Tag Archives: Transition

Last night my husband and I drifted off to sleep talking about where we might live next. We have two more years here before we move and since our oldest will be in high school by then it feels like there's a lot more to figure out.

But, in all honesty, this has been pretty much how we fall asleep every night since we’ve known each other. Having lived overseas off and on for the past 20 years (has it been that long!?) hasn’t done anything to alleviate the slow list of countries, their advantages and disadvantages easing from my sleep-drunk mouth as I settle into my pillow.

I think the final words last night were something like, “Latin America…sure. Maybe. Or maybe somewhere in Europe.”

I thought we were done with the conversation, but clearly my brain wasn't.

The Dream

We were driving, driving, driving – all packed in the car. Me, my husband, our 3 kids and (interestingly) my mom. It was a beach town. Hilly and beautiful, but full of people and obstacles in the road.

I was trying to find a parking space. “Get that one!” my Mom says.

“No. It’s too small. It’s only for those small cars.”

“But it’s so close.”

“I know, but I tried it. It’s too small….I’ll try again…yep, too small.”

Then more driving. The roads are getting trickier and curvier. There are steeper cliffs and tighter turns. There are more impossible parking spots. The view is nice though.

Finally, we come to the perfect spot, but the entry into the spot is super steep and at a jack-knife turn. I look over to see a family (coincidentally the family of another expat friend I’d just been talking to last night) standing in the parking space.

“Oh, they’re in our way. I’ll just get out and ask them to move.”

I get out. We all get out.

Then I realize I haven’t put on the parking break. The car begins to roll. I’m too late to stop it! It goes sailing, down the hill and over the cliff crashing into an antique store at the bottom of the hill.

“Crap!” I think. I check to make sure we’re all okay.

And then we just stand there watching.

We weren’t even all that afraid. No one freaked out. One guy stopped and took a photo.

We were just there watching and thinking, “Hm."

Hm...indeed.

Last year, in the space of 9 months, we lost my step-dad and both of my maternal grandparents. They were all people who’s influence in my life cannot be overstated.

You know those people who say or do something and you go back to it forever? The people whose words you access when you’re struggling with a decision? The individuals whose embrace, quiet reflection or gentle laugh brings you home even when you don’t know where you are?

Even some of their tiny, little throw-away sentences, things they probably would not even remember having said, now have permanent real estate in my brain. “I can’t really get on board with hell because I know some really nice Hindus,” or “I wouldn’t worry about it. You were dating. That’s what dating’s for.” I’ve filed them all away for reference. Small things may even have become the guiding force of my views on big things like love and spirituality.

I hold on to the fact that if I close my eyes I can still hear their voices. In that sense, they’re not really lost. Of course this means no hugs. But they’re not gone. Mostly I just refuse to believe that they are. I can still know them. Because of the millions of words exchanged between us over most of four decades I can still hear their responses to specific situations. It’s like my own secret panel of advisors.

This is kind of true for all my friends in far off places too. No, it’s not the same, but it’s not completely different either. There are moments when I know a dear friend is sleeping in her corner of the globe. I won’t wake her, but I know what she’d say and what she’d do if she were here. She (the many, many she’s all over) has her own stock of advice that I need to take and embraces that I need to accept. She’s another member of this invisible panel of advisors collected in my deepest thoughts.

And come to think of it – this isn’t just about the people either. All the little rincones of the globe hold their reflections that guide me too. I bet it’s the same for you. When you walk outside in Japan, sometimes you think, “This day feels like Madagascar.” Each place we’ve been has a reflection, a memory, some words of wisdom locked away to guide us.

We move to all these places and we meet all these people, but they don’t leave us.

We close our eyes and we can tread the same path from the fruit stand back to the office without even thinking. We hear the same car sounds and smell the same mix of exhaust and sea and in those moments all the things we learned come rushing back. The one thing she said that day, in the car, in the summer of 1984 that changed your whole perspective of the world. A clink of a glass, the scent of a loved one’s perfume, the feel of someone’s hand in your own – each little memory deepens the map in your mind that leads you back to wisdom.

So it’s not all lost, just a little bit different.

Just because you go from place to place doesn’t make you lost either, maybe just a little bit different.

There’s a lot of wisdom stored in those mental maps you’ve collected. Go ahead. Close your eyes and find it.

Happy, happy New Year my dear friends!

I can’t quite figure out if I should spend some time here writing about the insanity of 2016 or if I should just ignore it and get on with the show. I mean, in all honestly, what does that horribly bizarre and traumatic year have to do with my work here?

Let’s be honest – probably a lot. Because if there’s anything we can learn from the strangeness of 2016 it’s that we don’t get a time out, we don’t get a do-over, and at the end of it all, we’ve got only one chance to live (hell, even Princess Leia didn’t get a free pass!).

What we do get is the opportunity to live each day from the heart and to spend time in reflection so that we can see the chances we’ve missed and then do a bit better the next time.

These are messages we can take to heart as we move into 2017.

I love New Years! While I’ll take the party and the champagne and the late night, it’s the next morning that really makes me swoon! When I see in front of me the clean slate of the New Year I cannot wait to get movin’. Brand new. Tabula rasa. Not even a tiny scratch.

It inspires me. It makes me giddy with the notion that, even though we can’t do the previous year over, we can put one foot forward to making this year better primed for learning and growth.

I’m not really much of a resolutions person, but I am very much a reflections and intentions person. In the transition from one year to the next, I like asking myself lots of questions. In fact, you can see some of my past New Year questions here, here and here.

This year I’m asking a lot more questions about how I can make a difference, spread love, fight for social justice and make a difference where it matters most (no matter where I happen to be living).

I’m asking myself more questions about how to better demonstrate love and acceptance. I’m reflecting more on how to live fully, how to learn more and how to create more time for fun and spiritual reflection.

I’m asking myself how best to continue to integrate my personal and professional life so that they’re not balanced ends of the scale, but dance partners adjusting to an unpredictable stage.

I feel super curious right now about each and every moment. This is another fallout from 2016, I think – when everything seems unpredictable, all you really can do is pay some serious attention.

While the questions are always evolving, my answers are guided by the 3 words that make up my personal mantra: Peace. Love. Family.

So far it feels really right. I have high hopes for 2017. I think you should too!

So again - Happy, Happy New Year to you! Thank you to those of you who’ve worked with me this year and to those who have supported World Tree Coaching!

If you're thinking of taking the coaching plunge - be sure to checkout my coaching programs here and my new discounted rates and sponsorship spots here.

I look forward to hearing from you in 2017!

blog-post-out-from-under-the-boxes

Today, with the clouds overhead and the slow drizzle that is another typhoon-season rainy day in Tokyo – I begin to crawl out from under the pile of boxes that has been my life since mid-June. I’m thanking my lucky stars!

Whew! This transition summer has been the most challenging I think I’ve ever faced. This was the first summer I found myself with no childcare, no long vacation away (although we did enjoy 4 nice days at the beach), and no real down time. We went from our home, to 6 weeks in a temporary apartment to now our final destination. I’m worn out….but I am so excited to be here!

And – I am ecstatic to get back into the swing of work. I cut back on just about every aspect of work-life over the summer and I miss it! I miss sitting down to write, I miss my workshops and I miss my group and individual clients terribly!

I’ve also learned so much.

For one – the idea that I could do all of this without childcare was…wrong! That’s a big lesson. Even as my kids get older I find that with lunches and snacks (which is a whole, crazy experience for us beyond the norm – read about that here), and negotiating screen time, and all of their little projects, and all the lovin’ it takes to support these sweethearts who have moved more times than your average adult – WOW! – it’s a lot.

I’ve also learned (again) that work is not optional for me. When I’m not engaging my creative side, when I’m not changing my pace and creating space for people to find their voices through the coaching process and when I’m not writing – I just don’t feel like me. My professional life is not a side-gig. When I set it to the side, I feel the profound and nagging sense of having misplaced my keys or forgotten to turn off the stove.

And, on top of it all, I’ve been reminded of how much learning just goes on and on and on. Sometimes we have an opportunity to gain new knowledge about the way we work, live and love. And at other times, we’re simply being reminded of lessons we’ve learned in the past. That, in my mind, is the most rewarding way to live – never thinking it’s all wrapped up, but rather a series of tiny wrappings and unwrappings every day. And let me tell you – wrapped or unwrapped – I am happy to be out from under all these boxes!

So – let’s get this back-to-work party started! Join me for one of my upcoming workshops, groups or individual coaching opportunities! Click HERE for details.

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Traditions for Transfer

I recently came across a letter I wrote to myself in January 2000. It’s sealed. I haven’t opened it and I’m not sure when I will. The idea of writing letters to myself has long had this sort of mysterious appeal to me. I think it lies in the idea that there’s a gift in finding a way to be your own personal cheerleader months or even years later.

This summer we will move for the 8th time in 7 years. This move will just be from Yokohama to Tokyo, but the difference of 15 miles will bring a lot of changes – new neighborhood, new friends, new schools for the kids, a new job for my husband, new grocery stores and post offices, restaurants and doctors’ offices. A lot will stay the same, but many more things will be different.

It makes me wonder if perhaps I should be writing a letter to myself each time I move. It might be something new to add to the things we already do. I think it might be nice to have a letter I write before I move that I could then open up and read before the next move. I love the idea of rituals around moving and traditions that individuals and families create to ease the transitions.

There are so many wonderful, insight-building and compassionate ways to ritualize a move and to make transitions smoother. I’ve come across so many of these activities over the years. I’m seriously considering adding the letter to myself to the list.

Are you facing an international move? Is this your first or one of many? Have you ever used a ritual or tradition to make your move feel more easeful?

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. (New one!) Write a letter to yourself. Include your thoughts and feelings, your expectations and worries. Seal it. Hold onto it and read it just before your next move.

2. Create a space box. This is a personal one that my husband and I started when we were first dating back in 1998. We still use it to this day and I’ve included it in my book. Read the details here.

3. Inspire conversation. This one came from a recent discussion on a Facebook group I belong to. Place large pieces of paper on the walls around your dining room (or some place else that your family regularly gathers together). Write the following headings one per paper on each of the papers – Things we will miss. Things we won’t miss. Things that will stay the same. Things we are looking forward to. Each night at dinner, invite family members to talk about the different categories and add things to the various lists.

4. Say "thank you." Purchase (or make) small, simple thank you gifts for the people who’ve made your home away from home feel like home. I especially like this for “community helpers” – the people who you don’t know well, but who always lend a hand, a smile or infinite patience when you’re out and about and trying your best to make a go of your life overseas.

5. Make an Instagram wall collage. This is one I really love. When we were temporarily back home a couple of years ago I took photos of my favorite places around my hometown. It now serves as a collage in our entryway. People often comment on it and I like getting the chance to brag about my hometown a bit. I think it could also be a great way to remember your favorite places from one of your other “homes.”

6. Create a soundtrack of your time in your adopted home. Like many people, our family is very much inspired by the music that makes up a particular time and place in which we’ve lived. We love hearing songs that remind us of the different phases of our life. This activity is especially fun if you live somewhere with music that’s quite different than what you’re used to in your home country.

These are just a few of the many options for ritualizing transition. You might also try Googling to find some other ideas or ask your other expat friends.

Also, be sure to check out my book – The Expat Activity Book. All 20 exercises are relevant to almost every phase of transition.

I'd love to hear your ideas and share them with other blog readers. Leave me a comment below with some of your favorite transition traditions.

Seychelles Mama

I don’t usually review books here, but increasingly I feel drawn to create an archive of book reviews. I read a lot. Maybe it’s a good idea. People often ask me if I can recommend books about the expat experience or about mindfulness. It dawned on me while reading Tracy Slater’s memoir The Good Shufu that it encompasses both of these elements. So, book recommendation it is.

Slater’s memoir is many things – a beautiful love story, a recounting of deep loss, a journey of someone who must surrender to losing parts of her identity and open to gaining others, a detailed account of her culture shock experience and a tale of friendship and family in unlikely places – but at it’s heart and in each of these different stories, it is a story of waking up.

Here are some lines that capture what I most love about The Good Shufu. I’ll tell you why in a second.

Slater writes,

“But I was learning that in real, messy life, sometimes you can’t fully smooth down the future before it arrives.”

“Perhaps utter vulnerability and pure peace really could coexist, surrender sometimes culminate in quiet joy, not destruction.”

“Now, the friction was between everything being the same and different at the same time. But wasn’t that life? To hold two contradicting truths at one time and to keep on holding them?”

“I spent so much of my early adulthood terrified of losing myself, grasping on to some illusion of having firm control over life, an unshakable plot. But I’m starting to realize that you can’t properly find yourself if you haven’t let yourself get lost in the first place.”

I think one of the reasons these lines speak to me is that Slater is so able to say what so many expats feel and she says it so well. The expat experience is one of constant contradiction – the feeling of not wanting things to change, but knowing we have no option, the desire to be both “home” and “away from home” at the same time, the sense that we’re making a huge mistake and yet somehow feeling that all this mobility just feels right.

It’s nice to read about someone else’s journey and feel we have common ground, to know that we’re not alone in what we experience. However, I think the true gift that we gain in reading The Good Shufu is that Slater teaches us, by sharing her own journey, that it’s not enough to simply recognize this duality – we must wake up to it, get up close and personal with it, and listen to what it may be teaching us.

Slater experiences this herself. It begins to happen when she falls in love with a Japanese man while teaching English to Japanese businessmen for a summer. And she doesn’t just fall. This is real love. The sort of thing that you know is real in some deep-down, never-noticed-before place in your heart even though you can’t figure out why it’s real because…were you even looking for this?

The journey continues when month after month and then year after year she begins to see herself accepting a life that she never envisioned – a life that most definitely wasn’t part of her plan. What she experiences is not all bad or difficult, much of it is better than she ever could have dreamed, but it remains in almost every way, not what she had planned for.

And she sees all that. She reflects on it. It’s not always easy, but she wakes up to it. The contrast, the duality of existence that we feel as expats, provides her with a gift – a new awareness that the storyline can be written, loved and accepted without judgment, as she sees fit.

And this is what Slater shows us over the course of The Good Shufu – that you can have a plan and be laid flat by unpredicted circumstances, that you can feel tremendous depths of sadness while being wrapped in the arms of the person with whom you feel the most joyful, you can be convinced you know the right way while simultaneously being shown you have absolutely no idea. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s not only okay – it’s a chance to live more deeply, more authentically and more in-tune with what’s happening around you.

So why should you read The Good Shufu?

In this funny, conversational and completely down-to-earth memoir, we learn one woman’s story of finding love in and acceptance of the inherent duality of the expat experience. We learn that true contentment can be found in ourselves and in others even when we, or they, stray from our original story line. The Good Shufu is about seeing and learning to accept all the ups and downs and pure confusion that come with real life and knowing that somewhere in there there’s a story worth coming home to.

But above all else, The Good Shufu teaches us the importance of remembering to take a long hard look in the mirror and out the window because there are answers all around us…if we can just let go long enough to truly see.

Get the book here.

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Untitled design (1)

My 3-year-old is scared to death of Japanese toilets. Maybe you’ve been to Japan so you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you haven’t, but you’ve heard about them. I mean, they’re kind of like Japan’s most famous weird thing…from the perspective of the non-Japanese out there, that is.

She’s scared because our first night here she stared down into it as my husband did his best to decipher the various buttons. A face full of toilet water will do that to a toddler. Nothing we’ve been able to do can convince her they’re safe. My friend tells her daughter it’s a car wash. I like that idea, but it hasn’t turned things around for us. I’m afraid there’s no going back.

But, I’m not one to typically avoid the daunting…at least not for long. This week, 2 months into our life in Japan and armed with Google translate (although without a face mask, which would have been, in retrospect, a good idea), I decided to get to the bottom (figuratively!) of our Japanese toilets.

I soon discovered that the steps for figuring out my Japanese toilet were not unlike some of the biggest keys to mastering transitions as an expat. In fact, I found 4 specific expat life skills just waiting there for me on that piece of porcelain!

One: Start with what you know. No matter where you go in the world, you come in with a pre-existing set of skills, habits and bits of knowledge. Despite what it might feel like, you’re not born anew as a baby every time you move. So remember to always start with what you know, access those skills first and offer up those abilities when possible (especially when you feel new and a bit like you have nothing to offer). In the case of the toilet – I can read hiragana and katakana (the two Japanese phonetic alphabets). With this I was able to know – that button turns on the bidet (ビデ) and that word says おしり (which I can lookup…and which I now know means buttocks).

Whew! Two items deciphered - now to phase two.

Two: Pay attention to the clear and easy. So often we are so blinded (and frankly, blindsided) by our moves that we don’t even notice the things that are clearly marked. We forget to pay attention to things like hunger, exhaustion, illness, frustration or sadness. These normal experiences can get buried under the sea of the unfamiliar. We benefit from finding ways to take time out to pay attention to these emotions, physical feelings or logistical questions. What’s this got to do with my Japanese toilet? Well, the toilet comes complete with a few illustrations. So, the photo of the butt with water spraying up should be pretty obvious. Push that button and I doubt the results will take you (too much) by surprise. When in doubt – go with the obvious.

But, what if even after using the skills you already have and reading the clearly marked signs, you still feel lost?

Three: Get help with the confusing stuff. I’m a firm believer in the power of community. It’s not always easy to ask for help. We’re often trained to believe that it means we’re weak, stupid, lazy or needy. I’m here to tell you that that is simply not true. We need others. We need community. We need helpers. My clients (and friends) that are able to reach out for support consistently adjust to new experiences better than those who suffer their troubles alone. In the case of my Japanese toilet, Google translate was my very best friend. She mostly gave me helpful answers and only occasionally (I mean, nobody's perfect, right?) provided complete mistranslations like “toilet seat flights.” On the other hand, if this thing flies I’m totally signing up for that adventure!

So you’ve moved, you’re unpacked and you’re flying off into expat happiness on your Japanese toilet seat. But wait! There’s one more important step to mastering transition.

Four: Just go for it. Sometimes you’ve just got to get in there and do your best. You will get lost sometimes. You will feel like crap sometimes. You will definitely feel lonely, lost, confused and completely out of sorts. But, you will learn and you will get better every single time. As for the Japanese toilet? Well, go ahead and sit down…it can’t be that bad of a ride.

Wanna’ get better at tapping into your best expat self? Check out The Expat Activity Book on Kindle and paperback and my latest coaching offers here.

 

 

10 Best Habits of Socially Adaptable Expats (2)

Whenever we transition to a new place I find myself continually amazed at how adaptable to new social situations the typical expat is. I’m certain that not everyone is an extrovert or 100% comfortable in large groups or even small coffees, but I do see people, repeatedly, stretching the limits of their comfort zones in an effort to make new friends.

I think most people, especially those for whom this extroversion doesn’t come naturally, have to practice at it. Most of us probably start out completely overwhelmed, but little by little we learn what works for us and we find ways to meet and greet and form friendships in ways that we wouldn’t have done if we’d never left the comforts of our home countries.

But what is it that makes someone easy to get to know? Why is it that some people seem to move so seamlessly into conversations with others? What skills do the most adaptable expats employ in conversations with new people that solidify their chances of turning a casual conversation into a lasting relationship?

In my experience, the most adaptable expats approach new relationships with a combination of the following 10 skills. Which ones do you use? Which ones do you think you’re ready to add to your personal tool kit?

  1. Make a habit of being curious about other people. There’s nothing quite like knowing that other people are interested in what makes you tick. When you ask people about themselves, it’s a compliment. So while you’ll have plenty of opportunities to tell your story, make sure to take time to get the scoop on someone else’s journey as well.
  1. Be self-deprecating. Moving is hard. Transitioning from place to place can leave us feeling overwhelmed, scattered, lost and alone. Even the most skilled expats struggle from time to time. Being able to admit your faults, failures and discomforts shows your potential friends that you’re human and that makes you more approachable.
  1. Be honest, but tactful. When you’re meeting new people, they are trying to feel you out, get to know you and understand what you’re all about. And, of course, you’re doing the same to them. It’s normal that you will have some interests that overlap and others that differ. There’s no need to pretend you like or are interested in something that you’re not. So, be honest…but remember, be mindful of making your differing perspective seem like a criticism of your new friend’s preferences.
  1. Think of the other person’s feelings. It comes quite naturally to most of us to ask people about the practical aspects of their lives – When did you arrive? What type of work do you do? Do you have children? However, many of us struggle with the more personal questions we need to ask in order to build relationships. How are you hanging in? Are you missing home? Are you feeling stressed? People who develop the skills necessary to comfortably ask more personal questions are laying the groundwork for stronger and deeper friendships.
  1. Say something complimentary. You are going to meet people with whom you have very little in common, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be nice. When you meet someone, be on the look out for the things that impress you about that person. Make sure to share your impressions with the people you’re getting to know. Everyone likes to know they’ve been noticed and sharing your positive impressions helps people recognize that they’ve truly been seen.
  1. Follow-up. This can be one of the most challenging aspects of the transition process. We meet so many people in the first few weeks we’re in a new place. Countless times we say things like, “We should get together,” or “Let’s grab coffee sometime.” Expats don’t have the luxury of letting these invitations go. So, if someone strikes you as being an ideal new friend – take a couple of minutes to email, call or text him or her. Don’t let the opportunity to deepen your relationship pass you by.
  1. Say “yes,” to invitations or offer alternatives. Try to say yes to as much as you can – especially in the first few weeks. Of course, it’s incredibly important to make sure you allow plenty of alone time to adjust at your own pace, but saying yes to outings or activities once or twice a week can be a great chance to strengthen new relationships. If you’re genuinely not interested in the activity (like, say, scuba diving), suggest an alternative (“Hey! I’ll happily sit on the boat and drink beer while you dive in that shark infested water!”).
  1. Branch out from “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” Challenge yourself to come up with new and creative questions that will stand out and make your interaction memorable. Jot them down somewhere, commit them to memory and be prepared to practice them in new social settings.
  1. Use social media to find like-minded individuals. I think one of the most exciting changes to living as an expat, has been social media. When I studied abroad for the first time in 1997, there was no Internet, no Facebook and no Twitter. Now you can get to know people even before you arrive in a new country! It’s a great way to start to put a face to your name and begin the process of seeing whom you might connect with once you get where you’re going.
  1. Know yourself and be confident in what you have to offer in a friendship. I saved the best for last! This is the most important one. People who really know themselves and who are confident about who they are, are easier to trust, easier to get to know and usually easier to be around. Make a habit of personal reflection. If this is a struggle for you – seek the support of a coach, read self-help books that can help you learn the skills you need, practice journaling or talk with friends and family who know you best and who can help you in learning more about yourself.

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My Beloved Emotional Roller Coaster

So we made it! We’re back in Japan after fifteen years away and we’re back abroad after about 18 months in the States. There’s no other way to say it – YAY!! It feels so good to be back to our typical way of living.

I think in some sort of way I didn’t know it would feel this way. Maybe I didn’t even know how much I was missing our international life. Somehow I’m not sure I realized how being back abroad would feel more like home than “home” really did.

But you know what? The most awesome part of all of this is that despite feeling so good about being back – I don’t actually feel perfect! I don’t feel good all the time! I haven’t slipped peacefully back into life here oblivious to the ups and downs of culture shock. What I am doing is feeling all up close and personal with the whole range of thoughts and emotions that come from living life as an expat. Most of them are actually really nice and happy and welcoming, but some of them are, naturally, not sweet and cozy emotions.

Like anyone who is going through a major transition sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed, turned around, confused and exhausted. I’ve been doing this long enough that these feelings aren’t plaguing me all the time, but they’re there – sometimes really big and loud and sometimes just quietly in the background.

As strange as it may sound, I’m finding old friends in the whole host of emotions that live inside me when we’ve moved to a new place. These emotions are so familiar to me during transition. Even when they don’t feel so nice, I’m finding now more than ever I’m able to say, “Oh, it’s you again Anxiety-About-Getting-Lost-Down-Unfamiliar-Streets? Welcome home!”

What surprises me this time around (this is my sixth international move), is that these emotions don’t scare me anymore. I know they’re here. I know they’ll likely be gone soon and I know they may reappear from time to time. They are actually a part of me and a part of my expat experience that feel completely familiar. With all the new stuff, there’s something really nice about experiencing something I’ve known before, even if it is a handful of emotions most people would try to avoid.

And so, with the ups and downs and all the in-betweens, I think I can officially say – we made it! I’m home.

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That was then...

In less than one month we leave for Japan – almost exactly fifteen years from the day we left. So much has changed. The person I was then – a 23 year-old, recently married, college grad who was just beginning a career (in the end, a rather short-lived career) as a teacher – is both intimately connected with and very, very distantly related to the person I am now.

Japan will be the first foreign country I’ve ever called home and then returned to, to call home again. And like those before and after shots of people who’ve lost a hundred pounds or gotten complete make-overs, I have this sense of all of the emotions and thoughts and assumptions wrapped up in my first time there running parallel to what my experience will be like this time.

For the most part I’ve been ecstatic about our return. Our time in Japan was a good one. Not without its challenges, but good nonetheless. Living in Japan was the first significant opportunity I had to learn to let go of what I thought to be true and accept a different, subtler truth that comes from recognizing for the first time that we all live completely from our own perspective. Of course that journey’s ongoing and has been paved with ups and downs, but without a doubt one of my biggest personal mantras was born out of my time in Japan –

The minute you’re certain you know, you stop knowing anything at all.

So there’s this strange dynamic to going back this time. Having lived in Japan before, I know so much more about what it’s going to be like. That’s comforting. But I also recognize that the key to survival is recognizing that my assumptions and beliefs must be filed away for reference, not written out like a game plan for my survival. Things will be different. I’m different. This has seemed a bit daunting – knowing what it’s going to be like and simultaneously remembering that things will have changed. However, I’ve recently come to the realization that this filing and sorting of past experiences is something most expats (myself included) do all the time.

I can most easily relate this to what it’s like to go home. In the course of our international adventures, I’ve come and gone home from Austin countless times. In the early years, it would upset me that it wasn’t the same, that I wasn’t the same, that things felt different and that for all the ways I felt perfectly at home, there were all these ways in which I could never feel the same sense of belonging again.

However, with time, I've learned to see and then file my assumptions and beliefs away. I don't ignore them, but I don't live by them either. I can pull them out, check their validity, wonder about their reality, but I don't have to use them as my only guide. Keeping my eyes and heart wide open without needing anything to be a certain way, seems to work much better for me. I can't say it is always easy…but there’s no question it makes me feel happier, more at peace and more satisfied with whatever actually unfolds before me.

I think this is one of the biggest keys to living more mindfully as an expat. When we develop the ability to know that things may not always turn out the way we expect them to and when we learn to recognize that our past experiences provide us with only part of the insight we need to understand our current situation, we can more fully settle into a place of curiosity and contentment. From that place, we’re more open to appreciating what we may find upon landing in a new home- regardless of whether or not we’ve been there before.

Japan will be like this I think. It will be both somewhere I know and somewhere completely unfamiliar. My mental file will help me make sense of things when I need it to, but some of the aspects of Japanese culture and language that I most remember will likely turn out to be irrelevant this time around. In fact, even some aspects of my own personality will fit (or not fit) differently than they did before.

So, with just a couple of weeks to go, I'm comforted about returning to a place that holds so many memories and excited to know that there will still be so much learning left to do. And then there's sushi...so, you know, how complicated can it all really be?

This blog post is linked at these great expat websites. Click on the links below to find it and other great expat blog posts! #MyGlobalLife Blog Link-Up and #ExpatLifeLinky

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Expat Life with a Double Buggy