Annabelle: Origami Kiwi
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Japan, etc.
Hi! My name is Annabelle, I’m 23, and I’m from Wellington, New Zealand. In August 2013, I moved to Utsunomiya, capital city of Tochigi prefecture in Japan. I’m a teacher on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, and I teach English at a senior high school.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
When I first started thinking about moving abroad, I couldn’t get enough of expat blogs. I loved reading about people’s new lives and adventures in foreign countries, and their tips were extremely useful when it came to making the move myself. When I applied for my job overseas in late 2012, I decided I wanted to document the process and help others the same way those blogs had helped me. I write a lot of posts on the steps to getting a job in Japan, and what people can expect when they get here. At the same time, of course, I wanted to document my own memories of life abroad, and hopefully encourage people to visit this wonderful country, so for that reason I also include a lot of travel and cultural posts.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I have so many favourites! Almost all my blog posts bring back really special memories for me, but my top entries would have to be the series I did of my family members’ trips to Japan:
Tell us about the ways your new life in Japan differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Moving to Japan was a huge change in lifestyle for me. Up until I arrived in Tokyo, I had spent my entire life living under my parents’ roof, in a relatively small town of an even relatively smaller country. The longest I’d spent away from home was three weeks, and even then, I’d been travelling with my mum! I wasn’t clueless, but I did have to get used to cooking, cleaning, and generally managing my own life by myself, and fast. I expected culture shock to hit me like a tonne of bricks, but it wasn’t that obvious. I settled in quite quickly and naturally, mostly thanks to the great community I found here. For a long time I thought I hadn’t experienced culture shock at all, but just by looking back on a couple of my blog posts, I can tell I was a little bit down a few months in. Luckily I came out of that okay, and I’ve got a good balance on my feelings about living here – they’re largely positive!
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Japan? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I don’t think there’s any way I could have prepared myself for Japan. It’s a completely different place from anywhere I’ve ever experienced. Looking back, I definitely didn’t know much about daily life in Japan, despite having researched the country a lot in preparation. Everyday things, like the convenience stores, the speed of deliveries, bicycling everywhere – they might seem insignificant, but they’re things that make life so nice here. On top of that, I never imagined how amazing it would be to experience Japanese culture firsthand, or to see some of this country’s beautiful sights with my own eyes. Basically, I wasn’t prepared at all – but the mysteries that were waiting for me here are what make life abroad special. I wouldn’t change a thing about how I came.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Sure! Most of my daily doses of laughs come from my students, so here’s a wee story I shared on facebook recently:
Meet Doraemon. He's a blue robot cat from the future.
I asked my students to write and perform a conversation about going to the movies. I got this.
Girl: (Pretends to make a phone call)
Boy: (Has a ball under his top. Answers the phone call) Oh! It's my husband! Hello.
Girl: Hello. How about going to a movie this weekend?
Boy: Okay. By the way... (Stroking his ball-stomach) I'm two months pregnant.
Girl: Okay. I want to see the Doraemon movie.
Boy: Is it because I look like Doraemon? (Bursts into tears) Yes, I know...I look like Doraemon, now!
Girl: I'm not interested in our baby. Let's meet at 2:40.
Boy: (Apparently recovered) Okay, see you then.
What is my life.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Japan?
It sounds vague, but…”go with it”. When I first came, I worried a lot about fitting in, and being perfect at my job. Now that I’ve become a lot more relaxed and flexible, I have a much better time here.
Secondly, make the most of your weekends. I’m not an incredibly outgoing person, and of course I take time to unwind at home, but I’ve really made an effort here to get out and do and see as much as possible. Japan’s highly convenient public transport systems make it easy to get to the must-see’s around the country.
Lastly, don’t write off local attractions. Biking to a quiet shrine in the countryside, enjoying a small-town festival, or visiting the local bar can be just as great an experience as visiting some of Japan’s more famous attractions.
How is the expat community in Japan? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
My prefecture has a pretty tight group of like-minded people from a large range of countries. Of course one of the good points about the JET programme is that the job practically comes with a built-in support group of expats, so for me, making other foreign friends was easy. For those working in different jobs, I’m sure there’s similar ways to make friends through your own company, but if you’re in a more rural area, you could try contacting the JET community, as most JETs are happy to invite other expats to join in the fun. There are also really helpful sites like meetup.com, which has a lot of foreigner-focused events for Japan.
How would you summarize your expat life in Japan in a single, catchy sentence?
As the Japanese say, ichigo ichie; once in a lifetime.