try to encourage them. If you are reading this right now and are in this stage, bless your heart! Your can get through this darlin'! My secret to overcoming? iTunes :), writing in my journal, and having a japanese boyfriend/girlfriend.
This is the stage when you realize your Japanese is crap, the nicey nice Japanese people you thought you met were actually just being nice out of obligation, and some of the rules and systems for doing things are just plain annoying. This is the stage where you get people who initially only wanted to hang out with all Japanese and to improve their Japanese, completely surrounding themselves with a social wall of foreigners who are in a similar state of mind. This is dangerous-- doing this will make this stage last much more longer than it should and for some, it may never end. In this stage, reality sets in and the everyday life of being in Japan becomes really tough. I experienced this stage while I was a Fulbrighter in Sendai and for about two weeks (okay....more like three months) I was a hermit in my tiny little apartment. I passed the day watching tv shows on iTunes, reading books, and going to the Sugar Shack for a glass of red wine (a local old school R&B bar) down the street from my house. Ha!! Boy, boy boy....
A good remedy for this stage is to diversity your friend base. Connect with people from other countries. Reach out to the Japanese who have some genuine interest in having a friendship with you. Hang out with some people who have been here much longer than you and are doing something different than you. All of these people will help you get a much better perspective and you'll be on to stage three in no time!
Oh yeah... Stage 1 people really really irritate stage 2 people....Stage #3-- "You know what, I'm blessed. I'm trying to do my thing in a foreign country, it's challenging but, I'm tough and I've met some really cool people. Time to start making things happen!"
I love this stage! This is the stage of accepting the reality of your situation and moving full steam ahead. This is the stage of ultimate growth (for me right now). This is when you dust off all of the cool ideas you had from stage one and get to work making them happen. This is when make friends with people and connect with people regardless of their departure date. This is when you actually start living your life in Japan. I'm loving this stage. I must say, it feels so good to be out of stage #2. Stage 2 sucks. Stage 3 is cool. I think it's simply a matter of maturing.
For four years, I have been a hard-working sista on the grind in Tokyo. Working hard to build a business in recruiting in my space, networking, transitioning from being little college graduate to career woman. I am blessed and very thankful. I've been a part of my company for four years and have experienced financial and career success as a result of my big decision to remain in Japan, instead of returning to DC.
This stage represents so much to me. I'm married to a wonderful husband and I absolutely enjoy sharing life with a partner who just gets you, accepts you, and inspires you to be better. I waited on him (not always patiently) and I had no idea life could be this good.
Now, the time has come for me to take on a new role in life. I'm about to be a mother! Someone will be calling me "mommy" in the upcoming months!!!!! OMGoodness! Admittedly readers, I am quite nervous about this new role. It's an excited and optimistic nervousness though. I intend to post more of my feelings on this soon, once I collect them all.
Anyway, so as the title suggests, there are four stages. So what's the final one? Well, we're tip-toeing into this one now.Stage #4-- "This is the point of no return.... I've been here for 7+ years and you know what, is there anything back home in <insert country> for me that I can't have here? Nope.... So, I'm staying. Things are good here, why leave?"
I haven't fully reached this stage yet, however I know of LOT of people in this stage. As a matter of fact, a lot of stage 4 people have been warning me and G about this stage :). We're not quite here yet and to be honest, I think this stage mostly applies to foreigner/Japanese coupling. The chances of a foreigner/foreigner couple staying in Japan are dramatically different than the former.
However, one significant sign that you might be venturing into this stage is the feeling you get when you return home. If home (family, friends, familiarity, etc.) used to be a comfy, warm, security blanket for you, but now just feels like blah... Then, you might just be experiencing stage four symptoms.
Which brings me to the popular question I get these days, just how long will I be here? Only the Lord know how long Gerald and I will be here. However, we've always said that we'd have children in Japan and leave before they reached school age. So, I guess we can start the clock now!