The Most Important Things I’ve Learned By Living Abroad (Two)

By Donnie | Articles

This is part two of the blog festival hosted by the Whoa I’m in Japan blog. The question posed was What Have You Learned By Living Abroad?

6. I Am Weaker & Stronger Than I Thought I Was

I remember doing so many things by myself during my first year in Japan. Of course I would get together with my coworkers from time to time, but there can be a lonely side to this place. My financial situation was a little different than most, so part of the reason I wasn’t going out was because I was scraping a bit for money. But there was more…

I am definitely not one to play the race card, but it’s natural that people hang out with those who are most like them. During that first year, I would sometime feel that I was the afterthought, dare I say the token?

Sometimes I would hear about things late or not just not find out at all. Whether or not it was on purpose I can’t say, but I do remember having the feelings of isolation. It’s kind of hard not to feel like that when there’s nobody around that looks like you. Initially, I felt like people always did more of a feeling-out process with me before they even attempted to hang out. Once people got to know me, and found out that I actually am pretty good guy, it was cool. But it seemed like a process that not everybody had to go through. If you ask me in person, I probably won’t admit it, but I do remember a couple of nights crying by myself in my barren apartment. Those were some of my weakest moments in Japan.

I think that all strength begins with weakness. I came to the realization that the only person responsible for my happiness was me. If I was getting left out of things I could either sit and mope, or do something about it. Instead of moping, I starting training. I hit up the local gym quite often, and ended up losing about 25 pounds that first year. More people got to know me, I made friends and it all worked out in the end.

7. Learning a New Language Hasn’t Been As Easy As I Thought It Would Be

You know what gets on my nerves? When I talk to somebody from home and tell them I’m not totally fluent in Japanese yet, they respond with “You’re not fluent yet?!?” “If I were living in Japan for that long, I’d be fluent.” I try not to get upset at comments like this, but it’s not always easy. These are people who have never set foot in Japan, never learned a single kanji, dealt with a different type of sentence structure, worked with honorifics…nothing…just making “outside-looking-in” observations. They just assume that being here would mean being fluent. But it doesn’t work that way.

Learning a language is work, there’s no way to slice it. If you’re a child maybe the osmosis approach to learning a language does work. For most adults, though, you have to study and practice, study and practice until it comes. I may not be fluent yet, but I am confident that someday in the, hopefully near, future I will be.

I have nearly been in Japan for as long as I was in college, and it’s the education has been priceless…

Thanks for reading 🙂
Donald Ash

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  • Bravo! Excellent post Don! I really relate to the one about feeling isolated at times. I also wrote a post called “Why You Can’t Learn Japanese in Year” in response to a comment about “laziness” being the reason for not being fluent.

    And yes it’s so true that the only constant, the one and only thing that you are guaranteed throughout life is yourself, and you really are the only one responsible for your own happiness.

    Thanks for taking part and coming up with such an insightful post!

  • I totally want to give you a big hug! These are very interesting things you’ve said, things that I worry about myself. You know my mom is getting very, very tired of my candid photo spree (I think she’s pretty! daggon it).

    It’s strange how close a lot of this is to my thoughts as I’m preparing, over the next 1.5/2 years for this move myself.

    You know I’ll be your own personal cheerleader! -cheers-

    • Donald Ash

      Aww, thanks Nanami. Hugs are always good 🙂
      She’ll get over the picture taking, lol. I think it’s awesome that you’re getting lots of Momma Memories.
      I’m excited for you, that’ll be really cool when you come to Japan.

      Cheering for you, too (minus the cheerleader skirt and pom poms).


  • Aaron

    I also got the ‘aren’t you fluent yet?’ from my sister. I was in Japan on a 5-week study course when my sister came to travel with me after the course ended. She said she was surprised I wasn’t much better. I had only been learning Japanese for less than a year by that point. I didn’t take offense to it but I understand completely the feeling you get. 🙂

  • Armond Showers

    Very good read Mr. Ash. Couldn’t imagine the courage and sacrifice it would take to move to a foreign land. Side note, I saw a picture of you with my aunt’s brother and his two sons (Milton, Hakeem, and Saleem). Small world.

    • Donald Ash

      It’s been a long time, Armond. What? Your aunt’s brother is Mr. Arum! Ahh man, I used to teach Hakeem and Saleem, small world for real. Thanks for stopping by, bro.

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The Most Important Things I’ve Learned by Living Abroad (One)

Hi everybody! Today's article is part one of a two-part post for a special blog festival for the Whoa I'm...