Original Post Date: Friday, July 4, 2014
When you prepare to go abroad they tell you that it will be a “once in a lifetime experience”, that you’ll make amazing friends from all over the world and that you will have a “life changing adventure”. To be honest, I vastly underestimated the change I would face and up until a few months ago I don’t think I really tried to put it all into “perspective” of everything that I have gone through while living abroad. But, after a year in Tokyo I realize I have a long list of new understandings and (since its almost obligatory) I thought that before I left my beautiful new home I should do my best to convey them to you. Even though it’s impossible to put the “living abroad experience” into a single post, I wanted to try and help my friends and family catch a glimpse of the person I am now and let them see how I’ve transformed over the past year.
1. The world is bigger than you think.
I realize that the world is a big place, bigger than the mid-west, the U.S.A, and Europe. No one group of people is the “center” of the Earth and every society and culture holds its own specialness. It can be hard to remember that there’s a world full of interesting, creative and intelligent people out there just waiting to be explored. Even though having a home is important, we should also strive to see and absorb what we can from other parts of the world and allow ourselves the beautiful opportunity to learn from the unknown.
2. People will always be people.
I realize that the world doesn’t have a single race and that race doesn’t do much to change people. I have seen Japanese boys act exactly like their American counterparts and it took a while for me to understand that people are people no matter where you go in the world. Although all of our experiences are unique, we draw from our emotions similarly. Even though the names and traditions change, big ideas like belief, hope, fear, and greed are universal and we connect ourselves through them.
3. An open mind is a beautiful thing.
I realize that culture (and experience) shapes us and that it can be the deciding factor in trying to understand someone. Many times over the past few months I’ve been in situations with new friends that I found hard to understand – why would someone have that reaction? Why would they choose to respond that way? It’s times like that where I had to remember that my background has shaped me into the person I am and not everyone can share my world views. Rather than fighting against people with different opinions its easier to try and look at things from their perspective. While there are pieces to peoples’ behaviors that we may never fully understand, we shouldn’t close ourselves off to them. An open mind is the only true cure for ignorance and prejudice – so don’t be part of the problem, be a part of the solution.
4. Change is always happening and it is our choice to accept it or not.
Even though our past can often define our perspective, we hold the power to change ourselves for the future. My opinion is that we should embrace that change, but I realize it’s not a bad thing to want to hold on to the familiar so long as we don’t use the longing for “contentment” as a crutch and refuse to explore the possibilities of the new. History and my own life has taught me that change often marks the start of a brighter beginning, which are easy words to say and a hard truth to accept. Change is natural and expected and we should allow ourselves to accept that change. Because of the nature of my personality I know that I change much more quickly than others but even in my transformations there are pieces of me that stay constant and unending.
5. You alone can define your own feelings.
I realize that love and happiness are neither straightforward nor simple. I realize that you can be happy and still not feel fulfilled but that you can also feel fulfilled and still not be happy because emotions are not like the movies and you alone have the power to define your own feelings. We don’t always have a say in what happens to us, or to our heart, but we do have a voice in how we react to our circumstances. Yes, everyone will have their ups and downs, but after a certain point its up to you to find the cure to your own sickness, your own demons, your own sadness. You are in control, so prove it to yourself and take control.
6. Life is a special gift, don’t let it go to waste.
I realize that I’m a small and insignificant part of a vast ocean of lives. Lives that are short and fleeting and we can never quite know when they will end. It is in the face of this realization that I came to understand the meaning of “once in a lifetime”. Our whole existence is “once in a lifetime” – as much as we may believe, as beautiful as life after death may be… I discovered that I never want to waste my few years left in depression and loneliness when I can find joy and passion in living. Because if you think about the limited amount of time you may (or may not have) left on this beautiful world, isn’t it about time to start living for yourself and making every moment count? Take life in your own hands and make it mean something – you may not have a tomorrow.
7. True friendships are more valuable than anything else.
I realize that friendships can outlast silence and misunderstanding but only if you keep trying and that the best friendships can come from the most surprising of people. I realize that caring, open minded and respectful friends are more valuable than any other kind. I realize that everyone needs those kinds of people in their life or we go insane.
Beginning to end,
the change which grips us
takes us & moves us
may be the only thing
that stays the same.
Song for this post:
“A Thousand Years (Piano/Cello Cover)” – by The Piano Guys