Lost in translation... and 10 years later
A little bit about me
I just celebrated my ten years anniversary since moving to Canada in January. I've been thinking a lot about my journey thus far. Though I'm not sure if this post will serve any purpose for anyone, I felt like I should write about it for myself to remember.
Before I start, here's a bit about me so that you'll have a better understanding of my background.
I'm from Japan; born and raised. My family (as far as I know) are all Japanese and they all live there.
2004 First time landing on Canada as a student
2005 Left Canada to continue studying in Japan
2008 Came back to Canada to immigrate (I'm a permanent resident of Canada but my citizenship is Japan)
I met my husband (who is Canadian) in 2004 in Canada, and then we were in a long distance relationship for about three years. When I was twenty years old, I bought a one way ticket to Canada to finally end the long-distance relationship and to start living together with him. I packed a suit case, mailed four huge boxes, and put Momiji (our dog) in her travelling bag and got on a plane.
In the vast ocean
Do you have a family? Do you have an old friend(s) whom you've known each other forever? Do you have an education/training? Do you have a career? Do you have a hometown where everything feels safe and familiar? Do you speak your language fluently?
Now imagine not having any of them.
You're on a foreign land, no family nor old friends, no career, your education is not recognized, you're not familiar with the custom, you don't speak their language.
That's what it's like to move abroad. I felt like I was dropped in the ocean, the shore was far, nor had I a root to keep me steady.
When I first visited Canada as a student to stay one year to study, it was more about the excitement for something new, it was an adventure. But when I moved here to immigrate, my heart was not filled with an excitement.
Sure, I was beyond thrilled to be with my husband (my boyfriend then) and to be able to see him everyday, I had waited for that day for three years.
But I was worried how my life is going to turn out; I knew I had to try as hard as possible to get used to the new life where I had no foundation.
Long story short, I had a hard time. Perhaps I was too hasty. Being an introvert, I should have known that getting accustomed to a brand new surroundings would take longer for me than for some people.
For the first three to four years, I felt like I was sunken. It felt like there was a thick layer of water above me that won't let me surface.
I was only twenty years old when I moved in 2008, so I had no career or any social standing in Japan, but still, it was hard to accept that so many things I was able to do back home, I couldn't do or didn't know how to do it here. My english wasn't good enough to really express my feelings and my thoughts. I was frustrated, I felt like I was treated like a little child.
So since I wasn't going anywhere and I was stuck, I decided to dig deep into myself; I felt like I was sunken so I decided to dive deeper instead.
(My family reads this blog and I don't want them to think I was in sadness all the time—because that's not true. it was a hard time, but there were plenty of fun and happy things too. Just because I felt lost, that doesn't mean I couldn't see those things, even with hardships I can say my life is a good one .)
This tweet above by @tomorinha is in Japanese but it translates like this:
You might be independent and highly respected in your home country, but if you go to a foreign country where you don't speak their language, you would be treated like a child because you're not standing in the same ground as theirs. You would have to be depended on someone to do anything. You would face with a reality that how powerless you are and that would make you feel miserable. Maybe, just maybe if you can be yourself, no ranks, no status, no position, if you can find your true self, only then you can pull yourself up again.
And that was exactly what I had to do. I spent a good amount of time asking myself what made me happy, what I was afraid of, what I wanted to do with my life.
Mean while, I tried to step out of my comfort zoneI and tried a few things. I went to school, I got a job, I took some hobby-related lessons. Those things were not particularly hard things to do, but they were to me at the time. You might think they're small ordinary things, but doing those "ordinary" everyday things—things that people would experience as they grow up—helped me get accustomed here.
If you're abroad and it doesn't feel like you belong, try doing those little things. Go grocery shopping, take yoga classes, do a community volunteer work, visit your local library. You don't have to accomplish something extraordinary, just stack up the little experiences each day and eventually you'll reach where you want to belong.
I was hasty when I first moved here, but now I know, I have to give it some time. You can't do it in one day or even in one year. Patience is a virtue.
Swim to the shore
I started working as a freelance photographer around 2012/2013. In a nutshell, I wasn't really a successful freelance photographer but I do have a photography related job now so I'm very very grateful.
During my freelance photographer phase, I met a lot of people through work and my personal projects. I started to feel more comfortable talking to strangers in English as directing is an important part of a photographer's job, so I had to learn.
I now have a photography/social media job with a local yarn shop. The company I work for is amazing and I work with people I respect so much. Being able to work for a company like this makes me feel that maybe I actually have something to offer. And oh my goodness, that helped me a lot with my confidence.
This sunken adult-child has come up to the surface; now she needs to get to the shore.
When I visit Japan, I feel a bit sad because I realize I don't really belong there anymore. I've been away for ten years, I'm not very familiar with what's going on there, I've lost in touch with some people I knew.
When I'm in Canada, though I feel like I belong here a lot (I mean A LOT) more than before, I still don't feel like this is my home completely.
Not having a sense of belonging to a community is a lonely feeling and it would make you doubt your identity. But I think I've made peace with that recently; I belong to the "Japanese living in overseas" community. Because that's who I am. I will never forget where I come from, how I was brought up, but I will continue to learn a Canadian way too.
I've read a very memorable article on Shu Uesugi's blog (the article I read was written in Japanese but he has an english blog too), it was a conversation between Shu and a tour guide in Poland while Shu was traveling around the world. The conversation they had went like this:
Guide: Are you Japanese?
Shu: I was born in Japan but am an American citizen. Sometimes I get confused who I am. I don't feel like a whole as Japanese, neither as American.
Guide: That's not true. I think you're better Japanese than Japanese people and better American than American people.
Shu: Why is that?
Guide: Because you're in a place where you can see both good and bad things about Japan and USA than others. To be able to see what should be improved of the community you belong is an important thing. Otherwise, the history will repeat.
I don't think I am better Japanese nor Canadian, but what this guide told him is very true. As one of "Japanese living in overseas", I hope to be able to see both sides as he said.
Standing on the start line
I don't mean to make it sound like a tragedy or something so horribly difficult. As I mentioned earlier, there were a ton of happy moments as well. I just struggled a bit more than some people to get used to a new life.
After ten years, I finally feel like I'm standing on the start line. I felt like a useless incapable child back then but I'm now catching up with my age (although I still feel really immature to be thirty years old but that's a different issue lol)
It sure took me a long time. But no castle is built on a weak temporary foundation; my basement is firmly set, now I can start building up. I've been feeling very excited to see what's to come lately. Maybe that's because I feel a little more capable.
I am very much aware that I couldn't have come this far on my own. Even on those days when I felt lonely, I knew I was never truly alone.
My husband is the best husband and so much more than I could ever ask for. He understands me and gives me the time and the space when I need them, he encourages me when I need a little push, and he comforts me when I'm down. Most importantly, he never forgets what I left behind to move here. There were times I wished I could go back but because he is who he is, I'm still here and trying to go forward. I'm sure, that the last ten years was a challenge for him too but together we've survived. It was a hard ten years, yet it was the best decade of my life thanks to him.
My family in Japan support me in the way that only they can. They always send me care packages full of Japanese goodies (I'm sure those who live abroad know how precious care packages from your home are!) and they always look forward to my visits. They send me messages every day.
My family in Canada (hubby's family) welcomed me into their family and treats me really nicely. I'm so thankful I have people to call my family and home to visit for holidays in Canada too.
I've made some good friends here too. Canadian friends who are interested in japan make me really happy as I like to talk about home, and Canadian friends who treat me as one of them remind me that our differences are so small.
Japanese friends who live in Canada have guided me through my first few years of tough time, sharing our stories helped me so much, and reminded me everyone is going through the same thing. I hope to pay it forward to other people who are struggling as I was.
And thank you Canada—because you've accepted me as an immigrant, my husband and I are no longer an ocean apart. I'm very happy to live in such a beautiful and warm (figuratively of course, literally it's so cold) country.
I'm merely at the beginning of my journey. It's finally about to start and I'm excited for the future.
Cheers to the next decade!
Happy Valentine's Day!
Feb 14, 2018