The Importance of Being Alone.

In the span of the last 8 months I have spent almost six weeks entirely alone. I think back to my 20-year-old self, or honestly even a few years back, and I would have looked at that amount of alone time as not only unappealing, but terrifying. The older I get, though, and the more time I spend with myself, the more I truly enjoy and crave this individual time.

 

When I talked to friends about traveling alone, I was surprised by how many people asked, “well that means you’re going to eat alone,” with worry and anguish in their eyes. It was strange to me that I heard that from several people, and it made me a bit pessimistic about life in a weird way. I feel like we are living in a society that has painted a negative portrait of being alone. Whether it be alone without a significant other, without a family, or simply without a partner sitting down at the table. Though I do think life is better when shared with others, I also think there is something really sincere and empowering about feeling okay to be alone. I’m a little disheartened that I live in a generation that looks at dining alone as a negative experience. Or at the very least, they view it through a lens of discomfort or anxiety. Before I was a teacher I worked for years as a waitress. In all of those years I can remember very few instances where people were eating alone. I do remember one woman, though, who would frequently come in and eat, maybe read, but mostly just take in the world. To be honest I can’t remember what my thoughts were about her, but the mere fact that I can remember her leads me to believe that I may have thought it was strange, or maybe even a little sad, that she was always alone. The older I get the more I respect and admire people who go against what society expects them to do or be.

 

I feel like within the last few years, but more so even the last several months, I’ve been learning a lot about myself and the world around me. I think there are a number of experiences and people that I can attribute these changes to, but I also think that the time I have spent alone has been huge in the development of who I am as a person, and who I am growing into with each passing day.

 

As someone who used to always want to be surrounded by people, these are some things that I have realized are so important and beautiful about spending time alone. Since I have been doing a fair amount of traveling alone recently, many of these things are geared towards traveling solo. However, I think they can be applied to just taking the world on as an individual as well.

 

When you’re alone, you can only rely on yourself. Okay, this seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but to me it runs deeper than that. When I travel alone, I have no one else to fall back on when things go wrong. I have no one to celebrate with when things go right. There are times where this is incredibly lonely, but there are even more moments that are strengthening. I’m about to sound a little pessimistic here, but know that I mean the following in an optimistic way. In life, people will let you down. In all honesty, life itself very well might let you down. It’s unfortunate but it is a reality that cannot be changed nor escaped. The only thing that you truly can count on is who you are, and knowing and loving that person. Don’t get me wrong, I know many people in life won’t let you down 🙂 However, I feel like with each passing year, month, even day, I feel stronger in who I am, outside of anyone or anything, and it’s a delightfully freeing revelation. I think it would be an unfortunate thing to only have to rely on yourself, and that’s not what I’m advocating. But instead to be comfortable enough in your own skin to be okay if the world around you gets shakey or crumbles a little.

 

You open yourself up to new experiences, people, and opportunities.  When you are around others, whether it be traveling or in your daily lives, you may seem unapproachable to outsiders. When I’m alone I think I’m viewed as much more approachable. People want to know about you, they want to know your story, they want to make some kind of human interaction that often is lost when in a group of people. In this year alone I have met some of the most beautiful people that in all honesty I don’t think I would have met had I been with others. Additionally, when you’re with another person, it’s necessary to compromise on what you want to do on a daily basis because that’s what decent human beings do. However, when you’re alone, you are the architect of your own destiny. Okay, I’m getting a bit hyperbolic there, let’s scale it back a tad 🙂 I do believe that there is something very liberating about deciding when you want to wake up, when and where you want to eat, what you want to do, who you want to talk to, or how many hours you want to go without uttering a single word. It’s a freedom that I think we should all take advantage of, but one that I think few people actually do.

 

Developing your inner voice. Honestly, this was the biggest one for me. When I’m alone, when I’m not talking (I know… it’s hard to believe that happens), or listening, or socializing, I can actually think. We live in an age where we are so attached to our phones and technologies. I myself am probably the biggest culprit of this, and I’m well aware that this is a big flaw in who I am. Often when I’m traveling I don’t have cell reception, so I’m unplugged from the outside world. I realized that for many people, whenever we have to wait for something, whether it be in a line, at an appointment, or until your coffee order has been called out, we immediately go to our phones to fill up that time. I can’t speak for everyone, but I use my phone to fill up the time where really I should just be thinking and contemplating life. On my trips alone I would walk around for hours and hours listening to music and just thinking. I’ve been taking more time to figure out who my inner voice is and what she’s all about. It’s actually kind of a fun and interesting experience and one that I’m eternally grateful that I’ve taken the time to do.

 

The takeaway. I understand that not everyone has the ability or opportunity to take a trip alone, but I do think it’s something you should consider. At the very least, give yourself a weekend away somewhere alone and unplugged. And if you ever see those people eating alone, please don’t look at them with an ounce of negativity, but instead with support and positivity. If you’re feeling gutsy enough, take yourself out to a nice dinner. It’s a good experience that I think everyone should prove to themselves that they can do 🙂

 

2015: What I’ve Learnered

 When looking back at 2015, I realize that it was an important year in my life and growth as an individual. I’m going to sound like an inspirational meme, but I recognize that life is a journey and each experience molds you into the person that you are. Having that been said, I think some times in our lives are more revolutionary than others, and this was one for me.
 
These are some of the things that I have learned in this past year.
 
Living in a Different Environment is Good for you.
 
For most of my life I’ve played it safe. I went to college an hour away from home along with most of my closest friends. I lived with my best friend. I studied abroad with my boyfriend. I moved back to my hometown. 
 
Every decision I ever made was in the realm of my comfort zone. I never really had to “put myself out there” and I was perfectly content doing so.
 
When the opportunity came about to live in Japan, I almost passed on it. Even though I knew going would do good things for my career, I couldn’t get over the distance or the time commitment. I almost bailed.
 
Last year was the first full year that I lived abroad, and I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I’m much more independent than I had allowed myself to be. I learned that you get an entirely new perspective on the environment in which you grew up in and the way you were raised. You learn how different people live their daily lives and you get to authentically experience it through the lens of a resident, not a tourist. Though it can be INCREDIBLY frustrating and at times secluding, it also can be an avenue for growth, change, or simple reflection.
 
Traveling Broadens your Perspective of the World.
 
Traveling has been a passion of mine from early on, but time and money have not always allowed me to explore as much as I’d like. This last year, I have made it a priority to see the world, and I did (20 countries in a little over a year…I’d say not bad).
 
The more I travel, the more I understand the world. Don’t get me wrong, my hometown of Salem, Oregon is dripping with diversity and culture (ahem…), but even the most diverse places in the world can’t hold a candle to going, seeing, and doing in foreign environments.
 
It makes you realize that just because some places, some people, or some religions are different than what you’re used to, it doesn’t make them wrong. You learn that different is interesting and beautiful. You learn that people are curious and kind. You become aware that hate is a choice.
 
You Don’t Have to Live the Same as Everyone Else
 
In the past, this was a difficult one for me to accept. When you grow up in a smallish town, people tend to start growing up earlier in life. They get married, buy houses, have babies. They become responsible adults.
 
There was a point in my life, not that long ago, where I thought I would be married at 26 and have kids by 28. This seemed to be what everyone else was doing, and lord knows you have to keep up with the Joneses. Veering away from this path into the scary unknown was not something I even considered until 25.
 
In all honesty, one of my hesitations about taking my job in Japan was how it would “screw up my timeline.” I remember very clearly having this talk on a number of occasions and lamenting about how old I’ll be when I finish and blah blah blah.
 
In the age of social media, it’s hard to be swimming against the stream. However, I’m finally embracing the life that I am living, and now think it was rather silly to have even had those thoughts in the first place. I like the pace that I’m going and the person that I’m becoming.
 
Life is Like a Pinball Machine
 
I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I’m 28, and I still don’t know. I thought I would be teaching in a chaotic middle school classroom at this point in life, and I don’t want to do that any more. I like what I’m doing and I want to stick with it. Do I need to go back to school? Maybe. Does that stress me out? What doesn’t?
 
When I was home for Christmas break, I was voicing my concerns and anxieties to my dad. His simple response was, “you know, life is like a pinball machine.” I like that. Each experience leads you to another. Some are expected, and some are reeeeally not. Regardless, there is no correct path.
 
 
 
 
I feel over the last several years I have grown into a person that I’m very proud to be. However, I know that there is still a lot in store for the future. I want to continue to grow through experiences and accept my path, even if it’s different from what I thought it would be.
 
It may be stressful, but I’m curious to see where this pinball-machine of a life takes me next.
 

 
Thank you 2015. 

Remember that one time we were sleeping and were attacked by a colony of ants?

My roommates and I had spent our first four first months in Japan enjoying the country but dreaming of Bali. After months of anticipation the day was finally upon us to start our adventure. Though we thought Bali was closer than it actually is (heaven forbid we look at a map…) we arrived at our destination 15 hours after leaving Japan (10 hours of flying and a 5 hour layover in an icy Malaysian airport).

We were greeted at the airport by our friendly Balinese host Katut. We were staying with his wife (who is from Germany) and him in their guesthouse, which was in the jungle. We were taken with the idea of staying with a native family and also seeing a part of Bali that is completely removed from the tourism industry.

As we made our way to his car, my fearless roommates Cassie and Karissa quickly decided that I would be the one sitting up front for the two-hour journey because I was the best at making conversation.

“I don’t think that’s how these things work, just because I’m good at it doesn’t mean I have to do it every time!”

“Yes you do,” they said with a grin.

I accepted the situation assuring them that at some point in our lifetime–I don’t know where and I don’t know when–that I would call in a favor and they would have no choice but to oblige.

The journey to the jungle was interesting in a number of different ways. For one, it was a great introduction to the scenery of Bali. We drove through the crazy big cities that thrive off of tourism, until we started breaking through to the small villages where the roads were lined with fruit stands and children running around. I don’t think I have ever seen so many different shades of green (at least 50) and was delightfully surprised to find out that lime green actually does exist in nature. Traffic in Bali is a beautiful dance of chaos. Lines and sides of the road are merely suggestions and only apply when they are absolutely necessary to avoid head on collisions. Motorcycles weave between traffic; large cars pass each other on the left or right–whichever they feel like at the very moment they make the decision; and there are no limits to how many cars/motorcycles can fit in one lane other than what won’t get them killed. In all this chaos though, everything just perfectly flows. Drivers are acutely aware of those around them and cutting someone off isn’t a bad thing, but just a reality of driving there. The process is both impressive and strangely beautiful.

Our destination was out in the middle of nowhere and the location was a marriage between country and jungle life. As we walked to our bungalow, we passed pigs, cows, roosters, dogs, cats, and little pigglets running free. As an animal lover, I was in heaven. Our host Katut introduced us to his wife, Silvana. Silvana is from Germany and it should be mentioned that she is well over 6 feet tall. They showed us our quarters, pointed out the menu sitting on the table, and told us to come up to their house and order anything we wanted.

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We were then left to the noisy silence of the jungle. We started flipping through the menu of local delicacies since we hadn’t eaten much that day. We decided on a couple dishes and saw that they had “beer upon request” listed as well. We figured since we were out in the middle of nowhere with no real forms of entertainment, we would grab a couple beers and kick it in our jungle paradise to pass the evening hours. We made our way to their bungalow and relayed our order and mentioned that we wanted some beers. Silvana’s first reaction? Raising her eyebrows in a judgmental stare.

“We actually only have one beer here, but I can call Katut and he can pick up some more. I’m sorry we don’t have more, usually our guests are… healthy…”

We exchange a quick smirk.

“Well we’re young and on vacation” Cassie says with a laugh.

“So how many do you want? One each…Or…two…each…?”

“Ughh, yeah, two each will be fine.” We begrudgingly reply.

We definitely felt judged, but I just don’t think she understands some teachers. The only thing that gets teachers through the grueling school year is vacation and alcohol (okay that’s not completely true, but what’s wrong with a couple beers?!)

We returned to our bungalow and sat at the table, twiddling our thumbs. We couldn’t leave the place because our food would be coming, and there wasn’t anything to do there. The three of us live together, work together, and travel together, so at this point we’re not brimming with stories to fill up the night. So what do we do? What anyone else would do—I read a book aloud to them. I had a David Sedaris book that I hadn’t started yet and so we passed the hours with a little story time (yes, hours…dinner took a long time…) Both the girls assured me that I could record my voice professionally and so I thought to myself, “well at least I can sleep soundly that if teaching doesn’t work out, I have a bright future in the audiobook industry.” Oh the ironic foreshadowing of that very thought…

We ate a delicious meal and shared our three beers (the store only had that many…) and decided to retire to our king size bed. Karissa opted to be in the middle the first night (we were supposed to be there for three nights so we figured we would just rotate) and I got settled on the left side of the bed. Cassie was getting ready for bed and I got up to brush my teeth and take some sleeping pills to make sure I get a good night’s sleep. When I returned to the bed they were settled in and Cassie was in my spot… how dare she! Not really though, the right side and the left side were exactly the same so I just got resettled on the right side of the bed. Ohhhh what a mistake that was.

We all pass out immediately as we had been up for almost 36 hours and were exhausted. Goodnight beautiful Bali.

I don’t know if anyone has ever experienced the sensation of their scalp falling asleep, but I woke up to that several hours later. It feels like pins and needles, but all over your head. I was dazed and confused, as I was so tired and the sleeping pills were in full effect. I kept touching my head to figure out if I was dreaming and was trying to figure out how my scalp had even fallen asleep. Then, I started feeling pricks on the back of my neck, and then on my arms. Okay, so maybe my head wasn’t asleep. Oh, hello angry ants, why are you in my hair I’m wondering? I try and use the backlight of my phone to investigate the situation. The girls are still angelically sleeping next to me and I am trying to work silently so as not to wake them up. If it’s just a couple ants, I can kill them, go back to sleep, and then tell the tale to the girls the next morning. I kept getting bitten on my head so I decided to use the flashlight on my phone to get a better look at what I was dealing with. Ohhhh man was that a shocker. My pillow was covered in ants and there were hundreds and hundreds of them filing in from the door that went outside (which I just happened to be closest to…sonofa…). At this point I decided that I better wake them up…

I flick on the light—“Umm, heyyy guyyyyys. So I don’t really know what to do, our bed is covered in ants and they bite. So…”

The two of them immediately shoot up and stare in horror. I go grab the mosquito repellent and start going to town on the army. The three of us huddle together at the bottom corner of the bed and decide what to do now. It’s three a.m. and we are in the middle of the jungle with nowhere to go. So we move to the dining room, and count the hours until our hosts wake up and it’s acceptable to tell them what happened. As the hours passed, we all agreed that there is no way we would risk this happening again and would get a new hotel the next morning (which we promptly booked and was nonrefundable—best decision ever).

After an eternity, we finally told our hosts what happened. At first, they didn’t seem to believe us. We walked them to the bedroom and showed the hundreds of ant corpses that had perished from the chemical warfare I had waged upon them.

ants

Silvana’s response was “well, it was probably from some of the beauty products you all are wearing.”

Okay NUMBER ONE don’t try and put them blame on US?! I mean, come on… And secondly, do we seriously look like the kind of girls that are lathering up in essential oils before bed? I mean, just look at us… let’s be real…

She reassured us that they ant bites don’t leave marks (yep, that definitely makes everything better) and that this is their home too.

Needless to say, we did NOT get any type of refund, and left our little jungle oasis with the hosts believing it was somehow our fault that we were attacked by ants.

Luckily we moved to a beautiful resort that was paradise and the rest of our trip was flawless (well… that may be an overstatement but it WAS great). I, however, may have picked up a bit of an ant phobia now. C’est la vie, you can’t win them all ☺

paradise

drinks

“You’re Like a Smart Baby”–My First Few Weeks Here

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Time is passing faster than I had even anticipated. When I left the U.S, I didn’t really experience a moment of “oh my gosh, this is really happening, I’m actually moving away.” I kept thinking that this would hit me a couple weeks in, but it really hasn’t. I’m not really sure if it’s still a-brewing, but I think I’ve just been so busy that I maybe skipped over that part.

 

So how am I adjusting? Pretty well actually

 

The language barrier is definitely the biggest struggle. There are so many day-to-day things in life where communication (or reading…) is imperative. I’m trying to learn Japanese, but it is a slow process. It’s almost like I am a child all over again, constantly needing the help of others to do mundane things, like laundry and shopping. Let it be known that my roommate Karissa and I are BY FAR the worst shoppers in the world. Often we will go to the store with a couple particulars in mind of what we want to buy. The problem (obviously) is that we can’t read what anything is. However, we are smart, educated women, so we use our reasoning skills and make our best guess and hope for the best. Except, we are ALWAYS wrong. You might think that I am exaggerating, but I’m really not. So far anytime we have been unsure of what we are buying, it is always something completely different than what we think it is. If anyone is in the market for some trash bags the size of your hand, weird net-sacks, sweet oil-sauce, or crab and mayonnaise pizza, just let us know! We definitely have enough to share.

 

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School is going really well. It’s busy, but I had anticipated this so was relatively prepared. I’m starting early and managing to get out of work before the dead of night, which I’m taking as a personal victory (granted, I’m still often working 11 hours, but I’m able to be out by 6 which is reasonable in my mind). Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a tendency to work more than I need to. I almost always have multiple jobs, even when it’s not necessary, because I’m a freak of sorts. So this is fairly similar to what I’m used to.

 

My students are great and I’m having a good time with them. Most of my classes have motivated students and the material we are covering is interesting (I teach freshmen and sophomores). It can be a bit of a struggle at times though… One of the classes I have are level 1 freshmen, and for the most part they speak veeeeeery little English. I have to speak painfully slowly using the simplest language I can muster and they just look at me wide-eyed and silent. Oh man, it’s a bit rough but kind of hilarious too. I just smile and laugh a lot (surprise surprise) and hope that they will warm up to me soon.

 

What have we been doing?

 

What haven’t we been doing! Actually a lot probably, but we’ve been having a good time when we’re not slaving away.

 

Sakura season has come and gone and I miss it already. The Sakura trees (cherry blossom trees) are a huge symbol here and the Japanese make it into an on-going event. Sakura trees are everywhere and when they are all in bloom it really is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. They hold “Hanami” parties in which they gather with friends and family under a cherry blossom tree and have a daylong picnic/party. The best part (also the most hilarious and entertaining part) is that fact that it is commonplace for them to just get PLASTERED under the trees. They stake out their spot under the Sakura early in the day and literally drink all day long. By the afternoon or early-evening, everyone is drunk and loving life. Old men will stumble over and strike up a conversation, giving you sushi and beer (and sometimes they will even give you a cup of beer that they have already drank half of… But really, think of how generous it is to give the second half of your delicious beer away! And have you ever known me to turn down something free… I don’t think so!)

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We’ve been making new friends and going on adventures too. Last weekend Cassie, Karissa, and I went hiking with some guys that are mutual friends with one of Cassie’s college friends. Now THAT was an experience. We didn’t really know what to expect so went into it with open minds. Let’s just say, we may or may not have thought we were going to die. Why you ask? Because we went up a mountain with a bunch of guys we had never met? No, of course not, they are Japanese and were very nice! However, most of them were rugby players and let’s just say they were in better shape than we were. We were holding our own for the first hour of the climb (yes, I say climb, because it was much more of a climb than a hike). Hour 2 was rough though. This next section was basically like climbing big stairs for an hour straight. We were trying to be tough and keep up with these guys that were having full conversations, not sweating, showing no signs of fatigue. At one point when I thought I actually might have been dying, I looked back at Cassie and Karissa and we all looked on the verge of passing out. Huffing and puffing, our faces red, hair either flying about crazily or pasted to our head with sweat, we continued to march on. After AN HOUR of this, we had to make them stop for a break. We stopped for a minute or two, caught our breath, rehydrated, and continued on. “Don’t worry, we’re almost to the top” “Don’t worry, 5 more minutes”—they were very good at reassuring us. Maybe 45 minutes later we finally reached the top and it really was beautiful. I don’t know if we could have physically gone on any further without our legs collapsing, but it was totally worth it. What took us 3 hours to go up, only took maybe an hour to go down and we all realized we need to do more lunges 🙂

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All’s well on this side of the world and I really am happy. I miss you all, and strongly encourage you to plan a trip this way. Cheers for now!

 

 

Moving into our home: How we quickly and abruptly learned the 6 ways to sort trash

After months of anticipation, planning, and prepping, we finally made it to Japan. I have only been here once for a little less than 2 weeks, which was enough time to get a feel for how things work here but was obviously only scratching the surface. Most of our group flew in on Saturday night and were surprised by some of our former students who gave us a warm welcome. They helped us ship our bags and buy bus tickets, which I’m sure we could have done without them, it just would have taken 10 times as long and we probably would have ended up on the other side of the country.

The first two nights we stayed in a hotel in Kawagoe (our new hometown, pronounced cow-ah-go-ee) and were to move into our new places on Monday. I am living with 3 other girls in a house and most of the others are living in apartments nearby. Sunday evening we were exploring the city and the curiosity about our new home got the best of us and we set out to find it. After wandering up and down several windy roads we found it and immediately fell in love. We didn’t have keys, but the outside was beautiful with several decks and a huge yard that would be perfect for a garden. We all were pretty much on cloud nine.

As we were leaving we saw two elderly neighbors across the street who were outside watching us. Our friend Sara was accompanying us and she speaks Japanese so we told her she should go say hi. She wasn’t particularly thrilled at the task but she begrudgingly went over with us at her heels. She explained that we would be moving in the following day and that we were going to be teaching at the university. The old woman (maybe late 80s, early 90s) started spouting out Japanese with a big smile on her face. With such a warm smile we assumed she was welcoming us to the neighborhood, maybe even inviting us over for dinner someday. Well, you know what they say about assuming. After maybe 4 or 5 minutes the woman stopped talking and Sara gave us the translation.

“So the neighborhood has rules that must be followed perfectly.”

She went on to tell us about the complicated recycling/garbage system and how we need to follow this “perfectly” (there are essentially 7 different ways you need to separate your garbage and yes, neighbors will go through your garbage and tell you when you mess it up). The woman began talking again for several minutes and Sara turns to us with a quick translation, “you must follow the rules perfectly.” This conversation went on for at least 10 minutes with the woman repeating the same information over and over again. The entire conversation was in Japanese (duh) except for one English word that the old man offered at the beginning, “rules.”

Suffice to say, we are going to get reeeaaallly good at sorting our trash and sweeping dirt from the road.

We got the keys to our place on Monday and the inside is equally beautiful. It is a traditional Japanese home with tatami mats on the floor downstairs and sliding paper walls. Our first night was filled with excitement and laughter as we waited for the delivery of blankets, futons (beds), and pillows. The hours passed and we started to get a little nervous as these essential items had not yet arrived. We later found out that the delivery people could not find our house which made for quite a chilly/uncomfortable first night. Though you would think paper-thin walls would be good insulators, they’re not (I’m not exaggerating, our walls are literally paper thin). We had a couple thin sleeping bags and blankets but it felt a little bit like camping. I kept waking up throughout the night and adding a layer of clothing, resulting in me wearing 3 sweatshirts, a fleece northface jacket, and a scarf by the time morning finally rolled around. We got our stuff the next night, but the first night in our new home will definitely be a night to remember 🙂

All is well and I’m really happy here. It’s definitely a huge change from Salem, Oregon, but I’m so excited for the journey ahead.

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Rachel, You’re Too Loud—On Things I Will Likely Struggle With

Nervousness is a funny feeling to me because it’s one of those sensations that are neither good nor bad, as it can be associated with either depending on the situation. Some of the worst moments of my life have been associated with being nervous to the point of feeling sick, while some of the best times go hand-in-hand with being nervous and giddy. Recently I have been getting the question, “Are you nervous?” and I give the only stock answer that comes to mind, “Of course.”

I have the utmost respect (and mild envy)  for anyone that can jump into life-changing experiences with complete confidence. I don’t know how many of those people exist (and of the ones that do, I can’t help but wonder how many are all talk) but I do not count myself as one of them. I have never been terribly nervous about traveling abroad, but making the decision to move somewhere that is so different from where I am from was one that took me a while to make and even longer to get comfortable with. Luckily, I have now had around 10 months to let the idea marinate and I’m on the road to delicious confidence. For me, the key is recognizing/accepting the struggles and challenges I will likely encounter so I can prepare myself for the worst. It sounds weird, but I feel like if I know some days are going to be really hard, then I won’t be so surprised when they come and I might be better equipped to handle them and laugh them off.

So, here are some things that I know I’m going to struggle with or that are going to be really hard for me:

Cockroaches: Alright, let’s just start with the easy, basic cockroach. I’m going to be living in an older house with 3 of my coworkers and we have been warned that houses that fit this description often get cockroaches. Whenever I even think of interacting with cockroaches I get goose bumps and my body shivers with disgust. I’m being a little dramatic here, but not really. Cockroaches are gross and I’m not afraid to call them out on it.

The Language Barrier: This one is obvious, but I believe is the one I need to prepare myself for the most. Communication is what makes society function (well, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but it’s one of the most important things, in addition to caffeine and cell phones). I can only imagine how frustrating and overwhelming it will feel to be completely surrounded by a foreign language that I am only now getting a grasp on. Even if some people have the basics of English down, I know that I’m regularly going to run into communication break-downs. Also, what happens if I’m not funny to Japanese people?! I’m barely funny to native English speakers, I don’t know if it’s going to translate. Cue the violins.

Rachel, You’re Too Loud: Anyone who has spent really any amount of time with me knows that I talk a lot and I am on the louder side of the spectrum (to put it lightly). Living in Japan is going to be a biiiiig shift for me because the Japanese tend to be a quiet and respectful people, especially out in public. Us stupid Americans tend to be a bit more boisterous, especially within group-dynamics. Not only am I too loud, but it’s recently been brought to my attention that I quietly hum/sing to myself pretty much ALL the time without really being aware of it (sorry coworkers…not really though). I have always done this to some degree, but it’s definitely increasing (yeah, I’m that weirdo. What of it?). Some might say that I’m a lost cause blending in with the Japanese (the blonde curly hair isn’t helping) but I think I can do it.

Missing Home: Duh. I’m really close with my family and they are going to be the hardest ones to be away from. I’ve always played it kind of safe and have never really pushed myself out of my comfort-zone. I went to college an hour away accompanied by my best friend, cousin, and my closest guy friends. When I studied abroad I went with a good friend and my boyfriend at the time. Each time I have left the country I have had family with me. Two years is a long time to be away from my loved ones, but I will have the opportunity to come home hopefully twice a year for good chunks of time. I also plan on forcing them to come visit me, so really we all win 🙂 I’m fairly certain these two years will fly by, but I know it’s not always going to be easy.

I’m sure there will be a million more struggles and I will make mistakes daily–constantly embarrassing myself and offending others. I’ve always had a sunny outlook on life, so hopefully when I have the occasional bad experience I won’t be overwhelmed by it but will instead see the humor (and don’t worry, I will likely share my foolishness with the world).

So, Rachel, why are you moving across the world when all your friends are settling down?

For most of my adult life I have dreamed of traveling abroad and experiencing cultures that are different than my own. More than that though, I wanted to live abroad, which is a whole different ball-game.

I have been very fortunate in my life and have had many opportunities to travel. There is something invaluable about seeing how other people live their lives and how it changes your perspective and broadens your understanding of the world. The history nerd in me has always been interested in learning about different people/cultures and exploring the relics from our past that give a little explanation as to why things are the way that they are (*Note: I’m lying here. I say “always,” but young Rachel was kind of a dumb girl. I only truly became interested in this kind of thing in college. Don’t let writer-Rachel fool you).

I’ve only lived abroad once before (Italy) but I was there for less than four months. Though this is enough time to get comfortable in a place and start to understand their way of life, it’s not long enough for it to feel like home. It still kind of feels like you are visiting and not actually living there (I didn’t even like wine at the time, I was definitely NOT an Italian yet. Rachel, sometimes you can be a real dummy). In college I considered the Peace Corps for a while but I could never wrap my head around leaving for over two years. That just seemed a bit ridiculous and more than I could take on. Funny enough, the job that I have accepted now is a 2-year gig.

So, Rachel, why are you moving across the world when all your friends are settling down? Don’t you know that at this point in your life you need to be laying some roots? Well, honestly, because I have to. I know I have this need to live abroad in me and if I don’t do it now I might not ever. Even beyond that, I would stunt my own growth as a person at a point in my life where I feel like I’m just getting started. That’s not to say that I couldn’t keep growing if I stayed here or if I settled down. On the contrary, I think you can grow a lot under those circumstances. However, I have learned a lot about myself in the last couple years and I recognize that I have this deep desire in me and I know I have to do it. Plus, pretty much the perfect opportunity presented itself, and as they say when opportunity comes knocking… I actually don’t know the rest of that phrase? I think it’s telling me to go for it though.

Details of the trip to come soon…