Being an expat is one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of your life. You encounter hardships like culture shock, rejecting, accepting or assimilating to your new culture, and communication barriers. The list of hardships is long, but the rewards are longer. As an expat, you learn to get creative. You build a foundation for yourself in a new place. You make connections and become friends with people who have lived or are living abroad. Your eyes open to a greater world that you would have never existed unless you stepped outside your comfort zone. Being an expat changed me.
1. I don’t want to go home.
Honestly, I’m terrified to go back to America. I built a fundamental version of myself. I had my habits, my ways, and I was set in that life. As an expat, I built a new version of me….One that has matured years since arriving in Japan after college. Personally, I like who I am now versus who I was. I feel these changes are some my family and friends back in America wouldn’t understand because they haven’t seen or experienced the things I have.
Related: Reverse Culture Shock after Japan?
2. There’s a giant rift between my family, friends, and I.
In a way, there’s a giant rift between us that keeps getting larger the longer I’ve been over here. It may be hard for them to realize that these changes lay far beyond the conversational Japanese I acquired or eating with chopsticks. I learned a different way of life. I learned to do things a different way and I’m okay with it. It doesn’t have to be the American way or the highway. I’ve seen things many people haven’t gotten a chance to see in their lifetime.
3. Americans always feel entitled.
Living overseas, I realized why the rest of the world doesn’t like Americans… It’s because of their so called entitlement to everything. We have an ethnocentric superiority the world should bend to America. Now seeing it from the other end, I realize this way of thinking is wrong. What makes the way we do things better than everyone else? We may not agree with some things done in a different country, but it still doesn’t make it wrong.
My world views have changed and I like things I didn’t like before. I lived in Japan. I learned Japanese and to do things the way the Japanese do because this is not my country. I live in Korea. I do things the Korean way.
4. I think Asian guys are hot.
In America, Asian men are viewed as the side kick to the superior white man. They’re seen as the brainiacs or the King Fu master. Do you know why this is? Back in the day, when the Chinese man was coming over to California during the Gold Rush, they were looking to marry American women and start a life in the Land of Opportunity. White man, feeling threatened by Asian penis in his white woman, started the bull shit that Asian men had small penises, weren’t manly, or even worth the time. Unfortunately, this stigma still stands in America today.
Living here, I’ve discovered Asian men aren’t as feminine as America’s macho society depicts them to me. Many of them have great style, take care of their bodies, and don’t feel the need to prove their masculinity the way my American counterparts do.
Related: Why I think Asian Men are Sexy
5. Chivalry is Dead
I don’t see many men carrying their girlfriend’s or wife’s shopping bags, purse, etc. Many men (not all) see that as being “whipped” instead of gentlemanly. I’m a hopeless romantic. While I’m an independent woman and like being that way, I also want my boyfriend to treat me like his queen so I can make him my king. I long for sweet nothings, flowers just because, and him putting my hand in his pocket when it’s cold.
In Japan, I love the matching couple outfits from head to toe or silly hats. It’s adorable and from my point of view, he loves his girlfriend enough to show the rest of the world, “this is my woman, back off.” Although, in Japan, I find the school uniform dates weird, but, hey, whatever floats your goat, right?
Related: Dating Military on Okinawa
6. Being bilingual is still a stigma.
I once had an interesting conversation with someone who lives in a heavily hispanic populated place. This person told me, “Why should I have to speak Spanish? I should be speaking English because this is my country, not theirs.” While I do agree those people should learn English, and I can’t judge them because I don’t know their circumstances, what’s the big deal? The person I was talking to is perfectly bilingual. I would look at it as free Spanish practice and keeping up with the current slang and swears. Bi-winning.
7. I can’t go back to the same life I’ve lived.
My linguistics professor from Illinois State University came to Okinawa to visit his in laws with his husband. He told me, “You’ve changed so much, you won’t be able to go back to the life you’ve lived before. You’ll probably be so bored dating a guy in America.
He has no idea how true his statement rings. How can I go back to a mundane life of working a job I hate and then going out to the bar to drink it off? I’ve explored Asia, climbed mountains, swam in rivers, and played with exotic animals. I’m learning Korean and still learning Japanese every day. How could I possibly cope with having a monolingual boyfriend when I can speak Spanish, Italian, English and conversational Japanese? I would be so bored going to the movies and dinner as a date when I would rather go someplace I haven’t been.
This post may come off as me being “better.” Really, it’s not. My interests and outlooks have changed; therefore, I can’t connect to the people I used to connect with easily. I feel closer to people who have lived or traveled abroad, speak multiple languages and have an open mind. This isn’t saying I don’t love my friends and family back in the states. In fact, I love them and miss them dearly. I’m trying to figure out how to bridge the gap that permeated between us without my noticing.
Related: Dear Japan, We Have to Break Up
Leaving Japan is a loss, and I have to grieve it. Japan has been my home for two and a half years. I’ll miss the beautiful ocean that surrounds this Ryukyu Island. I’ll miss more than I think I will. Who knows, I think I might become an expat indefinitely. I know Korea is the place where my heart lies and the place I want to go to next.
Your heart can definitely be in many places at once. My heart is in America, my home country, and in Japan, a country I wanted to live in for so long. There’s a space in my chest for Korea, a country I fell in love with on a long Golden Week holiday. My heart has a special place for Okinawa, a place that still has it’s unique culture.