I was recently contacted by Expat-blog.com, a site that provides a database of a bunch of expat blogs. I registered my blog there a few months ago while I was looking for other blogs to follow. It seems they have chosen my blog as the blog of the month for February (I think). I answered a few questions and the information will be up soon. I thought you all might find the interview interesting, so here you go:
Describe yourself: name, country/city of origin, whereabouts…
My name is Jodi and I’m an English teacher at a commercial high school. I’m originally from St. Louis, Missouri in the United States.
When and how did you decide to move to Japan? Is it complicated to settle down there?
I have had an interest in Japan for a very long time. Culture has always been fascinating to me, but something about what seemed to me a giant difference between Japanese culture and Western culture was especially appealing. No matter how many other cultures I studied, I kept coming back to Japanese culture. It became this huge goal for me. I started teaching myself Japanese in high school and started taking formal classes in university. Once I heard about the JET Program I knew that the program was my best chance to experience a bit of actual Japanese life. For three years in university I worked towards the JET Program.
When I finally got in, I was ecstatic. It was actually a pretty easy decision to move to Japan. It was something I had been towards for three years. Because I came with a program, the settling process was fairly simple logistically. My contracting organization provided me with an apartment and several teachers helped me get set up. I have moved to a different apartment since then, but I have always had the support of my school to help me.
Settling in culturally has been an entirely different process. As someone who studied Japanese culture for three years, I thought I was prepared for everything. There were still many challenges that took me completely by surprise. It has taken over a year for me to feel like a part of the community and before I felt somewhat established and settled here.
Have you ever lived abroad before? How many countries have you visited?
I have only spent summers abroad before, in Israel and Scotland. This is my first time ever actually living abroad. I’ve visited Israel, Scotland, Costa Rica, France, and England.
What do you like the most about Hyūga/Japan?
My favorite thing about Hyuga is its proximity to the ocean and the mountains. Since I come from a state that is landlocked and fairly flat, having both so close is a luxury. My favorite view in the entire city is on a bridge that I cross on my way to work every day. On both sides are mountains, but to the east I can tell that the ocean is right there, just beyond them.
How is/was the cultural shock? What are the main differences with the US, your home country?
For me, the biggest difference and struggle has been the Japanese attitude towards medicine. Because of nationalized healthcare, people go to the doctor for anything and everything. However, in my head, going to the doctor is saved for problems that you cannot self treat. When I get sick I tend to be reluctant to go see a doctor unless the problem persists for several days. I think I have actually stressed out my supervisor because I refuse to go to the doctor for a few days. At the same time, because of the Japanese work ethic, my co-workers often come to work with a fever. Because of the mask culture, many people do not cover their mouths when the cough because they are so used to having something covering it. I often have to remind myself that just because a culture has a different way to deal with sickness, it isn’t inherently right or wrong.
Do you miss anything from your homeland?
There is a lot that I really miss from the States. Mostly I miss my family, but there are plenty of other things I miss. I miss being able to express myself completely in every situation. My Japanese fairly good, but not nearly as good as my English and as a result, my personality in Japanese is different than my personality in English. I remember the first time my taiko club (a drumming club made exclusively of Japanese people) saw me talking with some of my other foreign friends. They all commented afterwards about how much more outgoing I seemed.
Any ‘memories of an expat’ you would like to share with us? Your best souvenir? Or maybe your worst experience?
My best souvenir is a small wooden plane I bought one day. I remember how excited I was to get it. It was the first purely decorative thing I got for my apartment. By moving on from furniture pieces to decorative things, I felt like I was really finally settling in and making my apartment my own.
What does your typical day as an expat in Hyūga look like?
My typical workday starts around 5:30am. I work out in the morning, have my breakfast, and then pack my bento for the day. Depending on the day, I set out my trash before biking to work. The commute is about 7 minutes, depending on the stoplights and how many students I needed to navigate around on the sidewalks. I get to work and greet the students and teachers who are on the welcome committee that stand at the front gate every morning. From there I park my bike and head into the teachers’ office. All teachers are in group offices in my school. My school has about five teacher offices altogether. I teach anywhere from two to four classes a day with a Japanese co-teacher. After work, I go to taiko practice or the adult English conversation club I lead, depending on the day. My day ends around 10pm.
When did you start your blog? For what reasons?
I originally started the blog as a means of keeping my family and friends updated on my life. It was a nice way to keep everyone updated without having to deal with the time differences.
Did you make new friends with your blog?
It is interesting to me how many other assistant language teachers (ALTs) in my prefecture read my blog. It has helped strengthen some ties with friends that I already have as a result.
Why did you register on expat-blog.com and what do you think of the website?
I came across expat-blog.com when I was looking for other blogs of expats in Japan. I am always interested in seeing how my experience of Japan varies and is the same as other expats’ experiences. I think the website is really nice way to find new and interesting blogs.
Which advice would you give to the other Expat blog members who would like to settle in Hyūga (or in Japan)?
I think the most important thing is to do your research about where you are settling. Prefectures can have radically different personalities. For example, I could never live in Tokyo, but I would settle in Osaka in a heartbeat. The cities just seem to feel different. At the same time, Kyushu, my island, is a lot more laid back about some things than the main island of Honshu. Just like any country, the culture varies by region. Other than that, a little Japanese goes a long way. Just showing that you have an interest and are open to learning can go miles with co-workers and friends.