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

By Donnie | Articles

Hi everybody! Today’s article is part one of a two-part post for a special blog festival for the Whoa I’m in Japan blog. The question posed was “What Have You Learned By Living Abroad?”

The Most Important Things I’ve Learned By Living Abroad

Whoa! I can’t believe that in a blink it’ll be 2012. That means January 10th, 2012 is quickly approaching. What’s so special about January 10th? This day will mark my four-year point in Japan.


I’ve been in Japan for four years!?!

No way!!

It’s hard for me to believe it sometimes, but it’s true. I remember so vividly telling my mother and my family that I’d only be gone for a year. That was years ago. My oh my how things change. The Japanese culture, the lifestyle, the food, the sites, the connections…all of it has really started to grow on me, so much in fact that I decided to renew my visa yet again. With my current visa I am able to live in Japan until 2014, and will most likely do just that. It’s right around this time, right around the holidays, that I reflect on my life here in Japan.

What exactly have I learned from living abroad for so long?

I’m sure I could write a novel about this very question, but I’ll spare you. Instead, I’ll share with you seven very important lessons that living in Japan has taught me:

1. Japan Is An Island, but I’m Not

My parents instilled in me that I shouldn’t impose on other people, that I should always try to handle my own problems. This teaching is one I’ve adhered to for as long as I can remember. Living abroad, though, can really thrown some kinks into that philosophy.

Living abroad can sometimes mean being completely out of your element. Living abroad can mean challenges. How much Japanese did I know? Umm…next to none. How were my finances? Umm…dismal. How many people did I know when I got here? Two. Me and the man in the mirror (the latter probably doesn’t count).

I still believe in handling my own problems, but when living in another country with different customs, different people, and a different language, getting help can tremendously shorten your living abroad learning curve. I commend those who try to figure out things for themselves because it teaches invaluable learning experiences. Keep in mind, though, that getting help every now and then is a a wonderful way to figure things out quickly and maybe make some new friends in the process. In the words of John Donne, “No man is an island.”

2. The World Has So Much More to Offer Than 50 States

Coming to Japan was a dream of mine for quite some time. Never did I imagine that I’d actually be living a four-year dream. I encountered some naysayers when I actually decided to make the move, but I wasn’t going to let anyone’s negativity stop me from reaching my goal.

Moving to Asia has been like unlocking my brain. There are so many things to see in Japan alone that I just start thinking about what a treasure trove the world must be. Taking off my blinders to step into another country’s culture helps me to appreciate my life and the world around me that much more.

3. Time Sometimes Sprouts Legs and Runs…Fast

I was telling a friend the other day, that sometimes I wake up and realize that I am 31 years old. I don’t consider 31 old by any means. I am able to go outside with my walker, and they even make this cool stuff called Efferdent that keeps my dentures nice and clean.

Seriously, though, it doesn’t feel like it’s been as long as it has. But when I go back and see my parents getting older, getting grayer, high school crushes getting married, and college buddies having their first kids, I start to get a little misty-eyed. In my brain my parents are perpetually in their 30s, and I’m perpetually in my 20s (yeah I know that numbers don’t quite work out). Going home makes me realize I’m starting to come into that age where it’s time for me to be the adult, to start thinking about a family and kids.

Yes, time sprouts legs, and it runs fast as hell.

4. Cherish Those Closest To You

It’s heartbreaking to lose those you know, it’s even more heartbreaking to know that you can’t make it home to their funeral because you can’t afford the trip. I’ve been there on a couple of occasions. You want those who are close to you to live forever, but the sad reality is that they don’t.

Living abroad can keep you away from your family for extended periods of time, and things can happen. However, the memories you share with them can last a lifetime. So if you’re living abroad, but making that much needed visit home. Make some great memories with the people you love: take pictures, make DVDs, whatever you can. These memories are timeless.

5.If You’re Living Someone Else’s Dream…STOP!!

As much as I thought I was supposed to be some type of health professional (a dentist), I was pushing and pushing for a dream that I was pursuing for the promise of a big salary, to please my parents. Sure dentistry is interesting, but I’m not in love with idea of doing it.

Living in Japan, having time to think for myself (with no outside criticisms), has taught me that being a healthcare professional is not what I want to do with my life. What do I want to do? I promise I’ll tell you, after I’ve done it. I may stumble trying to find the path the best suits me, but as long as I find it…it’s all good.

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  • Lazzaris

    I lost my auntie and grandma last year, Couldn’t afford the travel as I was coming to Japan, that was the hardest experience living abroad.

  • Hey there, I came over from Amanda’s.
    Cool, I’m going to have my 4th anniversary in a few weeks, too!
    And we’re also the same age as well *g*

    It was very interesting to read about your experiences in Japan thus far!
    I especially can relate to point 3! :/

    #5 is also interesting.
    Actually Japan is giving me too much freedom. I know what I don’t want to do, but even in 4 years I couldn’t figure out what it is what I wanna do.
    I finally decided it’s time for a change, so in a few weeks I’m moving to another town and another job. Hopefully that will help me figure out what I want to do in the future.

    Are you considering staying in Japan forever?

    • Donald Ash

      HEY! You, too? Four years, huh? Happy Anniversary! Living in Japan forever? Man, that’s the million dollar question right there. I honestly don’t know on that one. I like it here a lot! For me to stay for got, I HAVE to have a better command of the language, otherwise I’d lean towards going back at some point. We’ll see how things go. How about you?

      • I won’t, I’m sure.
        When I first came here it was supposed to be a 1 year adventure anyways. I have no freaking idea how it became 4+ years!!!
        I’m almost fluent in Japanese, but I still don’t feel “at home” here most of the time.
        It’s not so much that I feel homesick, but I just can’t see myself here when I’m old.

  • Lorena Escobedo
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