exchange personal

5 ways japan changed me

I hate to sound like a walking cliche, but it’s the truth! Out of all the experiences you can possibly have, studying and living abroad has to be up there as one of the most life changing. Thinking back to 2016, I can barely recognise that girl who first stepped off a plane and onto Japanese soil, unaware of all the events to unfold over the coming months. And now that it’s officially been a year since I returned home, the change is more apparent than ever. In fact, I almost feel like my life can be defined by two periods now – before and after Japan. Anyway, here are five ways my experience changed me, for better or worse:

1. I’m more independent.

It’s obvious, but living alone for a year kind of does that to you! Learning to cook, clean and basically fend for myself was a huge learning curve, but definitely one I needed to experience. Let me tell you, I tried (and failed) so many things while ‘adulting’ over the year. Whether it was baking a cheesecake using a rice cooker or figuring out Japan’s complicated trash system, every task was a journey in itself. I would definitely say I’m a much more accomplished human because of it!

Without the security blanket of friends and family to keep myself entertained, I can also say I’m now more comfortable with being alone. I even squeezed in a few solo trips during my year abroad, something I never would have fathomed here in Australia. To be honest, now that I’ve had a taste I kind of miss the peace and quiet that comes with solitude. After all, it’s hard to come by when you have a family as big as mine.

2. I’m less forgiving of slow internet.

Out of all the reverse culture shocks I experienced, this one would have to be the worst. I know, first world problems right? But in Japan, you could be in the middle of a rice paddy and still get top notch data speeds. As for Australia? That would be wayyy too much to ask! Now that I think about it, I was so unappreciative of the fast internet when I did have it. I’m reminded of it every time I see the dreaded buffer icon whenever I watch Youtube videos…

3. The chicken skin on my arms disappeared.

It may seem a little odd, but it’s true! For as long as I could remember I had keratosis pilaris on my upper arms, and it was the bane of my existence. While no amount of exfoliating would fade them, when I came back from Japan I noticed that they’d mysteriously disappeared. Was it the copious amounts of sushi I ate? All those hours spent in the onsen? In any case, the tiny red bumps disappeared and haven’t come back since. To this day I still wonder about it, but am definitely not complaining!

4. Nothing fazes me anymore.

Take it from me. There’s nothing more nerve-racking than being the only exchange student in the room, and being expected to make full-blown conversation in Japanese. Not to mention, in a high-context culture such as Japan’s, the sheer number of conventions and nuances is enough to drive any foreigner insane. Yet despite all the cultural differences I encountered, I quickly got over the initial shock and carried on like normal. In fact, at this point nothing really surprises me anymore!

Don’t get me wrong, there were sooo many awkward moments when I would get caught out doing the wrong thing. But after awhile, I stopped dwelling on it whenever I fumbled up. After all, mistakes are all a part of the learning process, and they really build up your confidence over time. On top of the sheer stress of living overseas, sometimes I wonder how I made it through the year in one piece. But now that I’ve survived, I feel like I’m capable of anything really.

5. I realised nothing lasts forever, and that’s okay.

Like most people experiencing post-exchange depression, I often caught myself wishing I could go back. But over time you simply have to realise that nothing in life lasts forever, exchange included. While all those friendships and experiences you had are precious, it’s also important not to fall into the trap of obsessing over them. Nostalgia is a funny thing – that is, memories always seem better than they actually were at the time. And no matter how hard you try to hold on, people will always come and go. While drifting apart is sad, not everyone who passes through your life is meant to stay there forever.

So I’ve been saying I would do this for ages now, but it’s finally done. I’ve put together a page listing every one of my blog posts about Japan, which you can find here! I really hope it comes in handy for anyone planning a trip there, or those who are more curious about the various regions Japan has to offer. Anyway I’m hoping I’ll be able to add even more locations if I visit again, so fingers crossed it happens soon!

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