Originally posted by an anonymous contributor.
My first year on JET was similar to riding a roller coaster: It had many ups, downs, twists and turns. When I arrived in Japan, I was at the beginning of the ride. The coaster slowly eased up to the top of the first slope, the anticipation of what lie ahead was exciting and nerve wrecking. Then it slid down from that first hill, and there was no going back. I had started the ride of my life.
Prior to coming to Japan, ALTs are warned of culture shock and given ideas for coping. You go to Japan with the notion that it will happen, but the effects of culture shock are rarely understood before they are felt. In the past I have struggled with anxiety. I knew before I left that it would be a challenge, but a challenge I was willing to try. I arrived in Japan with absolute elation for learning Japanese, meeting my students, and living in Japan. Even with this excitement, culture shock was looming around the curve. Towards the end of that first month I began to feel tired, under the weather, and down-spirited. I constantly worried about my health because I had heard horror stories of past JETs who had issues and needed hospitalization. Try as I may to have a positive attitude, I slowly slipped into a slump. I thought this was just being anxious, because I had never experienced culture shock before.
Things in Japan are different from what I was previously used to. Students sleep in class, sick leave is hardly used, and ATMs have operating hours! Who knew a robot needed time off? I could not speak a lot of Japanese so I could not say the things I wanted to say and I became very frustrated. All these things plus the stresses of a new job and living in a foreign country chipped away at me.
It wasn’t until I started talking to other JETs that I recognized I was experiencing culture shock. It became clear that I was not the only one who was struggling- we all were. I have seen how other expats have struggled and some choose to isolate themselves. As much as you want to keep to yourself and stay in your apartment, you must do the opposite. Become more involved, join clubs, pick up a new hobby, stay active, and talk to people. If you are struggling with culture shock, anxiety or depression, please do not be afraid to receive help. You can talk to your friends and family, other JETs, or a counselor. Even if you are in a slump, remember- you have an amazing opportunity to explore and try new things. The life of an expat is not easy but the things you gain from the experience are worth the struggle.
Though I still struggle with culture shock I find that its’ effects are lessening. There are days I do feel completely stressed out, but I know I am coming to the top of the next slope of that roller coaster. The inclines are beginning to even out, the curves aren’t so steep, and I feel more content with where I am now.
As the holiday season comes closer, it is more important than ever to get involved and form a sense of community. Stay positive and be open to changes because one thing is for sure: when you get off this roller coaster you won’t be the same person as when you got on.
Here is my challenge for you: Get more involved from from this point forward. Make a marked effort to meet new people on the JET Programme, and in other places. Join an activity, find a hobby, check out extra curriculars at your schools. The worst they can do is say “no”, right?
For those who need assistance or want someone to talk to here aresome resources to check out. You can do this.
Enjoy the ride!