Eating French Fries with Chopsticks

When you live abroad, everyone expects you to be doing amazing things all the time. There is an unspoken pressure to be adventurous and exciting every day, to have something to Instagram or blog about at the end of every evening. With this mindset, I think it’s really tempting to treat a year on JET as a sort of study abroad experience, round 2.

Looking back to the first few months of my study abroad in France, I remember many of the other Strasbourg girls jetting off to Spain and Dublin every weekend. Meanwhile, I spent those first few weeks walking around my new adopted city, going to a movie with my host sister, and slowly becoming a café regular. An ugly question nagged at me, though: was I wasting my experience in Europe? My first real trip outside of Alsace wasn’t until the very last weekend of September—my first ever time in Paris. By that time, most of the other girls on my program had visited four different countries!

Towards the very end of my time in France, of course, I was spending my weekends bouncing around Europe as well, cramming in trips to Italy, the South of France, Dijon, and London. But at the same time, when I left Strasbourg for good, I  felt as if I was leaving behind my second home, instead of just checking out of a 10-month hotel. I studied abroad like I ran Cross Country races back in high school—I started slow and steady, then finished with a sprint.

I suppose it’s no surprise, then, that I am beginning my time in Japan just as leisurely.

Thanks to social media, I have seen that many of my fellow new JETs have already been flying off to visit big cities and tourist attractions, while I have spent my first two weekends in Japan with few noteworthy adventures under my belt (by most standards, anyway). Mostly, I’ve been doing little things nearly unworthy of mentioning on social media, and experiencing my own minor victories almost too small to write about…

….such as successfully making rice in my adorably small, brand new rice cooker (despite the instructions being entirely in Japanese).

….such as eating French fries with chopsticks at a drinking party on Friday night.

….such as conquering the bike ride down narrow roads to get to and from the grocery store.

….such as sitting under a blossoming tree at a nearby Buddhist temple, watching as locals burn rich incense and clean their ancestors’ graves for Obon.

….such as attending a tea party and learning a few basic kanji over slices of strawberry cake.

These experiences might seem rather ordinary when compared with the sensationalism surrounding weekends exploring Tokyo and excursions to sacred islands, but they’ve been very rich experiences for me. Don’t get me wrong, though: I’m not undermining being a shameless tourist and travelling everywhere. I’m quite excited to do that, too. I know I’ll take my turn to wander around Japan before I leave–hiking mountains and eating new foods and taking a million pictures. For now, though, I’m still settling in here. I’m adjusting to the expat lifestyle of doing ordinary things with a Japanese twist… like eating french fries with chopsticks.

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2 thoughts on “Eating French Fries with Chopsticks

  1. R.Free says:

    Beautifully Written! I am certain your words will resonate with people who have had the experience uattempting to make a new place HOME.

    I remember when I went to Glasgow I very quickly peeled off from other exchangers in the orientation group, as I could tell most would not mix outside their groups and unfortutnaly many/most perpetuating the steortype of loud inconsiderate Americans. What did I do? I wandered the streets, one day getting so hopelessly lost that in a way found I was not lost at all, though, the cost was one massive blister! I also, got to know the Brit. gals in my dorm and I made livelong friendships.

    Keep up the confidence of “living local”. We all can turn on a travel program or pull up images from the main tourist sights. It is once in a lifetime we get to experience a real slice of Japanese life you don’t get in the travel programs, by what you curate for us, from your experiences. Don’t underplay that bike ride, or the grocery shop I am all ears (& eyes!)

    Thank you for sharing!

    Like

  2. karen.m says:

    Thank you so much! You’re right, I am trying to make a home here. Of course, I want to travel as well (and I know I’ll have some total tourist moments) but I think it’s really important to get as involved in/aware of your community as possible, and to make local friends as much as the language barrier allows, like you did in Glasgow! My feelings are that I have many future weekends to jump around the country, and that I’d rather get totally adjusted here first. It’s all about what you want to experience though! The great thing about JET is that you can kind of make it your own.

    Haha I’m glad someone will read if I just write about my daily activities! One qualm, though, is that I haven’t been taking as many pictures as I would like to be taking. There is something about being a tourist that makes it… somehow more acceptable to take pictures of everything.

    Thank you for reading 🙂

    Like

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