Excerpts from expat life in Japan
This month we meet Jenny, who is taking on a new life (and Darth Vader!) in Japan. After a rough start, she is doing very well and has some vital information to share with others when moving abroad with children.
Where do you currently live and how did you come to be there?
Japan. My ex-husband got a job here back in 2014. Our marriage was on a rocky patch when we decided to move, and we were looking at this opportunity as a fresh start. After we moved, our marriage fell apart. However, I really enjoyed living in Japan. So I am now looking for job opportunities that allows me to stay longer.
What does ‘home’ mean to you?
Home is where my heart and my kitchen are. When I was 16, my parents decided to move to New Zealand from Taiwan. I learned back then that home is a relocatable and re-creatable concept. The sense of home can be recreated when you make new friends and surrounded by those who you consider family. When you are surrounded by loved ones, your heart will grow attached to that land. That attachment is what I call home.
An important element for me to recreate this sense of home is food. I carry with me the recipes from all the places I called home before. Whenever I relocate to a new place, I recreate these homeland food for me and my family. These food usually helps to ease the feeling of being homesick. The best part is being able to share our home food with our new friends, because usually they return with kindness and share their home food with us. Through these exchanges, the sense of home just expands.
Do you have a few words of advice on coping with the first six months of a move?
Making friends and learn survival phrases of the local language are the best advice I can give to anyone moving overseas.
The most challenging part of being an expat is dealing with loneliness and isolation. When you move to a new country, loneliness can be unbearable. It can make the start of an expat life a terrible experience. The best things I did after moving country were making friends and learning survival phrases of the local language. It helped me tremendously in dealing with loneliness and isolation. To my surprise, it helped with settling in as well.
So, for the newly expats, just find any means to make friends as you can. Whether it is through the kids’ school or actively seeking activities, just attend as many social events as you can manage and connect with people.
In terms of learning the local language, start by making a list of things you need to do on a regular basis, such as grocery shopping, banking, going to the doctor’s or catching public transport. Then, make a list of phrases you will need to get through these daily tasks in your own language. Have a friend who speaks the local language translate these phrases for you, and carry them with you when you go out. Practice these phrases when you are in different situations to build your confidence. Once you are confident in using these survival phrases, it will really boost your confidence in going out more. This confidence is also very important in the early period of an expat life as it would enable you to step out of your house and connect more with people, hence feeling less isolated and less lonely.
Is there something that you wish you’d known before moving?
Expat divorce is much more complicated than divorcing in your home country.
If I can do it all over again, I would consult a lawyer regarding divorce laws for expat couples before moving. I think it is a sound advice for all married couples who are considering an expat life. It may sound negative for happily married couples to consult a lawyer before you are starting a new life in a foreign land. However, speaking from experiences, life as expats can change the couple dynamics dramatically and bring new challenges that any married couple are not ready for. I am not saying that every expat couple can end up facing divorce, but I do advise to at least have some legal knowledge regarding expat divorce. I’ve learned the hard way that expat divorce is much more complicated than divorcing in your home country. For example, custody rights can become a huge issue if the divorced couple wants different things. One of the parent can be deported and lose the parental right of her/his children if the parent who has the VISA gets the custody.
Your best moment to date?
Getting a dream job in the first month I moved to Japan.
I got a job teaching cooking at my home in the first month, and I am still doing it now. Back in New Zealand, I would never dream it is even possible as I am not a qualified cook nor have experiences in the food industry. All I had was a passion for cooking and a need to express my creativity. Getting this job in Japan has opened my eyes to a lot of job and business opportunities I never thought possible. The job itself is very rewarding as well. Through the cooking classes, I get to share my knowledge of the world’s cuisine with my students, and in return my students teach me about Japanese food and culture. I can’t think of a better way to truly know a country.
Hi, I am Jenny. I was born in Taiwan, and I moved to New Zealand with my family when I was 16. I lived there for 20 years, and now starting a new chapter of life in Japan.
I am a single parent with 2 children. I am working in an international preschool as an assistant English teacher at the moment. I have a Master degree in Educational Psychology, so I am looking for full time work in the special education field. I am also very passionate about cooking and baking. I have a dream job in the weekend where I teach cooking in English to Japanese students.