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Hi. I’m New Here. Tips on Overcoming Foreigner Isolation

By 3 min read 6

You just got here. You’re learning the basics to do your life. You’re working. You’re drinking. You’re doing your thing. But you also find yourself not wanting to hang out with your new coworkers, or meet new people at the local izakaya, or deal with the alarmist Skype ramblings of your family back home (WHEN ARE YOU COMING HOME?!). You just want to be alone.

Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure

I totally get it. I’m a hermit by nature. Even as I a little kid, I’d hole up in my room and listen to Duran Duran on repeat for hours, perfectly content. Being alone a lot doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely, but it can sometimes mean you’re cutting yourself off socially out of a bit of fear of being in a new environment. It’s a real symptom of culture shock- it’s totally normal and nothing to stress about. Culture shock, hermit-itis, call it whatever you want, but if you feel like to need to get out more, here are a few ways to kick yourself in the ass:

Meetups: At the risk of sounding like a cliché jerkface, Meetup.com has something for everyone. You like photography? The Arts? Indoor Portuguese football? And the clincher is that if you don’t see what you want, you can start your own meetup and hang out with people into your brand of freaky. Nice.

FOSS meetup, Tokyo. Photo credit: Jim Gris

Classes: Japanese classes- duh. Not only will learning some basic Japanese make your life exponentially easier, but you’ll meet people who are in the same illiterate boat as you. Not saying you’ll like them all, but you might find a study buddy for a café night someplace cool. If you can’t afford the private classes, check with your city ward. They usually offer super cheap classes at a variety of times. A double-whammy win.

Foreign Volunteers of Japan at work after the earthquake

Volunteer Work: Plainly, there’s plenty of work to be done. A simple search brings up all kinds of opportunities, but here are a couple to get you thinking. If you have other links or programs you want to promote, please put them in the comments!

Foreign Volunteers of Japan Lots of general information, links and earthquake relief projects. http://foreignvolunteers.org/

Japan Cat Network If you want to save the kitties, check these guys out. http://japancatnet.com/

Animal Refuge Kansai These guys also have a Tokyo location that lets you foster animals if you can’t commit to adopting. Such a great idea. http://www.arkbark.net

Side Jobs: Teaching privates has become a pretty real source of networking for me. Not just finding out basics about Japanese life, but learning about opportunities that exist in media and film here. I think building relationships is especially important here, and often you can open doors in the most unlikely ways. Other jobs include writing, editing, nanny-ing, bartending, teaching drama, cooking… but mostly teaching English.

Networking through the different channels here isn’t super hard and lets you try new things and meet people without a major commitment, so you can crawl back into your hole anytime you want. Yay!

It’s a little freaky moving to a whole new universe—anyone who says it’s a breeze is a big fat liar. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re feeling like you want to stay in and do nothing, but don’t do it all the time either. Getting out a couple times a week expands your horizons and keeps you from getting weird. Or in my case, weirder.

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  • Sometimes Facebook works, too. I recently started friending people who are friends with my friends in Tokyo -not any and all of them, but ones who I have met and want to get to know or even some that just look interesting.

    Then I did a daily art project and posted on Facebook every day showing the work.

    From that I got a few random messages from people living in Tokyo, who were interested in my work and from that came a new friendship / collaboration. Might be a good idea.

  • Barnaby Jones says:

    I’m sad to report that Animal Refuge Kansai does not (or did not, when we applied) speak English and only returned our messages in a very broken – and not very inviting – way.

  • mindongames says:

    A very satisfying read. You should know that you had me at the crazy cat pic. Did sway a little with the thought that you could just be a hikikomori in gaijin’s clothing…or is that the other way around?

    That’s probably just me, nervous by nature.

  • AnthonyJoh says:

    Great idea. Joining a bilingual group is one of the best ways to make friends and improve your Japanese.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I’ve now donated all my money to that cat shelter. If I then go and fill my apartment up with even more cats, I’m blaming you.