These next few months are always the hardest for me living abroad. The holiday season and the beginning of winter intersect to form this perfect storm of sadness and loneliness.
It’s impossible to not think of your family during the holiday season. Missing them makes me doubt why I’m here and makes me question whether or not I did the right thing when I came to Japan. The snowy weather also makes me think lovingly of the hot Texas sun. You can see how this could lead to a potential mental breakdown.
In an effort to avoid months of wallowing, I have tried my absolute hardest to also spend time thinking of all the wonderful things that I get from living abroad during the holiday season.
First of all technology is amazing.
This year I was able to skype my family Friday morning in Japan so that it was Thanksgiving afternoon their time. I sat at the table (digitally) and had dinner with my family. It was so fun. Especially since this was the first year that my family held Thanksgiving in my younger sister’s new house. How exciting! I really wanted to be there to see the full tour of the house, talk with my family, and taste the stuffing!!!!
I’m so lucky that there is technology that enables me to be with my family for free. It’s reliable and it’s convenient for both of our lifestyles. I was able to participate in the family conversation at thanksgiving dinner (but not the eating…). How amazing is that?
Secondly I may not be with my actual family but I am still able to celebrate with a variety of people who all have something to teach me.
I live in Fukui Prefecture where there are very few native English speakers who aren’t a part of the JET program. The JET program mainly attracts recent college graduate from English speaking countries to live abroad and teach English in Japan. We all tend to be pretty young and single. So we spend a lot of time together and have a lot in common. This creates a pretty strong tight knit expat community.
Every year the expat community in Fukui has a holiday season potluck party. Its an event where we order 6 turkeys and cook for the local community in Fukui. All the expats in the area come running as soon as they hear the word “turkey.” It’s always a very fun and festive atmosphere since we are encouraged to invite our Japanese friends and their families.
Most Japanese people have never tasted turkey before and this is a low stress environment for them to meet foreigners and speak a little Japanese/English with each other. Everyone goes all out for this potluck since this is the closest we get to “mom’s stuffing” or “bread pudding” (depending on where you come from…).
This year I invited a teacher from my school who used to live in England for 7 years. She recently moved back to Japan and I know she misses speaking in English a lot. She looked very happy and met a lot of new people in the foreign community. I was so glad she could come.
This is one way of sharing our culture, interacting with the Japanese community, and celebrating my own holiday traditions. What else did I come to Japan looking for? It’s all wrapped up nicely into one event. When I think of it this way, there is so much to be thankful for.
Another great thing about being an ALT during the holiday season is travel.
We get almost a full 2 weeks off from teaching classes. We still have to go to work in the staff room, however, we are free to take vacation days, a luxury we don’t have whenever we want it. Many ALTs take advantage of the long vacation from classes and use their nenkyuu days (paid leave days) and either travel abroad to Southeast Asia or back home with families.
My first year in Japan I traveled to Cambodia and Thailand. In my second year I went home to visit for Christmas. This year I will be traveling to indonesia. YESSSS. In less than 2 weeks I will be on the beach in an island paradise discovering temples, climbing volcanoes, learning about culture, and scuba diving in the coral reef. I am so stoked.
These 3 things; technology, sharing my culture/interacting with the diverse community here, and traveling, are things that I can be thankful for this holiday season.
It might be tempting to only think of the positives and to ignore the feelings you have of wanting to go home and be with family but you shouldn’t do that either. Only focusing on the positives would fall part when inevitably something bad happens and it shatters this perfect fake world you constructed for yourself in your head. Focusing on the positives only can never last.
I think the trick to having a full holiday season abroad isn’t to only focus on the positives and shove the loneliness and the desire for a normal holiday away.
I think we should let the two coexist together.
I should miss my family and think of them often. They are a huge part of my life and should be a part of my holidays even if its only in my thoughts. To force myself to forget about them wouldn’t be celebrating the holidays at all. They should be a part of my holidays longer than just our phone call conversation.
However, I shouldn’t let it drive me to sadness. I should still appreciate all the wonderful things I have to be thankful for here. It’s a sneaky balance that I am still learning and perfecting. I hope you all are having a safe and fun holiday season full of thankfulness and that your thoughts dwell on the important things and people in your life wherever they are.
Remember, balance is key!