Beating the Living Abroad Blues II: Having a Support System

By Donald Ash | Podcasts

Download the mp3 here [ minutes 7MB]
Initially, life abroad can be euphoric, you see places that many people haven’t, you start learning a language that many people can’t (at least the basics of it anyway), you experience a culture that many people won’t have a chance to. Fast forward about six months… everything is swell, you’re coming into your own, you’ve made some new friends, found some cool hang-out spots, life is good. Fast forward again…you’re tired, there are days where your job feels more like a bother than a blessing, you’re severely homesick, and the same new country you’ve grown to love is beginning to feel like a prison of sorts. What happened?!? When did you go from “I love this place!” to “I loathe this place.”?

I wanted to go into a little more detail on how to overcome a serious problem for many foreigners. If you missed the previous post, let’s re-define what the Living Abroad Blues are. The Living Abroad Blues are those feelings of sadness, longing, homesickness, and isolation that can result from living abroad. These feelings can stem from a combination of different factors. Perhaps you were quite close to your family and friends, and now you’re hundreds or even thousands of miles away from them. Maybe there aren’t many foreigners in your town, and you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to. Food can even trigger the Living Abroad Blues: you could eat something that reminds you of home and it goes straight from your stomach to your emotions. If you’re aware of what these feelings are, you may be able to do something about them before they get out of hand.

In the last article we talked about remembering why you moved to your country of choice. Another VERY important weapon in winning the battle of the blues is having a support system. A support system is a group of people around you that will listen to you when you need to vent, be your support when you need a friend, be good company when you feel alone, help you when you don’t understand something, give you some slack when you’re at the end of your proverbial rope. A support system is a group of people who will be exactly what you need when you need it most.

People In Your Support System

So which kinds of people make up a support system? It varies from person to person. For some the family is the best source of support even while living overseas. Family members will send you money, the items you need from home, birthday cards, and even the foods you like.

Co-workers can be a great group to consider as well. At my job, there are three other non-Japanese teachers. When I first came to Japan, these were the people I would hang out with on a regular basis.

Native co-workers and students. Moving to a new country and not knowing the language can be daunting. Your native co-workers will be able to help you with visas, apartments, hospital visits, Internet, and everything you need to make life comfortable. Being a teacher, I sometimes have students that want to go out, too (adults of course). We go out to eat, or go to karaoke…we just have fun together. Some of my most memorable experiences in Japan have been hanging out with students; they can really be a great source of moral and emotional support.

Anyone can be a member of your support system, as long as they’re not neglecting you…or worse.

Forming an Overseas Support System Troubleshooting

I’ve honestly had a difficult time creating a lasting support system here in Japan. There are three elements that make it challenging for me to do.

Number one: I’m a black man living in Japan.

Why is this tough, you ask? This can make things a little tougher, because there are a lot fewer people here that look like me, like the music I like, know about the shows I used to watch, etc. It’s not a racist thing at all, but people tend to gravitate towards other people who are like them. For example, at my job, if a new, non-Japanese co-worker comes they’re generally Caucasian. For some reason, I’m the last person to get Facebook friended, the last one to get phone numbers, etc. It’s nothing to be upset about, that’s just how it is.

Number two: I don’t drink or smoke.

You’d be surprised at how much easier it is for people who drink and smoke to have larger groups of friends. Is it because they drink and smoke? I don’t really think the act of drinking or smoking magically creates friendship. But I do think drinking and smoking are social activities. People do them together. Here in Japan, by far, going out drinking with your co-workers & friends is the most common social event. Unfortunately, going to bars and drinking beer isn’t really my thing.

Number three: Money issues.

If you have the money to go out on a regular basis, it makes things much easier for you. I have a co-worker that goes to Tokyo almost every single weekend. Transportation from Tsukuba to Tokyo costs about $25.00. It may not seem like a lot of money to some of you, but because I’m saving to move in the next few months I have to do some opportunity cost analysis: “Should I go to Tokyo?” or “Should I set the money aside?”. More often than not, I choose the latter.

With these challenges, how am I able to create a support system? Well, I’m not perfect at it, and my system is small. I feel being open minded is the essential part of creating a support system. I’m not a drinker or smoker, but I don’t fault other people for doing it. I’m not big into rock music, but I will listen. I try my absolute best to accept people as they are. As far as money goes, I find cheap or free alternatives to expensive nights on the town. Having a picnic, going to the park, exercising with a friend, etc. As far as being African-American is concerned, that’s not going to change, nor would I want it to. It’s who I am and I like who I am. If another person doesn’t accept me that, why the %&*# would I want them in my circle? Keep an open mind and you’ll do just fine.

Without a support system, the feelings isolation and longing can swell into a serious problem. Even if you’re not the most social of people, this is definitely something to think about…

In the words of the English poet, John Donne: “No man is an island.”

Until next time,

Donald Ash

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
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