After 8 years, 5 countries and 3 continents I’ve become pretty accustomed to the ebbs and flows of living far from home (the holidays are always tough). Wherever home actually is. You can tell I don’t have one of my own because when I say the word I still picture the house where my parents live, where I always lived before I turned 18, where every note I ever wrote to my friends in high school still sits in a cedar chest in my old room (note to self: burn contents of cedar chest before the baby can read).
It’s true that home is where the heart is, and Dave and the baby are always with me. But my dogs are my heart. My parents. My sister. My closest friends. My heart is in pieces all over the world, and sometimes that takes a toll.
When I meet new people and explain our life or when I discuss our travels with my friends back home, a lot of people comment on how awesome this path must be and how lucky we are. And it is awesome. And we are lucky. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of traveling to this many places but probably never believed it would happen. And here we are passports all stamped up, keepsakes coming out our ears, minds blown by all the experiences.
The catch is that living abroad, even when you do it one hockey season at a time, isn’t like taking a vacation as some people seem to believe. You aren’t a tourist. It can be amazing and fun and enlightening, but it can also be frustrating and soul-crushing and confusing. I want to feel lucky every single day. But I also want to feel like I can read a cereal box or ask a question to my child’s pediatrician in my native tongue. I want to feel like I’m part of the conversation people are having around me, instead of a mute sidekick who just smiles and gives a thumbs up sometimes. I want to eat things familiar and know where I’m going and understand what is being said to me at the grocery store checkout line. These things sound small one by one, but together they add up to a world where every day is a little bit of a struggle. And some days are a big struggle. And all that struggling can make you tired.
Being in Japan is without question the most humbling of my experiences abroad. The Netherlands, Germany, and Norway (heck, even Canada!) can make you feel misplaced. But in Japan all my previous expat experiences are amplified by a power of ten. I’m more confused, more isolated, most definitely identifiable as a foreigner just by sight and completely and utterly illiterate.
Normally, I have no problem admitting that things can be frustrating at times, copping to a bad day here and there. I’m not prone to sugar coating. I don’t hesitate to tell anyone that I don’t regret any of this hockey, gypsy life. I just tell the truth, but I don’t complain for the sake of it and I don’t embellish to cover up the marks.
But in Japan, despite incredible hospitality and my best efforts to get ‘out there’, I’ve been lonely. Not all the time. Not even every day. But more than normal. More than when I had a newborn and was too exhausted to socialize. More than our time in European countries. And this is hard for me to admit.
It’s hard to admit because I want to be a brave, bold, traveler of the world who can take on any challenge and embrace new experiences. I want to be open here the way I was each and every other season which allowed me to more than one amazing, lasting connection each time. I want to be the person who turns lemons into lemonade and is happy to greet each day and blah blah something positive thinking etcetera. Admitting I’m lonely, that it’s hard here, that I don’t really love it, sort of feels like a failure. Feels like I’m saying I don’t like it here (which is not true) or that I’m not enjoying this experience (I am) or that I haven’t met some really lovely people (I really, really have).
Between our hockey life and my online networks, a lot of my friends have lived or are currently living abroad. They move for jobs or love or hockey and some stay forever and some are just temps. And those people tend to understand that I can be both extremely excited by my life in Japan while also missing home fiercely. They get it. They’ve been there. It’s normal, they’ll tell me. It’s ok. Drink some wine, they advise. Enjoy the ramen while you can, they wisely suggest.
But I’m more afraid of the reaction of the others. Of the people who think we’re so lucky to have this life but who haven’t ever had to be in this kind of situation. Or the haters who think we should quit this nomadic, dream-chasing lifestyle for ‘real life.’ I fear those people will see my admission as a conclusion. Will see the struggle as a sign. That their glib advice will be to trade the hardships of this way of life for the hardships that will come when we switch over to another way.
If only it were that simple.