These are pages from my English exercise book, a couple of months after I landed in England.
A little background info before I start: I was born in Tokyo, Japan (to 2 Japanese parents) and moved to London when I was 9 years old, as my dad was send here for work. I went straight into a normal English school (without speaking any English...) and have stayed in London ever since due to education, aside from my 3 years abroad for my Master's degree.
Now let's talk about all the head-scratching-inducing ups and downs of being an expatriate - there are so many of us around, I'm sure I'm not alone in my feelings!
1 :: Where is "home"?
Probably the most obvious and the most common sentiment amongst us, is that all-important question of where home really is. I feel most at home in London out of anywhere in the world, including Tokyo, and feel 95% like a true native. Except I'm not, hence the 5%. Sometimes, that 5% can feel like a slight burden. When people ask me where I'm from, I'll generally say that I'm from Japan - partly because I am, and partly because if I say I'm from London, they'll say, "Oh, but where are you originally from?"
2 :: The language dilemma.
I consider English to be my first language. If you heard me talking in this post, you'll know that I also sound like a British through and through. I have had many Brits tell me, "You speak better English than I do!". While this is all well and good, it means that my Japanese has suffered - in fact, I didn't even learn the language properly as I was only in school for 2 and a half years in Japan. My sister and I speak in English with each other, although with our parents we speak Japanese (with plenty of English vocab thrown in). It's all a bit confused... and don't even get me started on how stressful it is to do things like go to the Japanese Embassy. They look at me and presume that I'm a "normal" Japanese person. But I'm not! I just look it, and then make a fool out of myself when it takes me 3 attempts to fill out a form properly.
Having said all that, I absolutely plan on talking to any future children I hope to have in Japanese. This is something I never even questioned and feel very strongly about. The poor kids will be brought up with Japanese, French & English... but they'll thank us later.
3 :: The joy of talking to fellow expats.
I get such a sense of relief, happiness and comfort when I chat to people with similar situations and backgrounds. In a world and a society that puts labels on everything and everyone, it's good to be reminded that you can be outside the box and still "fit in" wherever you want to. I feel this particularly with Asian friends and acquaintances, as the Asian and Western cultures are so different and it can be very difficult to reconcile the two.
4 :: Reverse culture shock. It's a real thing.
Slightly linked to the first point, but yes, it does exist. Since leaving Japan, I haven't returned for more than a 2-3 weeks at a time, so it always just felt like a holiday. But even in those short bursts, I experienced so many moments of feeling like a foreigner in what is my own country - and that's on top of the language struggle. Often, it's not even anything big, or even noticeable to others around you, but isn't that what familiarity is made up of? Like wearing a strapless summer dress in the sweltering heat (Tokyo gets incredibly hot in the summer), and sensing many (probably disapproving) eyes on me, because no one wears stuff like that there (they are far more modest, and I'm not even one to bare much skin). Or seeing a friend from your childhood and realising that there is such a thing as feeling "worlds apart" in your experiences and views, and knowing that you would probably have ended up much like her, had you stayed where you were born (and not at all in a negative way - just different).
5 :: If I could choose, I'd still choose to be an expat.
It's true. From where I stand, there are far, far more pros than cons to having one foot in one country/culture and the other in another. It's extremely challenging, but no matter whether you stay in the same village all your life or you hop from one city to the next, there are hardships and obstacles for everyone. I don't think of it as being especially difficult - but I do think of it as an enriching, fortunate privilege that takes time and growth to understand and accept.
If you're an expat yourself, or have any similar experiences, please do share! I'd love to hear any and all thoughts and stories.
You can read the Behind The Scenes series here.