This July marks 10 years since I returned from Japan where I spent one year as an assistant language teacher on the JET Programme (Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme.) I believe that year will always be one of the best and most significant of my life.
After my sojourn I read an article (sorry I can’t remember the source) that stated how people who had spent time abroad during their lives frequently looked back on their experience even after as many as 20 years.
That is, all our memories during our daily life in our home countries tend to blur together, but spending time abroad is so different that it’s much more likely we’ll remember more about it. In addition, the impact it had on us may make us reflect on that time more often.
This is true for me. It wouldn’t be far off the mark to say that not a day goes by that I don’t think about something or someone from that year I spent in Japan. Memories from my year pop into my head spontaneously, and though I can say that about many memories from my past, my year in Japan plays more frequently in my mind.
There was nothing more eye-opening for a middle-class American girl like me than spending a year in another country, especially a non-Western country. From Japan and other countries I visited, I learned a great deal about the world. It became tangible, and it spoke to me through the friends I made. This is something that books and TV cannot do for us, and it’s very hard to explain. Now when I view a documentary about another part of the world, even if I have not been there, I see it much differently than before my time abroad.
More significantly, however, is that I learned more about my own culture while living abroad, and I learned more about myself. Again, it’s hard to articulate, and it’s not something that happened over night. I believe my time abroad still affects the way I see my life, this country and the world.
The experience also gave me much confidence in myself and my abilities, though I didn’t realize it until I returned home. Spending time abroad can be difficult for many reasons, and while I was there, I was shy and reluctant at times to put myself “out there” so to speak. But when I got home, I found myself much more confident and outgoing in my own country, which pleasantly surprised me. Time abroad can stretch a person’s mind and their ability to adapt and handle any new experience better.
Working abroad for a significant amount of time also taught me that after you live anywhere long enough, your surroundings become familiar and your routine second nature, just like at home. Work is work no matter where you are. I believe this has given me patience. When the tedium of motherhood presses down on me, I rarely long to be somewhere else. I have done my wandering, and I know that I can endure anything for a year, or two — or (gulp) eighteen plus.
Someday I’ll share some stories from my time abroad, but for now I’ll just say that if any of you have children who want to study or work abroad for a few months or a few years, let them go! As Miriam Beard said, “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
Speaking of anniversaries, today also marks one year since I began writing for the Barrow Journal. I would like to send a warm thank you to anyone who has read my column. Even if there’s one person who enjoys it, that makes my day.
Shelli Bond Pabis is a Winder resident and columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.