Life lessons from living abroad – what I learnt from Japan

Now and again, I hear from one of my foreign students about how their experiences living in Australia have completely changed their life. I always nod in agreement, because I remember how I felt after my first year in Japan – the world was such a different place. That feeling was only reinforced by spending longer away from my home country. Recently I came across something I wrote after just one year living in Osaka, and it seems to explain this whole thing pretty well, at least for me. Here’s part of it, with apologies for sentimentality.

Life lessons from living and working abroad in Japan

Enjoying a lesson with my “senior” kids in Osaka, Japan

My lessons from my first year in Japan

One year away in a strange, strange foreign country and now I’m older and younger, wiser and dumber. I’ve lost a lot of the crippling ambitiousness I used to have, I’ve learnt the joy of being happy with every aspect of your life, I’ve acquired an unrealistic sounding optimism about the rest of my life which most people would dismiss as teenage dreaming.

I’m older because I can hold a really good conversation with a whole spectrum of people, and keep up the conversation when their limited language ability, or shy personality, forces their side to wane. I’m older because I really want kids and have worked out how to deal with them. I’m not scared of them any more!

I’m younger because I can roll on the floor with a classful of three-year-olds and love every minute of it. I don’t care anywhere near as much about image or what other people think of me and above all I don’t mind doing or saying slightly crazy or inane things to help put people at ease or make the best out of a situation.

I’m wiser because I have a bigger perspective of the world and a much greater tolerance for different opinions, especially those that I totally disagree with. I’m wiser because I’m not going to be burnt out at 30, I’m not going to work in miserable situations and I’m looking after my health better.

I’m dumber because I can’t find the apostrophe key on this Japanese keyboard. I don’t know when to take my shoes off. I stare like a child as my dear Japanese friends place restaurant orders for me. And I don’t even know how to ask for a dine-in meal at MacDonald’s.


  1. ahh that is such a lovely post! i can relate to those feelings too. it’s almost like to really understand those concepts you have to have lived in a country where your mother tongue is not their mother tongue… going somewhere where English is the mother tongue is still an experience for us but not quite the same.. IMO anyway 🙂

  2. Thanks Rach!! Yes IMHO living in an English-speaking foreign country is a tiny bit cheating. I never did it though so perhaps I’m wrong!

  3. I think you probably picked the hardest country to live in where life is so different and the language and customs so much harder to learn. But what fun!

  4. LOL I hadn’t thought of that – although in some ways not as hard as others because the Japanese were so welcoming. But yes, all very different to Oz!

  5. In some ways, I think living in a country where everything is VERY different is easier!! The contrast is expected – as opposed to a place with similarities where the unexpected really IS unexpected!! Love your paradoxes too!!

  6. Ooh, you make an excellent point there Red Nomad – I remember being rather disappointed by Germany when I first moved there because there were so many similarities to home, and it took a lot more digging to find the differences.

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