Reintegration shock, Research, Remembering, and Reimagining this Blog

Somehow it has been three months since I returned to the US and I haven’t updated my blog once. I think it has taken me this long to be able to find the words to describe the varying emotions and experiences involved in packing up my life (AGAIN), returning to Arizona, and starting my masters program.

Leaving Japan was hard. Even though I knew (and still know) that it was the right choice for me, it was hard to say goodbye to the life I had built and all the connections I had made with the people in my community there. I feel like I have been constantly on the move between communities for most of my life. I’m starting to wonder if it might be nice to settle for a while and make some real long-term connections with people, but I don’t see that as a possibility for a few years at least. I’m worn out from having to make new friends and find a new community of people every few years.

Part of what was so exhausting about this move is knowing that this, too, is a temporary stop. After my two years in Japan, I only plan to stay in Flagstaff for two more years until I finish my MA. I will be in one physical location for a longer period of time once I start my PhD program (wherever that will be), but even that will be temporary. I suppose I’m just not sure how much in life ISN’T temporary. Is it even possible to set down roots and have a permanent connection to people or a place?

It was also difficult leaving Japan to come back to Arizona, which was never my plan. I am glad to have the opportunity to study here, and to be back near my family for a time, but I still sometimes have a hard time with having turned down Edinburgh and Trinity. This program will allow me to fill in the some of the gaps in my education and help me develop skills necessary for a PhD program, and I think in the long-run this will be the best choice for me, but it’s still hard when I get to thinking about where I could be, especially when the move was so challenging in the first place.

Reverse culture shock is real, and it’s been a challenge adjusting to life back in the US, especially in a place where I used to have connections but am now starting over in. It is incredibly isolating to have to learn how to negotiate my own culture again. It’s a long process, but it’s happening.

Every month that passes leaves me feeling more adjusted to my new life, and also lets me see how not adjusted I was the month before. When I left Japan I was having a hard time with connecting to people, and certainly some of that has carried over into my time here. Even though it’s been a challenge I do really enjoy the literature program and the research I’ve been doing. After taking so long to make a choice about a career path, it’s been incredibly validating to find so much enjoyment in the study of literature. I love my literature courses, my research projects, and the potential I see for myself in this field. Even if I feel like I’m making a fool of myself 90% of the time, I’m having a good time doing it. It’s stressful, terrifying, and overwhelming, but it’s just so damn interesting.

I have so many memories in Flagstaff, and sometimes it can be hard reconciling my memories with the life I am living here now. As an undergrad I had many different groups of people in my life and was active in many different departments on campus. As a grad student I am fully committed to the English department, and as the weird kid who lived in Japan it can be a little difficult to feel connected. I’ve been questioning reality and existence a lot, but that’s not anything new. I’m 25 now and making my life work on my own. I’ve had groups of people to rely on in all of my past endeavors, and it feels like now for the first time I am completely on my own. That being said, I am grateful for my officemates and the people in my cohort who have taken time to talk to me and help me out when I’m struggling.

My life is heading off in a very different direction than it was when I started this blog, but I think I would like to keep blogging. Obviously while I am still “Annamarie” I am no longer “Abroad,” and so I have been toying with the idea of changing this blog a bit so it is still relevant instead of making a new blog altogether. I have so little time to devote to blogging between teaching, grad school, and my part-time job at Jimmy Johns, but blogging has been a help to me in the past and I don’t want to give it up.

I’m not sure what form my grad school blog will take, but now that I’ve gotten the “I’m back in the States” post out of the way I have the freedom to figure it out. This life is new, but I’m still me, still weird, still unstable, and still only tenuously connected to reality most of the time. I’m sure I’ll have something to say.

If you were following this blog only for travel posts and updates and don’t want updates from my life in grad school, now would be the ideal time to unfollow. Thank you for sharing in my adventures in Japan. Those two years were an incredible experience, and I’m glad to have some sort of record of my time there in this blog. I’m also so grateful for all the people who supported me and followed my time abroad with attentive ears. Thanks for being cool.


Loss of Self / Can’t Find the Words

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written anything, having stopped blogging just days away from finishing my 30 day challenge, but now with a month left until I leave Japan I feel it’s time to start writing about and processing the process of leaving.

It’s been a difficult six months. A person I knew from high school passed away in January which lead me to face some of my own fears of my mortality, my grandmother passed away in February the day before what was my deceased father’s birthday, and another family member passed away about a month ago. I was accepted to my top two choice grad programs, one of which would have been a literal dream to attend, and then had to reject both offers because of money. This forced me to confront many of the feelings I haven’t had to deal with in Japan about capitalism, and how being poor makes it so much more challenging to have dreams in the first place. I’ve also picked up a pack of roaming bullies who seemingly have nothing better to do with their free time than watch my social media accounts, which I mean I guess I should be flattered to be receiving so much of their time and energy.

So all of this has been happening along with the stresses of the big life change of getting ready to move across the ocean and start fresh in grad school, leaving behind all of the friends and routines I’ve had for the last two years. All of this has given me much to think about, but not left me able to write much of anything at all. In many senses I have just been too exhausted to put myself out there in any public fashion apart from the appearances I am required to make at work or other obligations.

I feel generally exhausted these days by the multiple faces we are expected to show people. While this has been something I’ve struggled with a lot in the past, leading me to be more open about the negative things in my life on social media than most people find acceptable, this has been especially challenging in Japan. I find the role I have to play here as an ALT and token foreigner tiring. I find it easier to navigate my life here by largely keeping myself to myself, but since that is not who I am as a person it leaves me feeling bottled up. I like to share parts of myself with others, yet it feels like my role here is much more to be a person on display than to be an actual person. This leads to things like people thinking it’s acceptable to use their free time to come to my place of work and ask to observe my lessons or people generally disregarding my feelings and needs.

Being different around different people is normal, and probably even healthy. No one is the same around their parents, coworkers, and close friends. We all show varying faces and aspects of ourselves to different people and in different situations. This is taken to an extreme level with our social media personas. Much of our social media use is this sort of artificial posturing that we all expect each other to participate in. I’m not writing this as some sort of new idea that I’ve had—this is nothing new—but to give more of a context for why I have been unable to write and have generally fallen off from all social activities in the last few months. The combination of much of my day to day life feeling artificial, along with the somehow necessary artificiality of social media interactions, left me feeling almost entirely disconnected from any real understanding of what was my true self. I felt exhausted, wrung out, and yet simultaneously hurt and angry at the people and systems that I felt were not allowing me to be or discover myself as an authentic and complicated human being. The only way I found to combat all of this was to spend time at home, where I felt I could be the person I am without judgement.

A positive thing to have come out of all of this is I have learned to appreciate even more the benefit of having few core friends who truly see me as a person they accept, as opposed to many friends who all expect or even demand that I always be only one aspect of myself. I am so grateful for the few people in my life who don’t expect me to be anything other than who I am in a world where it seems like most people just want to take something from me. I think one of the biggest personal lessons I’ll have learned from my time in Japan is not to give myself to everyone, but to seek the people who want to give as much as they take in return and at the same time expect nothing.

I’m making it work, and that’s the important thing. I had to step back from many things in order to do it, but I’ve been making it work. It’s difficult when your life becomes completely uprooted. I don’t have many roots to begin with, and so I think I feel it more acutely than most people do. Without roots it can be so easy to forget who you are and what you want. Maybe that is why I find it so exhausting to be putting up so many faces; I’ve got nothing holding me to the ground.




Day 22: The Scale

For a long time I lived in fear of the scale. I refused to own a scale because I was afraid of falling into a trap where my weight somehow determined my self-worth. Last year around this time, though, I bought some furniture from an ALT who was leaving Japan and he threw in a scale for free because he wouldn’t be using it anymore. Having just decided to start losing weight, I thought sure, what the hell.

Today I looked back at some poetry I wrote about weight and dieting last year. At first a lot of my weight loss was coming from an unhealthy place of hating my body or believing I was somehow worse for weighing more. I’m happy to say that now my focus, while still on losing some weight, is much more on health and maintaining the changes I have made over the last year.

When I am home I weigh myself every day. It has now become a part of my morning routine that I don’t even notice. My first alarm goes off at 5:40, my phone alarm app will go off after that when it hears me moving to snooze my watch alarm. I will continue to snooze both alarms until 6:00 when I sit up and check my phone. Eventually I get up and almost always my final watch alarm will go off at 6:10 while I’m peeing. Then I get on the scale, get back into bed, and sit on my phone again until I shower around 6:30. My routine has been carefully honed over months so that now the daily weighing and putting the weight into my phone for tracking is just something that happens.

While at first the daily weigh-in was a struggle and at times a point of shame, it has become a way to remain in control of my body and to learn to appreciate some of the natural changes that happen. Weighing myself every day has taught me that it is perfectly normal for me to go up or down 2-3 lbs in a day. It’s taught me when in my hormone cycle will I naturally gain some weight, and when I will find it most easy to shed a few pounds.

I’ve lost 45-50 lbs (depending on the day) over the last year, and maintained that weight loss for over 6 months. I have found knowing about any changes in my weight immediately has been essential to maintaining that weight loss. Stepping on the scale is a daily reminder to hold myself to those 1600 weekday calories and to find new ways to stay active and care for this body that is the one thing I can truly claim to be mine.

This week I’ve been sleep deprived and making bad food choices as a result because I simply cannot stay awake during the day without the extra calories. It’s hard not to focus on the immediate changes in weight and to think about the long-term picture. I know that in the grand scheme one week of being above my calorie goals is not something that I will regret. The most important thing I’ve learned on this weight loss journey, and from my daily weigh-ins, is to be kind to myself. Nothing is permanent. No weight, no pain, no regret is forever. There is always another day.

Day 21: Thoughts on a Weekend

I mentioned that I might miss a few days on my challenge, and, well, I did.

This last weekend I had the welcome party for my new teachers. Afterwards I went to nijikai for the first time, which is the Japanese word for the second party after the first event (ni being the Japanese word for two). The number keeps increasing until you go home or you’re too drunk to remember.

The next morning I had some work to finish, and then took the local trains to Tokyo. In Tokyo I met up with some friends after their Tokyo Scavenger Hunt. We went out to dinner and karaoke and generally had a riotous evening.

On Sunday we spent the day in Tokyo Disneyland before journeying back to Shizuoka at night and getting up for work the next morning.

It was a good weekend. It was the kind of weekend that makes me appreciate the life I have here. I am able to meet new people and communicate in another language. I am able to take weekend trips to Tokyo with my friends where we can talk and laugh and drink and have a good time. I appreciate these parts of my life. I love that I am able to travel when I want and with short notice. I love that I have people in my life to share new experiences with.

I realized this week that as of today I only have 100 days left in Japan. I remember from the last 100 days before coming to Japan just how fast three months can go. I am now getting more serious about finding my next place to live, which is very stressful, and will soon be working on getting things ready to pack and ship from my apartment here.

In 100 days my life will completely change again. While I’m excited for my next steps, I’m also sad to say goodbye to the friends and opportunities my life in Japan has given me. Any change like this means saying goodbye just as much as it means saying hello, and when I have weekends like this last one I realize just how much I’m saying goodbye to.

Day 20: A Thursday

I started this day determined to be a in a good mood, and then my ankle bled all over my new shoes and that was not a good start to the work day. Luckily I know where the first aid kit is so when I got to school I raided it for bandaids and spent first period rinsing the heel of my new Vans. They are mostly back to normal if you don’t look closely, and now I know I need to tape up the backs of my ankles for a while when I’m wearing these shoes, just like I now tape the balls of my feet when I wear my rain boots to avoid giant blisters.

Feet are hard. Or soft? There is some sort of issue with them.

Today was my first day back in the classroom after so long. It felt good to have something to do with a chunk of my day again, although it’s a weird feeling knowing I’m leaving so soon. A part of me just wants to focus on what’s next, which is really distracting me from what still has to happen.

I’m sorry for these last two blog posts. It’s the middle of the week and I’m tired. This weekend is busy so I might not have time to write, but at least I’ll have things to write about. I’m so close to finishing this challenge, but I might need to give it some coaxing to make it to the finish line.

Day 19: Not Much To Say 

It’s now 10:30pm and I haven’t written anything yet today. Honestly I was having an alright evening and just completely forgot. 

This morning I had a little bit of a body image meltdown and then for most of the day I was just too tired to fuction, but this afternoon was warm and clear and lovely so I left work in a good mood and had a surprising amount of energy. During the day I finished one book and started another which in turn I have now finished. I did laundry. After dinner I walked the mile to the local mall and got some desperately needed new shoes. My hope is that these last until I leave Japan, but we’ll see.  

The forecast was dismal before, but now it seems like we will have a few days of nice weather to enjoy spring. This makes me very happy. 

I wish it were easier to join a gym. I wish I had more time to exercise. 

Tomorrow I am in the classroom again after 7 weeks of getting paid to do nothing. It’s exciting but also a little nerve wracking. A part of me always feels like I’m a terrible teacher and my students all hate me, even though I know that isn’t true. 

Today was just a Wednesday. It’s a day that happened that I probably won’t think about much ever again. 

Day 18: The Last Reminder of Winter

By the end of last week the weather was turning warm and humid, the final necessary promise of spring to push the cherry blossoms into full bloom. The trees spread throughout Shimada are now brightening the landscape with their pale pink flowers.

Which is a good thing because otherwise it would just be grey and miserable.

The rain has returned with a vengeance, seemingly wanting to make up for lost time. While this Saturday (of course when I had planned on attending hanami) was disgustingly warm and muggy, this week has brought us back into a cold and sleepy reminder that winter isn’t far behind us.

It’s not that I’m looking forward to the humidity–quite the opposite as the mold has already begun sprouting throughout my apartment–I just wish we could have a little sun, or a little less rain, to allow us to enjoy the cherry blossoms.

Cherry blossoms are a reminder of how brief the intensely beautiful things in life can be. Like the perfect bowl of ice cream or a sunny day in rainy Shimada, one must appreciate the cherry blossoms while they are here because they will be gone again all too soon.

Day 17: The Passage of Time Abroad

Being an ALT is like existing in a weird bubble where time is both constantly of the utmost importance and does not seem to exist at all. For many people it can feel like such a temporary position. Many of us come to Japan knowing that in a year or two we will be returning to our home countries and the lives we left behind. With the strict 5 year limit on the JET program, all JETs know that what we are doing here isn’t forever, even if some do plan to remain in Japan when their time with JET is finished. For those of us planning on leaving, it is easy for it to start feeling like it isn’t our real lives, being here and teaching in Japan.

It’s jarring, then, to realize just how much time is passing while I’m here in Japan. I arrived at 22, fresh out of 5 years of undergrad, and without even realizing the change was happening I’m now getting ready to leave as a fairly different person than who I was when I arrived. I’m really captivated by the different sensation of the passage of time as a temporary teacher in a foreign country. I think for some of us it can be hard to see this as what it is–a relatively long-term reality–when it feels more like just existing apart from time altogether.

I hesitate to use the example because we are here to work, but I think it’s easiest to explain this feeling like summer camp. While you’re there, you know that summer camp is temporary. You know that when the two weeks are over you will go back to your home and your life and all of the friends and family you have waiting for you. It gives your experience of the passage of time in camp a little tinge of the unreal. The two weeks spent having fun and living new experiences feels somehow set apart from the flow of reality experienced in your “real” life.

I feel similar about my time in Japan, and it’s dangerous. When you allow yourself as an ALT to give in to the feelings of unreality, it also deprives the time spent living and working and have a life in Japan of the meaning and value it deserves. It becomes too easy to say “This doesn’t matter because it isn’t my real life,” while sitting back and watching years of your “real life” pass you by. These two years are an experience set apart from my life before and after, but they are a very real two years.

While I’m here it is difficult to see how my two years in Japan will connect to my life in the future, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. At least that is what I’m telling myself when it is hard to see how these two years connect to the reality of before and after.

I think experiencing time is something I’m going to be writing about for a long time, and I guess if nothing else (though of course there is a lot more) the strange unreality of time in Japan has given me a lot more to think about.


Day 16: A Career Change? Well, no.

I think I’m just going to go ahead and say it’s pretty unlikely I’ll ever be able to write a blog post on a Saturday, so maybe I won’t be too down about missing another day. But on the bright side I’m half way through my 30 days!

Today while doing dishes and cleaning my kitchen I listened to more of My Dad Wrote a Porno. For anyone not familiar with this podcast, a guy and his two friends read a rather poorly written erotic novel that he discovered his dad had published under a pen name. I rarely laugh out loud at media while alone in my apartment, but I had to stop washing a pan because I was laughing so hard that water was splashing around.

As I was listening I found myself wishing I had something as entertaining to share with the world because I think I could do well with humorous readings. In college I sometimes held dramatic readings of fanfiction classic My Immortal for my friends, and I wish I could share similar experiences with more people.

I’m always looking for more creative projects to get involved with. I do someday want to be involved with something like a podcast or youtube series, I just haven’t found the time or right idea yet.

If you have some quality content you want me to read on the internet please let me know. I’m here and can lend you my flight attendant voice.

In other news thank you to everyone who has taken the time recently to let me know you’re reading my blog posts. I really appreciate it!

Day 15: Gross Sacks of Fluid

Today was probably the trade-off for having such a good Wednesday.

I’ll start from the beginning. I’m going to talk about gross foot injuries, so you’ve been warned.

I walk a lot. My feet have thick calluses on the bottom from my 5+ miles a day of walking. It’s gross probably, but it’s much better than the pain of weak skin. And yet despite my strong-ass foot skin, I still often get little blisters. The problem is when I get little blisters under my strong-ass foot skin, the skin is too strong for the blister to get to the surface so it just stays there, trapped.

Today it was raining and so I had to wear my rain boots because I am sick and tired of wet shoes. I was also running very late, probably because of the rain, so I had to seriously hustle to get myself to work on time.

I did manage to make it into the office just as the clock changed to 8:20 (when the morning meeting begins), but I also managed to sprout a bloody blister on my foot that was probably about 3.5 inches around and made it very difficult to walk. When I sat down to have a look at what was causing so much pain, I could actually see, and feel, the blood sloshing around in the bubble underneath layers of my skin.

Hope you weren’t eating.

I also forgot to bring my phone charger. I realize that this shouldn’t be a big issue because I should be working and not on my phone, and in all honesty I did do a lot of work today, but also today the US launched missiles at Syria and not being able to keep up on the latest developments because my battery was rapidly dying was very stressful.

Also it was raining and if you’ve ever read my blog before you know how I feel about that.

So it was just not the best day. On my way home from work I had to do the same walk. Even walking slowly and carefully limping the whole way back, it was a very painful journey. Near the end of my walk home I noticed it was suddenly a lot easier to step on my foot. Turns out the blister finally burst. It was gross. It still is gross. Human bodies are gross. We’re all just gross sacks of fluid.

But then! Tonight at choir practice we starting singing Seasons of Love, which I’m always ready to sing. The English is difficult for many members of the choir, but I’m loving it. I also am getting a chance to sing Collins’ solo, which is very nice considering I already have a pretty sizable solo in our other song this month.

So singing Seasons of Love with my choir friends totally turned my day around and now I’m ready to sleep and pretend it isn’t so humid outside.