Reflecting on Expat Life: 6 Months

This week marks six months since we left the United States and moved to Japan. It is strange to realize that I have been an expat for 6 months already. 6 months feels like an eternity, but also like it went by in the blink of an eye.

expat life 6 months

Before moving here – during all of the planning, packing, and goodbye-ing – I spent very little time thinking about what it would mean for us to finally step onto that plane – to leave behind our life, our family, our dog, and everything we were familiar with. I spent approximately 0% of my time thinking about the fact that walking through that airplane door would actually change the trajectory of my life and the lives of my immediate family members.

Instead of thinking about the magnitude of stepping onto the airplane, I focused on the details: the passports, the tickets, the visas, the packing, the hotel reservations, etc. I distracted myself with those details so that I wouldn’t think about the rest.

The First Weeks as an Expat

Like any move, the first weeks were all about checking off the most necessary of tasks. We found a place to live, we enrolled our preteen daughter in school, we bought cell phones, we picked out furniture, and we navigated our new city’s transportation system. Those tasks acted as a nice little distraction from the big stuff. There’s no time to question whether or not you’ve made a huge mistake when there is an apartment to furnish!

We spent our first month living in a hotel, another distraction. Hotel living certainly wasn’t terrible; it was a most welcome distraction that came with English-speaking staff, executive lounge access, endless food and champagne, and laundry service. This wasn’t our new life, it was too comfortable. It was the in-between of our previous life and our new one. But when you uproot your life and transport your family to the opposite side of the globe you learn to cling to any comfort you can get. Especially in the form of laundry service. And champagne.

In reality, I needed the distractions in those early days. After those first few weeks – filled with travel, jet lag, and mini-tantrums – the magnitude of this change would start to creep in.

We are expats.

We are living in Japan.

Holy shit.

Expat Struggles

The distractions were fading away, and the discomfort came roaring in to fill the void. The struggles came in many forms…like not being able to read labels at the grocery store.

…and not understanding that the person at the checkout is asking you if you need a bag, so you just say in your terrible Japanese that you don’t understand (because you definitely do know how to say that) while trying to look repentant.

…and having to play a game of charades in order to buy tickets to a baseball game.

Embracing Discomfort

If I had to choose to share just one thing I have learned during my first six months as an expat it would be this: that discomfort is necessary. In fact, I would argue that it is actually good for you. It has been my experience that living life in a near-constant state of discomfort tends to cause a person to get used to it. And when you start to feel okay with feeling uncomfortable, you begin to take risks. When you spend your days doing things that scare you, you actually end up doing some pretty amazing things.

And perhaps the best part is that once you are so used to your life being uncomfortable, then you actually take notice when things start to become a little bit comfortable again. The day you don’t shed any tears in the grocery store is a momentous occasion. You notice the first time you are able to ask the train attendant if the train you’re about to get on is actually going where you need to go, and the first time you leave the house and return without getting lost is cause for celebration. I have found that spending my days being grateful for the things that seemed insignificant before is actually leading me to become a happier, more grateful person.

The First 6 Months Will Make or Break You

I have heard that how a person handles the first six months of an expat posting will make or break the overall experience for them, their spouse and/or their family members, and their coworkers.

Many companies, my husband’s included, will send their overseas employees home for visits each year…but not before that six month mark. The belief is that if you go back “home” before that six month mark there is a pretty good chance that you may not come back. I had read about it and knew that was the case, but I never really understood it until coming here.

It Hasn’t Always Been Easy (and it Still Isn’t)

I will admit that there have been a few times when, if someone had slipped a one-way ticket to the US under my door, I would have been on the next train to the airport. But I am extremely glad that that didn’t happen. Because getting on that Japan-bound plane a second time when I knew what was waiting for me on the other side would have been more than I could handle. I also wouldn’t have known that it would get better than those early days and weeks if I hadn’t gone through it and come out (mostly) unscathed. I wouldn’t have known that I could be okay with being uncomfortable. And I certainly wouldn’t have known how amazing it feels to be comfortable again.

So here we are. Six months in. Life is becoming more comfortable each day, and in turn, we are feeling more grateful than ever before. We’re feeling (mostly) settled in our Japanese apartment; eating our Japanese food from the neighborhood market; paying our Japanese bills with Japanese yen; learning this new language — some of us more quickly than others.

The homesickness comes and goes, and the culture shock is a real bitch sometimes. But I couldn’t be happier with where we are at this moment.

Here in Japan.

14 Comments on Reflecting on Expat Life: 6 Months

  1. Stacy
    October 7, 2015 at 3:21 AM (4 years ago)

    Love reading it. I can’t believe it’s been six months! Miss you! Looking forward to next blog update.

    Reply
    • seelayne
      November 11, 2015 at 1:28 AM (4 years ago)

      Thanks, Stacy! Hope all is well. It would be fun to catch up sometime soon!

      Reply
  2. Mama
    October 7, 2015 at 4:00 AM (4 years ago)

    You are an AMAZING writer, Layne. I can understand the frustration. I still remember dad saying “Just ask someone” abs you waving your finger in the air and saying “Dad, who am I supposed to ask? !”
    I’m so very proud of you. I love and miss you all. Every. Single. Day. Thank you for sharing a week in your new life with us. Your dad still raves about the baseball game. Thank you for that. He deserved it.
    I am in awe of all of you.
    Love you, Forever& Always.

    Reply
    • seelayne
      November 11, 2015 at 1:28 AM (4 years ago)

      Thanks, Ma.

      Reply
  3. tkgma
    October 7, 2015 at 4:05 PM (4 years ago)

    Yes, Layne, you are an amazing writer! You are an amazing person as well! I can’t thank you enough for being such a great wife to our son! Not just anyone would agree to uproot life to take such an adventure. I kinda thought it was tough at first, but you never once complained. Stay strong and keep making it fun! Wish I could read about the adventure from the other 2 in your household, however, I won’t hold my breath! LOL! Can’t wait to read more, but mostly, can’t wait to see everyone!

    Love you much!

    Reply
    • seelayne
      November 11, 2015 at 1:35 AM (4 years ago)

      Thanks! Miss you!

      Reply
  4. Deb Hanson
    October 7, 2015 at 7:45 PM (4 years ago)

    What an amazing experience for you and your family!! I think it would be so fun to do something like that, but very scary also! You are also an awesome writer! Will be waiting for the next update.

    Reply
    • seelayne
      November 11, 2015 at 1:29 AM (4 years ago)

      Thanks so much, Deb!

      Reply
  5. Glenda
    October 8, 2015 at 12:16 AM (4 years ago)

    You are an amazing writer. Enjoy and explorer each day. Count your blessing for the amazing family and experiences you have created. Such memories can unfold.

    Reply
    • seelayne
      November 11, 2015 at 1:30 AM (4 years ago)

      Thanks, Glenda!

      Reply
  6. Chasity
    October 10, 2015 at 2:51 AM (4 years ago)

    So all I saw in that Japanese saying was ‘rash’ and ‘ass.’ Maybe I’m to fixated on the biday (not sure how to spell that, even with auto-correct, but I’m talking about the butt washing toilet). Regardless, I miss you all terribly, but applaude your venture. I can’t wait to visit and I can’t wait for you all to come home to TEXAS!

    Reply
    • seelayne
      November 11, 2015 at 1:30 AM (4 years ago)

      You crack me up! Miss you!

      Reply
  7. Sophia Bera
    October 20, 2015 at 5:24 AM (4 years ago)

    What an amazing experience! You are certainly taking it in stride with grace. Others can’t do that and you’re doing such an amazing job. Can’t wait to read more about your adventures!

    Reply
    • seelayne
      November 11, 2015 at 1:35 AM (4 years ago)

      Thanks, Sophia!

      Reply

Leave a Comment: