Japan-aholic

A blog about culture and love in Japan

Between Two Worlds

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There’s something uncanny about traveling. When you leave your home country, the one you always lived in, the one you consider being, well, home, and go on a trip in another country to discover the culture, nothing major happens.

Yes, you probably cry at the aiport, looking through the gates of the customs and thinking “What am I doing here?”, but as soon as you’re inside the plane, that feeling vanishes. Only this thrilling want for adventure and freedom is staying, and you remember why you’re leaving (for now). But when you come back after your trip, when you return to your so-called “home country”, what happens then?

We never think about that beforehand. Well, I certainly didn’t.

I left Canada in March 2013 for a trip of almost three months in Japan, thinking “That’s great, I’ll be able to discover a new country, and be on my own for the first time” (I’m still living at my parents’ house back in Canada). I thought about all those things I would do there, like visiting temples and shrines, going in Tokyo, eating Japanese food. That’s completely harmless, right?  I’ll just go there, spend a few months of my life in a complete different culture than mine, and just, you know, come back to Canada when I’m finished. That’s it.

Reality is a bit different.

yokohama

Yokohama, in Tokyo

You see, when you always lived at the same place, when you always had somewhat the same routine, you take things for granted. Things that you do almost everyday of your life. You think it’s normal, that everybody lives like this. You know there’s other cultures. You know there’s other lifestyles than your own, but you can’t really realize it. Not until you’ve tried these other lifestyles, and certainly not until you bumped into a new culture.

As for myself, this bumping, or commonly called “culture shock”, didn’t make much waves at first. When I got out of the aiport on my first day in Japan, I immediately felt good. I felt like I could live there. The general atmosphere was great to me. Maybe that’s when the whole thing started, where I began to feel between two worlds, or two countries. It slowly crept in without me noticing it. And somewhere halfway through my trip, I began to realize I had to come back to Canada and somehow return into my old habits. A week before I left Japan, I cried as I thought someday all this would feel like a dream. A distant memory, where the only proofs it happened are the pictures you kept safe.

Fushimi inari taisha, in Kyoto

Fushimi Inari-taisha, in Kyoto

I didn’t want to go back for many reasons, but one of them was : I didn’t want to go back into my old habits, in my old bedroom, with my old lifestyle, where nothing changed while I was away. 

I almost cried when I saw that my parents had bought a new bed for me as a surprise while I was away. I can’t express how relieved I was in that moment. My bedroom had changed. This small detail made a huge impact on me : I didn’t have to go back into my old habits, trying to fit in a space that didn’t seem to fit anymore.

While I was in Japan, I learned how to take my life in my own hands. I lived in a new culture, together with a new culture as I slowly made it my own, tangled with the one I grew up in. I had new eyes on my home country, a sight I never had before. I still saw it as a beautiful country, that’s for sure. But I saw things that could get better, too. I saw it as if one of my eyes was one of a stranger’s. It’s called the “reverse culture shock”, but I think it’s more than that. It’s true that you will get more comfortable eventually, but there’s always a part of you, as tiny as it may be, that’ll feel like a stranger in your own country.

And that’s what’s the most unsettling about traveling. You left with the purpose of discovering about a new country, but you come back discovering about your own, too. You keep questioning matters of your own culture that you never thought about before. You don’t really feel like home anywhere in the world, or at least not like you used to. This is when you start feeling more like a world citizen than having a specific nationality.

Add to this the fact that you make friends in the country you traveled in (and even start a relationship just like I did), and then you are doomed. Wherever you will be, you will always miss someone. I missed my family and friends when I was in Japan ; I’m missing my friends and boyfriend when I’m in Canada. Sometimes it feels like a curse, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Just deal with it.

image

My boyfriend and I in Tokyo, December 2013

And that was only a shy two months and a half. I can’t imagine the life of an expat. The feelings I had are probably a hundred times worst for them. When “traveling” becomes going to your ex-home country, I can’t imagine how weird that would make me feel. I guess I would get used to it.

Ironically, I’m going back to Japan in September 2014 for a year abroad. I know those feelings will only intensifies, but it’s too late anyway.

So here’s my advice to people that are currently planning a trip : think about it twice. If you always wanted to travel somewhere and have very good reasons to do it, then do it. It’s wonderful, and it’s something I will never regret. But if you’re someone that is easily on the depression side or can’t handle loneliness, I suggest you really think about it. The downsides of traveling can be pretty strong from time to time.

But after all, it was one of the most incredible experience I’ve ever had.

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Author: Jasmine

Jasmine is a 20-something years old French-Canadian student and part-time blogger who loves traveling, drawing, listening to (all kind of) music and eating (everything). To achieve one of her biggest dream, she went in Japan for two months and a half as a tourist in 2013. She was an exchange student at Daito Bunka University in Saitama (near Tokyo) during the year 2014 - 2015. She is now studying to eventually become a nurse back in Canada, so she lacks time to write about Japan. You can still read all her posts on her blog, since she'll let them there for you to enjoy :)

11 thoughts on “Between Two Worlds

  1. I guess I would be one of those ‘expat’ types. I left India 6 + years ago and moved to the US. After 3 years there I moved to UK and in about 1.5 years I will probably move somewhere else (or stay, I cannot predict). In US I met my now fiance who is from China and we live in UK. Each time I go back to India, I feel that a part of my existence there is disappearing. The people I loved and the places, all have moved on. But their memories remain frozen in my mind.

    It takes a certain kind of person to make a decision like leaving your home and settling abroad. Living away from home for years and possibly your whole life is not easy. Its actually really hard and part of the reasons why many immigrants remain stuck to their images of their home cultures. However if that is what you want, it is one of the best things you can do. Each of my move was extremely challenging. First adapting to the US and when I finally got a hang of the american culture I was thrown into another one. And no matter how much I wanted it, I cried each time I moved. And I felt crushing loneliness. But what came after was so absolutely beautiful, it made it worth it.

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    • I understand how you feel completely. Although I think that the world is really big and full of new cultures to discover, it would be a shame to stay in one place all our life, wouldn’t it? Missing your country and the people is the price to pay for traveling/immigrating. It’s a high price, but I think it’s worth it!

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  2. Hi Jasmine! I really really like your blog.

    I especially like this article because I can totally relate. I didn’t travel to Japan though (I hope someday I will) but to Montréal, Canada. I am from Belgium and I completely understand that reverse culture shock effect. Granted there’s not a huge cultural difference between Quebec & Belgium (I think the biggest difference for me was the fact that even though my mother tongue is French, I sometimes had a hard time with accents). There are many things I loved about Montréal and going back to Belgium I kept noticing all seeing Belgium through foreigner’s eyes.

    Merci d’avoir lu mon commentaire. J’aurais aussi bien pu l’écrire en français, mais après avoir lu tout l’article en anglais cela faisait bizarre.

    Bonne continuation.

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    • Oh yeah, our accent… I’m sorry, I know it’s hard to understand! Haha!
      Sometimes, the biggest culture shock lies in the smallest things like these, like when everything else feels like your own country, but then someone talks to you and you don’t understand a thing. It’s unsettling!

      Ça m’a fait plaisir de lire ton commentaire! Merci beaucoup de m’avoir lu 😀 J’espère que tout ira bien pour toi concernant ton choc de retour. Depuis combien de temps es-tu de retour en Belgique?
      Je suis contente que tu ais aimé Montréal, c’est une ville près de chez moi, donc j’y suis attachée sentimentalement 🙂

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      • Oh it’s completely okay, it just takes a couple of days to get used to. But I agree, it’s a very unsettling feeling.

        Le choc de retour n’a pas été trop difficile a surmonter, mais c’était une nouvelle sensation. Je ne m’y attendais pas. J’ai juste passé le mois d’août à Montréal. C’était un vrai coup de coeur! J’espère un jour réaliser mon rêve: visiter le Japon.

        Je me rendrais régulièrement sur ton blog pour lire tes nouveaux posts. 🙂

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  3. Thanks for that! I hope to return to Hong Kong one day if I can ever afford to live there again (and haven’t bankrupted myself seeing all the other places I want to go in the world) We don’t really have pumpkin flavoured drinks or anything in the UK. Sounds like something I should try!

    Have an amazing time in Japan. Its probably the country I most want to visit.

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  4. I’ve just returned from spending a year living in Hong Kong and you’ve described the feeling of returning home perfectly. Once you live abroad you will always be torn between two places. I missed lots of things about home, but shortly after I got back I missed things about Hong Kong (the same with people).
    I keep on flicking between loving London best with all its home comforts, and wanting the excitement of being in Asia back. I missed the good bits of English winter, such as snuggling up when its cold out with a hot mulled wine. But when its cold and drizzling in summer here I miss sunbathing on the beach in Hong Kong. And so on…..
    The strangest thing of getting back from my year abroad is that it feels like everything had come to a standstill whilst I’d been away. I’d done so many new and exciting things meanwhile life had just carried on as usual back at home, so initially I felt a bit out of sync with everyone. I thought I’d come back having grown as a person or something from my experiences but within weeks I was back into swing of my old life. Not sure if that’s more concerning…

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    • I’m just starting my year abroad in Japan, so I know what you mean. Not having any snow in winter will be really weird for me. I also love the fall season for its cool air — I am always looking forward to getting my cozy sweaters out and drink all kind of hot pumpkin-flavored drinks. Japan has four seasons, but they are still a bit different. It’s not the same as Canada.

      I’m sure you DID grow up as a person from your experiences, only you don’t feel it because you went back to your old routine, as you probably are a person who adapts quickly to her environment. That’s actually what I dread the most; going back as if nothing ever happened. But growing up as a person is a very quiet thing — it happens slowly and we personally don’t always notice it, but the people who surround you and who knew you before will certainly see the difference.

      Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about being torn between two (or more!) countries. I guess if you decided to never go back in Hong Kong again, your memories of your year abroad would fade away with time, as you would stop thinking about it. But who does that, right? We almost all go back there at some point, either because we made friends there and we want to see them, or just because we have the urge to travel again.

      Anyway, I hope it will all go smoothly for you. Don’t forget that a year abroad is not something anyone can do, it requires a lot of confidence and courage to go head first in a new adventure. It’s a very valuable asset for your personal life, but also for a future career. So be proud of it! 😀

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  5. Pingback: Between Two Worlds Japan-aholic | H.I.S. Vancouver

  6. I’ve always wanted to see the Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto! I remember seeing this on ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ as little Chiyo runs through it at the end of the film. How does it look in person? Did you see any geisha in Kyoto?

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    • It was really beautiful! I also had always wanted to see it with my own eyes so I was very happy! Altough the sky was grey, the orange “torii” were so pretty.
      I saw many geisha in Kyoto, especially in the Gion district (which happened to be my favorite place in all Kyoto, so I was almost going there everyday). It was just magic. I really, really appreciated Kyoto. Tokyo is nice, but I prefer more traditional places.

      I hope you’ll be able to visit Kyoto and the Fushimi Inari shrine someday!

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