After the excitement of those first few months begins to subside, you may find your mood and mindset starting to shift: the novelty of simply living day to day in a new place begins to wear off as it is no longer “new”, and you may find yourself settling into a new comfort zone.
For me, this felt a little frustrating at first – I had been thriving of the adrenaline of constantly trying new things and pushing myself, of meeting new people and exploring unknown territory. But now it had all become familiar: going to the city office or the bank was no longer a scary thing that I could later feel proud of doing, but just another chore.
Meeting new people sometimes felt stifling rather than gratifying
Meeting new people sometimes felt stifling rather than gratifying as I prepared to engage in the same small talk and be asked the same questions time and time again. I had also familiarised myself with how to get my hands on home comforts (as I type this, I have just finished a Domino’s pizza) and felt pretty unmotivated to get out there and give new things a try.
So, is it possible to find a balance between the exhilaration of being surrounded by “newness” and monotony of settling into a predictable day-to-day routine?
Settling into a comfort zone is not really a bad thing – after all, if you want to live a happy life, be it at home or abroad, you’ll obviously desire some level of comfort; living in constant bewilderment can be exciting in the short term, but in the long term I imagine it would make daily life extremely stressful.
It’s nice to be able to go into a shop or restaurant and know what to say and what to expect, to take care of necessities like address registration with some degree of confidence and ease. And of course, it is a nice reassurance to know where to go for a quick fix of familiar comfort food, or to find friends with whom you can converse in your native tongue; these things are not bad at all in and of themselves – they only become a problem when you rely on them too heavily.
I found that as I made myself at home in my newly-defined comfort zone, I started to slip back into old habits – habits which I had been forced to break out of when I first arrived and thought I’d, thankfully, seen the back of. But apparently, old habits really do die hard. Laziness won out as, rather than cook or eat local food, I would simply order a pizza or subsist on an unhealthy combination snacks and energy drinks.
My shyness got the better of me as, rather than make an effort to meet local friends and use my imperfect Japanese, I would stick to socialising with other expats. I became more closed to other people in general – whereas in the past I would stop and chat to a random stranger who approached me in a park, I would now make an excuse to get away.
I found myself appreciating the little things less, and the excitement I had originally felt about my new life was slowly being eaten away and replaced with frustration; my comfort zone was becoming more of a rut, and the deeper I settled in to it, the harder it was to get out.
So how do you go about getting out? Sometimes I have to actively remind myself of how my life was before – of how much I wanted to do this, how much I wanted to be here. I remind myself that I had an idea and followed through with it, and that it was a privilege to be able to do so; I’ve come so far and I don’t want to belittle that by living the same life I led back home.
I don’t deprive myself of the kinds of comforts mentioned above, but I do try to be grateful for them rather than taking them for granted, and to make sure my happiness doesn’t depend on them exclusively. I’m trying to find new things that make me nervous, new ways to get that buzz of excitement I felt back at the very start, to challenge myself and be open to new things once again. I like to imagine the things, big and small, that I would miss if I had to leave tomorrow, and to fill myself with a sense of appreciation that for now I can enjoy them at my leisure.
I’m still, in the grand scheme of things, new to Japan – I have friends who have been here for five, ten years, some of them even longer. But that first year is undoubtedly one of great significance, and the process of finding your feet can be intense. I wonder if the process of adjustment ever truly ends – I’m still learning, changing and adapting with every day that passes. I don’t know how long I’ll be around for, how many “phases” I have yet to experience, but for now I’m simply trying to take each day as it comes, accept that there will be a few sticking points along the way, and enjoy this whole experience for what it is: my own.
The days are getting warmer in Tokyo, and summer is just around the corner – come back next time to read about my first Japanese summer and get some tips on how to cope with those long, sticky months!