7 Questions: Ashley from Washington

@survivingnjapan and @ashleyjapan

I’m Ashley Thompson, a 20-something writer, blogger, and techie living in Japan. I currently write and maintain a blog with unique tips and how-to’s for expats living in Japan called Surviving in Japan (without much Japanese) (http://www.survivingnjapan.com), and also write the Lifelines column for The Japan Times. I also do virtual assistance work for ExpatWomen.com, which is a great resource for female expats everywhere.

I was born and raised in Washington state, U.S.A., and after finishing my undergraduate degree, I came to Shizuoka, Japan to teach English in a local high school. I taught with the JET program for a year and a half, and now I focus on writing and related freelance work.


1) What made you pack your life into a bag and become an expat?


 

It was time to break out of my comfort zone. I’d grown up primarily in the Pacific Northwest in the U.S., and though I love the area, I wanted to try something completely different and new. I believe we grow the most when we’re pushed out of the familiar, and I had reached a point in my life where I had become too comfortable. I had been considering moving abroad to work or go to school for some time before this, and after searching for opportunities for a year, the perfect one opened up in Japan (teaching English to high school students), and I took it.

 


2) Can you think of a single moment that occurred while living as an expat, which made you completely change your viewpoint on something you strongly believed in before you became a traveler?


 

I’m generally pretty open to cultural differences, so though events do occur that I may not necessarily agree with at times, most of the time I see these events as something different than my own culture, but normal or acceptable in that particular culture (though there are some exceptions to this, but that has more to do with morals). My college degree is in Social Sciences, so I studied a lot of this as well. I think a lot of the things I see and experience on a daily basis tend to expand or illuminate the “book knowledge.” If anything, being an expat allows me to constantly analyze events and situations in a way I wouldn’t be able to if I was at “home.”

 


3) Besides the obvious language barrier, what is the scariest aspect of settling in a foreign country?


 

Needing to be dependent on others, and not knowing (at first) how to do the things you want to do, or how to find certain items, and things like that. I’m a very independent person in general, so it was most difficult to adapt to asking others for help on a regular basis. It was a good thing for me to learn, of course, but difficult nonetheless. Additionally, for me at least, just trying to figure out what is in food or personal care products is scary at first if you can’t read the lists, because you have no idea what you’re putting in or on your body.

 


4) When people ask you about your experiences as an expat, what’s the one memory you always share?


 

To be honest, not too many people ask about my experiences as an expat. 🙂 But, I just had a baby here in Japan, so I suppose that is one memory I’ll share most often! Other than that, when I do talk to folks about being an expat, it usually centers around Japan: what the culture is like, what the people are like, what it’s like teaching Japanese teens, and other related things. Most of the fun memories I have are usually just shared amongst the friends I experienced them with, which typically involved unintentionally making complete fools out of ourselves.

David and Ashley

One such time was actually just a few days after I had arrived in Japan. I was in Tokyo with many other new teachers for an orientation, and in the evening we could explore the city. I hit it off with my roommate immediately and one evening while exploring the area near the hotel we were staying at, it started to rain. Not just a drizzle, or a few drops, but a heavy, pounding rain that soaks you instantly if you don’t have any sort of protection. So we were soaked before we made it to safe cover, our hair and clothes, everything. We didn’t have umbrellas as the weather had been clear and warm just before this. We then decided to run from cover to cover to the nearest convenience store to buy an umbrella. So we’d take off through the flooded streets, water hitting us from all directions, and as we were running two young men ran past us (with rain gear on) yelling “heavy rain! heavy rain!” and laughing. We started laughing too, at the ridiculous sight of us running, soaked, through the rain, as most people stayed safely under cover or inside, or carried umbrellas.

We finally reached the convenience store, and as we walked inside, the rain stopped. Completely. We walked back to our hotel, and as we entered I remember a lot of folks turning to stare at us as we dripped all over the floor, squeaking as we walked to the elevators.

We learned that day to always, always carry rain gear or an umbrella during the rainy season and summer in Japan, because you just never know when the sky will open up and pour.

 


5) Do you ever find it difficult to connect with the locals of the country? If yes, why? If not, why do you think it’s been fairly easy to connect with them?


 

ObiMatsuri

Yes and no. No, because it’s easy to meet people, and a lot of people in Japan want to learn English (or another foreign language), so it’s not uncommon to be approached in various situations and asked to converse, or invited to an event or coffee or something. However, it can be difficult to form long-lasting relationships with the locals. Not impossible, but many Japanese form their closest relationships earlier on in life, so they aren’t always as open to a long-lasting friendship versus just wanting a conversation partner. That said though, there are plenty of people who are and want to be open, and I’ve been able to develop some wonderful friendships that I’m sure will continue for a long time.

 


6) What hard to get items do you wish could be overnighted from back home?


 

I have a knack for finding hard-to-get items in Japan, so there (so far) hasn’t been a lot that I would need someone to overnight to me. I suppose if anything, I would say peanut butter and chocolate candy, as it’s non-existent in Japan and so far I’ve not really seen it in import stores. It’s pretty easy to order things online though in this day and age, both from Japan and abroad, so in general I haven’t had too many issues.

 


7) Besides being able to live in another part of the world, what has been the greatest benefit of becoming an expat?


 

Izu Peninsula

Being out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, and knowing that I’m growing and changing. The experience itself has been mostly good, but even the challenging experiences have led to good things for me. Being an expat has also allowed me to pursue opportunities that would have been much more difficult to pursue had I stayed in my home country, and allowed me to lay a strong foundation for any future career opportunities that may open up. I also appreciate thinking about and analyzing my own feelings and thoughts that may be based from what I grew up with in my own culture, and seeing how those stack up against the culture here. I feel like I’m always learning, and that’s a great and positive thing.

You can check out more from Ashley on Twitter, @survivingnjapan and @ashleyjapan, and her website, http://www.survivingnjapan.com/.

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