If you’re Indian by birth, Middle Eastern by culture, and Western by way of education, the chances of continuing your nomadic lifestyle are pretty high, especially if you’re my sister. That’s right, like me, Nisha has lived in more than one place in her lifetime (including Yemen, Dubai, India, Canada and the U.S.), and her adventures continue, this time in Japan.
I am a strong believer that travel teaches you more about life than any book or class could, but consistently moving to live in another country is a different type of travel that truly changes who you are and how you see the world. After hearing Nisha’s updates through Facebook posts, emails and text messages over the last eight months since she moved to Japan, I decided to quiz her about her experience so far, in hopes that it would teach me (and perhaps my readers) something. Here’s what I found out!
How long have you been living in Japan, and where exactly do you live?
I’m in Tsukuba city, which is located in the Ibaraki Prefecture in the Northern region of Japan. I’ve been here for about eight months now; I can’t believe this August will be a year since I moved here. It still feels like I got here yesterday.
Where were you living before you made the move, and what made you decide to move to Japan?
As you know, I was born in India, lived in Yemen, Dubai, Canada and the U.S. and most recently I’d been living in India for about four years as a Learning Support Teacher at an international school, supporting students with learning differences, and I also taught Math at the end of my third year.
By my fourth year, I started to get that familiar itch to move again – to feel the exhilaration of a new country, new culture and a new adventure. I was on a trip in Thailand during Spring break, when a unique opportunity came my way. A close friend of mine knew of my desire to move and asked if I would be interested in a job as a homeroom teacher for the third grade in Japan. At first, I was unsure because, as much as I wanted to move, Japan wasn’t my first choice. But, I stewed over it for a while and soon decided to send in an application without any hope of getting the job. Within a day, I was contacted by the school in Japan and attended a Skype interview with the Principal. Needless to say, the interview went extremely well, and after one last interview with another coordinator at the school, I was offered the job. I signed the contract and the rest, as they say, is history.
What has been the most challenging moment of moving to a foreign country?
The language barrier is a huge challenge. I’ve learned that in order to avoid embarrassment, some Japanese people prefer not to “risk” speaking English if they aren’t fluent. Saving face and keeping their head held high seems to be a deep-rooted part of their culture. On the other hand, I am a people-oriented person, and I learn best through conversation, observation and interaction, so for months I tried with a combination of informal sign-language, and some broken-English to communicate with local people outside of my workplace, but many frustrating situations and miscommunications later, I’ve realized that making friends outside work is a bit harder than I thought. So, I’ve decided to learn Japanese.
The other challenge is that when I moved here, I hadn’t considered that the apartments here have nothing other than a sink, cupboards and walls, so I wasn’t prepared to purchase a fridge, stove and a washing machine. That was a bit unexpected, but I took a small loan to purchase those appliances, and I’m fine now.
Also, earthquakes are the norm. An earthquake with a magnitude of about 3 on the richter scale is common and frequent in Tsukuba. It was a bit unsettling when I experienced my first one.
What happens when an earthquake hits, do people run for cover?
Not really, everyone goes about their business as if nothing happened since they’re used to it.
How hard has it been to learn Japanese?
It’s definitely not easy, but it’s a good type of challenge.
What has been the best thing about moving to a foreign country?
I think my favorite thing is that I come away with various view points on life due to random interactions with people who’ve had very different experiences than my own.
It has also made me appreciate where I’ve been before, home and family a lot more, and I look forward to visiting my family whenever I have the chance. I also truly love the idea of making friends from around the world and having opportunities to meet them again in other places.
What is your favorite thing about Japanese culture?
I’m a huge foodie, so I absolutely love the authentic sushi here! But aside from food, the orderly manner of how things function and the infrastructure of the country is impressive. And, of course, the four seasons that I’ve missed since I was in India (where it’s simply warm, rainy or cold throughout the year). Japan goes through all seasons from Spring to Summer, and from Fall to Winter, and it’s beautiful.
What advice would you have for people looking to make such a move?
First, make sure you try and learn the language before moving to a non-English speaking country. I’ve also found that emailing my friends prior to such a move and seeing if they know others in the country that I can make connections with, has always been helpful. Based on my experience, I’d also say, start saving more than a year before the big move. Lastly, leave behind any preconceived notions of what life would be like, because you will surely be disappointed.
Above all, enjoy the journey one day at a time because you will have some great moments, some ‘What am I doing here?’ moments, and those ‘I love how life works out’ moments.
Now that you’ve been there over six months, would you do it again if given the chance?
Absolutely! I have nothing keeping me from it, so I plan to keep traveling once I feel I have received what I needed from the move.
How long do you plan to stay for, and if you decide to leave, where would your next adventure be?
I have no definite plans, however, for professional reasons I would like to stay in Japan for three years at least to build some experience.
As for where to next, recently a conversation I had with someone triggered a strong desire to teach in Italy. Now, I am looking forward to that chance when it comes.
Is there anything you want to tell people about your experience that I didn’t ask about?
I think in a place like Japan, it’s important to make the effort to meet people through various activities you might enjoy, or through connections that others outside the country may provide. Hanging out with local people (as long as you can communicate with them!) is important for truly soaking in the culture and also to practice learning the language.
Most importantly, this experience has taught me to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, and that’s easier said than done. Keeping in touch with family and friends from home has helped me get through some tough times, and relying on my spirituality has helped me stay positive when I was uncertain of how to survive certain situations. And, meeting new people has helped me feel connected within the country.
So, another new language, many new friends, lots of major life lessons, but most of all strength and endurance to push through the frustrating times – not bad for a single girl living in Japan!