Maintaining old relationships is extremely difficult
This is one of the things that I have really struggled with. I knew that coming to Japan would be hard. I knew that I was distancing myself from everyone and everything I had ever known. However, in this age of technology, distance doesn't really matter, right? WRONG. Facebook, Skype, and LINE, are all wonderful apps. I can talk to everyone in the US basically instantly. However, having a conversation like this is completely different from having it face to face. No matter how hard I try to type my emotions to people, they can't see me, they can't hear me, and they can't truly understand what I am saying. I have really struggled this year with feeling like some of the people back home don't really care. I know this isn't true, we are living completely different lives and it is hard to remember to keep in touch with someone who is 6,000 miles and 13 hours apart from you. However, it is still difficult to keep the same level of closeness when you aren't with a person physically. I'm not saying it is impossible. I am still close to everyone in the US, I know we will all be friends and have fantastic times when I return. However, I cannot delude myself anymore that my return will be easy. It will be difficult to reconnect at first, but we are fundamentally still the same people so I know we will get through it.
Little things don't really matter
For those who know me well, it will come as no surprise that I don't put much stock in my appearance. I have always had an iffy relationship with makeup. In middle school when most girls were discovering makeup and learning how to get it "just right" I was the tomboy with my hair pulled back and gym shorts on every day. Later I became more concerned with my appearance and started doing my makeup every day, but I didn't care enough to really get into it. You would think coming to Japan, where people put a lot of effort into their daily appearance, I would become very invested in how I look. However, it was exactly the opposite. Living out of 2 suitcases this year had a very humbling effect on me. At first I was extremely worried. Coming to Japan with limited clothing options, 6 pairs of shoes, and a small bag of makeup, I thought I would feel the need to go shopping immediately. I realized very quickly though, no one cares. I go almost every day without makeup, unless I feel like getting "all dressed up". I wear basically the same thing every day. Rotating between the few dresses I have or a combo of my jeans/shorts and one ofabout 10 shirts I have for each season. Sure, I like looking nice and I put some effort into my appearance everyday. However, I have realized that putting effort in does not need to equal 3 hours of my time and hundreds of dollars out of my wallet. If I think I look good, everyone else will too. Plus, who is really going to notice that I have worn the same jean shorts all week? I would rather spend my time reading a good book or studying Japanese than spending hours on my appearance.
Reconciling old and new beliefs is one of the hardest things you can do
This has definitely been the most difficult thing for me this year. I have experienced so much this year. I am not talking about eating new foods or travelling to new places. There is something about living alone in a foreign country for a year that changes you. I have always considered myself an independent person, but I really had to mature and change when I found myself in a place where I barely spoke the language and did not have any existing friends. If I made a mistake, I couldn't just call my parents and ask them what to do. They don't know either, so I just had to figure something out myself. While doing that, somewhere along the way I realized that I had changed. The things that I believed in seem different. I would try to defend a point and realize I didn't have the same opinion on the issue as I used to. When I realized this it really scared me. I no longer knew what was "right". I knew what my parents believed about certain things and what some of my friends believed, but I also knew that I did not agree with them anymore. Somewhere along the way I realized that I was making choices I never would have made before, because now they seem right. When this happened to me I had a really hard time. I couldn't really explain to my close friends here in Japan why I was so upset, but I had the twisting feeling in my gut like I had just ruined my life. In retrospect, I realize I was being silly. Everyone grows and changes in their lives, but at the time it was extremely scary. However, no matter how scary it was at the time, I would not exchange my emotional roller coaster that this year was for anything in the world. I am much more confident in my opinions and I know that even if I make a wrong decision, I will definitely learn something from it.
Money isn't really that important
About three weeks ago when booking some tickets for Hiroshima, I looked at my bank account and my heart stopped. Was it possible that I had spent THAT MUCH money this year?! After my heart restarted and I thought for a second I relaxed. Yes, I have spent a ridiculous (for me) amount of money this year. However, looking back, what did that get me? It gave me trips around Japan, an amazing trip to Singapore and Thailand, all my textbooks to learn Japanese, gifts for all the people I am close to back in the US, many trinkets for myself to remember my time here, and most of all, countless irreplaceable memories. Yes, I have spent a lot of money. Does that really matter? I will return to the US and get a job. I will make back my money. So no, I'm not going to spend all my money without a care, but I am also not going to count every penny I have and stay in for the rest of my life. I can always make more money, but I might never be able to spend a year studying in a foreign country again in my life.
Experiencing new things with friends makes amazing memories but experiencing them alone can provide a deeper understanding
During my time in Japan I have become incredibly close to two girls, Elena and Siobhan. People here associate us with each other. If they don't see all three of us together for a while they ask if anything happened. Elena and I live next door to each other in the dorm so we are together even more than all three of us. People have started calling us "Team USA" and most people know that if they want to tell both of us something it is really only necessary to tell one. Whenever I go anywhere, these two are the first ones I turn to as travel buddies. I have experienced so many things with them, and it is fantastic because then we can talk about it and we have so many stories to tell other people. However, I have also done my fair share of things by myself. I have always been a person who does not mind being on their own. I realized this year though, there is a quiet beauty in doing things by yourself. Whether it is going to the museum, or taking a trip, going on my own often gave me a deeper understanding of what I was seeing and how I felt about it. Without having to explain to anyone, I could simply absorb. I could wander where I wanted without worrying about what other people wanted to do. I would never give up travelling with my friends, but I know now that doing so on my own can be just as fun.
You need to be present to make lasting memories
When I think about how I used to act in the US I just want to laugh. I was (and still am) addicted to my phone. I love taking pictures and texting people. I upload to Instagram constantly. However, I have learned a valuable lesson this year about when to put my phone down. In the US there were many times when I would be talking to a friend but texting someone else at the same time. I'm sure we had a great conversation, but it would have been so much better if I would have just put the phone down. In Japan, I still am on my phone a lot, but in contrast I don't text very much if you are talking to me. If I want to get a picture I say so, and then put my phone away to upload the picture later. This has led me to have so many lasting memories. There are so many nights that I will never forget, and you know what? I barely used my phone those nights. I was simply there. I talked, laughed, and had fun, without feeling the need to constantly tell another person about what I was doing. The feeling was so great, I almost forgot that I had a phone until I sat down on the train and realized I had 6 unread messages and 3 pictures I had taken that I wanted to upload. It was easy for me to make excuses to always use my phone when I first got here. My friends were in the US, they were the ones I really wanted to talk to. However, when I put my phone down I realized that my friends will always be on the other end of the phone, but the group that I am with at this moment might not be.
Thanks for reading until the end!
Have any of you studied abroad? What are some of the things you learned?
P.S. the tea of the day is chamomile and orange ^_^