Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Tops Tuesdays: Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before I Came to Japan

My first few months in Japan were a whirlwind. Most new JETs get a few days to recoup from their jet lag, participate in orientation and training, and make some new friends before they begin teaching. I hit the ground running. Straight from the airport, I was shuttled to my new workplace and, bleary-eyed, introduced to my new colleagues. I was expected to start work the next day bright and early. No orientation for me. I could see my jet lag was going to become very drawn out and turn into JET lag so to speak. 

It took a long time to adjust emotionally after that. I took even longer to make friends because I just didn't know where any other ALTs were. Looking back, there are many things I would try to do different. It was a difficult set of circumstances, but there were options to make that period in time more bearable. 2011 turned out to be one of the worst years of my life. But luckily, in 2012 I figured a lot of things out, and 2012 turned into one of the best years of my life. If only I had known in 2011 what I know now, things could have gone much more smoothly...

10. Mental Clarity

It happens to even the most prepared and researched travellers after a big move overseas. You are always going to find your new environment surprising and different to your expectations; how surprising depends on the individual. When you travel, travel with an open mind. Throw away any preconceived ideas and you won't be disappointed by your own unrealistic expectations.

9. Cultural Adjustment

The emotional highs and lows of moving overseas can seem like an endless sickening roller-coaster. This is part of the normal adjustment to living in a new culture. Accept that during times where life seems too difficult, things are definitely going to change for the better and sooner than you think. The ‘curve of adjustment’ model for culture shock suggests we often feel initially happy, then go through a period of feeling lonely and unhappy before feeling settled and content with the new culture. Keep busy; the time will fly and you will find yourself enjoying new and interesting activities. 

8. Health

Keep active. Physical activity has an effect of lifting one's mood as well as maintaining a healthy body. Don't forget to eat well. It can be exciting trying a whole bunch of rich, tasty, foreign foods but doing so every day will have a negative impact on your health. Besides, easing yourself slowly into a new diet of foreign cuisine will be beneficial for your digestive system.

You may also find you need more sleep than usual. Allow time to recover from your jet lag (hopefully you are given the chance to!).

7. Relationships

Remember you may need to make more of an effort socially and not rely on it all just falling into place. When I first arrived in Japan, I expected the ALT community to be a tight-knit one. I was way off. I hadn't anticipated the long physical distances between ALTs making it difficult for me to make friends as a solo arrival. As such, I pressured myself into making friends immediately and often with the wrong sort of people. I easily became entangled with some very nasty personalities. I had to learn to pick and choose who I spent my time with. I wish I had started things off slower and made acquaintances to start with. Don’t box yourself into friendships. 
If you want to make new friends, be active in engaging with the place you have come to. That could mean joining a local taiko group or participating in tourist activities. Don't forget to send photos home so that your friends and family have can get a good understanding of your current life.

6. Staying calm

They say, “fake it till you make it” and I think this is helpful advice for new JETs. You might be experiencing a low after your arrival in Japan. That's okay. Go through the motions of being involved even if your heart’s not in it yet. This will preserve your casual and professional relationships until you are feeling better.

5. Help

There are several places to seek help when you have had a bad day or you need to be counselled on a serious issue. Start with fellow ALTs. They can be a great source of experience and advice without having to worry about language barriers. Try also your work colleagues who know the local area like the backs of their hands. Your supervisor is also required as part of their job to help you. Next, try your Prefectural Advisor (PA) who should have given you their contact information before you arrived at your placement. 

The JET Programme provides a phone counselling service for JETs who need to talk. The CLAIR JET Line is run by trained volunteers and is available during working hours through the week. Call (03) 5213-1729. CLAIR also has a Counseling System Committee for issues of greater importance than day-to-day matters. Additionally, CLAIR provides a system of Self-Support Group Leaders for speakers of languages other than English. Call the CLAIR JET Line ((03) 5213-1729) for more details

After working hours, you can call the AJET Peer Support Group for a chat or advice from fellow JETs who are also trained volunteers. Call (050) 5534-5566.

There are also lots of non-JET counseling options, including the Tokyo English Life Line on (03) 5774-0992. The Ministry of Education has an ALT Advisor, Mr Huw Oliphant, who is available to talk about your work situation on (03) 3593-6263. 

4. Home Sickness

This happens to everyone. Times get tough and it's important to remember why you threw yourself into a life of transience in the first place. Maybe you chose to live abroad to launch yourself into a new phase of life, to improve your future employment opportunities, or to broaden your mind. A little bit of work toughing it out now will have a positive impact on your life in the long run. Talk about your decision to live abroad and about why it’s worthwhile with your friends and listen to their opinion.

3. Behaviour

Make a conscious effort to notice better times – times when homesickness is even a little less strong. What’s different at those times? Does this give you some clues about what you can do to make your experiences abroad more positive?

2. Environment

Make your apartment your own! Decorate it how you like. Cut out some funny cartoons and pin them up. Read a humorous book or rent a funny video. Listen to upbeat music. Create an environment that’s comfortable and familiar. Stay focussed on a positive future. Imagine what your time on the JET Programme will lead to – the job possibilities, everything! – in as much detail as possible.

Find & Keep by Beci Orpin via WeeBirdy.com

1. Kindness

Be kind to yourself – living abroad is a big step and needs some time to adjust to. Forgive yourself for bad behaviour. Treat yourself as a reward for all you've gone through. Give yourself a night off to do something you really want to do. 

Leave any questions below in the comments!

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