As a final major piece of advice for incoming JETs, I want to harp on something that is undoubtedly something you’ve likely heard before, but I think it’s worth reiterating: Use Your Resources. There are numerous resources- specifically people- available to you, which is helpful to remind yourself on the days that you inevitably hit the down swing of culture shock. There will be moments you feel like a total outsider, you may feel awkward, clumsy, unattractive, unimportant, unhelpful, frustrated- the list goes on. But the good news is you have a great number of people you can turn to for help, and maybe more than you realize especially in those rough moments.
Family and Friends Back Home
This is likely the most obvious form of support. Keeping in touch with your support system back home is incredibly helpful and a great way to stay grounded. There are also challenges associated with this. In addition to time zones (which can be a huge barrier), your family and friends may have never traveled to the country you’re in or lived in a foreign country for any period of time. The experiences you’re having may be hard for them to understand.
Another caution here is not to spend all of your time talking to friends and family back home. Yes, keep in touch. Yes, seek them out for support. Yes, call them in your times of need and be available for theirs. But don’t miss what’s going on around you. Don’t miss opportunities to create new friendships and build on those; to make new memories.
Board of Education/Employer
This will vary depending on your situation but your Board of Education/Employer can be a great resource for support and help. I had a really positive experience with mine in which they were willing to help me out in a variety of aspects. Not only did I receive job support from them, but I also was able to use their community connections to further deepen my own involvement within the community. This resulted in a much better experience for me (see Advice: Do Extra Curriculars).
Your coworkers are people you’ll probably spend the most time with (if you’re working full time). Specifically for new JETs, working in schools you’ll quickly realize how busy your coworkers are and may be weary about troubling them to help you. While I think it’s fair to proceed with caution and wouldn’t advise you to go to them with every little thing that may arise, don’t hesitate to use their knowledge and expertise, especially if you’ve developed a more personal relationship with him. They have likely been working in Japan (or whatever foreign country you find yourself in) longer than you and will have an understanding of it that you may not yet posess.
Who better to give you suppport than the people around who are going through the very same things you are? Everyone is different, yes, but you’ll share many experiences and unique setbacks to your shared status of “expat”. They can be great people to vent to when you’re frustrated with cultural differences, as well as great companions to revel in the wonder of a new culture. Whether they’re from your home country or not, fellow foreigners are fantastic allies to connect with during your time abroad.
This may be a challenge depending on your language ability as well as your particular environment (city versus country, safety of the country/area you’re in). Speaking specifically about Japan, known for its safety and politeness, community members were great ways to feel connected and be in the know about local events and traditions. Again, this can help deepen your connection to a foreign place and increase opportunities for you to pull yourself out of the downs of culture shock.
Put yourself out there! There is some risk in this but the rewards are so worth it. Walk around your town. Use face time with others as best you can. The power of asking a simple question can make a world of difference. I know it isn’t always easy to ask for help. There were certainly times I didn’t and instead continued to flounder through, only to finally break and ask. I could have saved myself a lot of time and trouble. And if the person you ask can’t help you for whatever reason, you’re no worse off than you were before and you can find someone else who might be helpful. But you have to try. Make those connections. Find your people. Your relationships with others are the keys to opportunities and experiences you would have never gotten otherwise. They will amplify your experience in a beautifully positive way.
My Personal Reflections
In my experience, I had the additional challenge of the language barrier. So it was absolutely crucial for me to use my resources, especially here in Japan. But I’m glad that I did. I’m glad I didn’t hesitate to ask for help or try something new. If I’d never expressed interest in Japanese calligraphy, I never would have learned half the kanji I have. Even better, I never would have been invited to my sensei’s house with my classmates to enjoy tea and be dressed up in what may be one of the most beautiful kimono’s I’ve ever seen:
I wouldn’t change a thing about my experiences. I am so grateful to have met every person and made every memory. I hope as you begin your life as an expat you’ll be able to say the same. I hope you have many wonderful memories awaiting. And that even when times or particular tasks are difficult, remember you have an abundance of support.
I also realize that my entire advice series is something that could really be applied to any aspect of and generally to life. While I have tailored it to this particular experience, I think everyone could benefit from stepping out of their comfort zone, trying something new, pursuing hobbies, saying yes and using their supports!
**Disclaimer: My thoughts and opinions are my own. I do not represent the thoughts and opinions of the JET Programme.**
Thanks for stopping by! Get home safe 😉