I know. I disappeared for a month.
I wish I could say that I did something cool, like randomly bought a one way ticket to Iceland and partied in Reykjavik for 30 days straight–but alas, my life is not that exciting. The last month was mostly sucked up by a web design class that taught me little, but did force me to build a website (I actually constructed a website for the boyfriend that should be up soon). I also spruced up The Ruby Ronin a bit in hopes that it will inspire and motivate me to write on a regular basis.
Like one of my favorite bloggers Rosie mentioned on her recent post, when you fall into monotony it’s hard to find inspiration to write. That’s exactly where I was–but I hope it will not happen again. I apologize, my readers.
Anyway, this post isn’t about the broken state I’ve been in for the last month–it’s about change.
After one year of living in the states, I’ve not only noticed differences in my new American surroundings, but also in myself.
Thanks to my life abroad, I can now…
1. Stand up for myself (thanks, China!)
In America we smile, say hello, ask how your day is and mind our manners by saying “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” In fact, almost all pleasantries end with the sentence: “Have a wonderful day.”
Pff, yeah right.
When meek Mary first went to China, she was kicked and tossed around like the newb foreigner she was.
My ‘please’ and ‘thank yous’ in Chinese were met with a grunt and a snort. When Chinese people cut in front of me in line, I sulked and let them butt in. When the taxi driver took the scenic route to up the meter, I merely paid the extra fee with a tear in my eye. The Chinese knew my weakness, and exploit it they did.
Chinese people are highly aggressive. Unless you put your foot down and stick up for yourself, they are not afraid to nickel and dime you. If you don’t persistently demand for your rights in China, then you simply won’t get any. Teary eyed Mary learned how to fight with the cab driver, she got the courage to tell the lady cutting in line to scram, and she even learned how to barter for discounts on fruits, vegetables, and her cell phone bill.
So now in America, instead of letting the server get away with charging gratuity when it clearly wasn’t stated–I get mad. I shove the bill in their face and say, “What the hell is this?”
Before, I would have waved the problem away and said it wasn’t worth the fight.
But China taught me that if you let people step all over you, then you’ll be at the service of others and never yourself.
2. Be More Considerate (thanks, Japan!)
When it comes to manners, Japan reigns supreme.
Although no one in Japan taught me how to be hospitable, I caught myself copying the Japanese without even thinking.
Always prepare a snack, tea or beverage when guests come over. If food is served, spoon out and distribute rice and other dishes immediately for the guests. If your friend/colleague’s beer or wine glass if empty, fill it up. When grabbing food from a communal dish, use the back end of your chopsticks (it’s more sanitary and polite). When in an elevator, push the ‘open’ button to let everyone else out first. After eating a meal at someone’s home, clean up (even if they insist you don’t have to).
In Japanese, there’s a phrase called “omotenashi“… which basically means: damn good hospitality. No one else is as considerate as the Japanese. They can read your mind. They know what you want.
Now that I’m in the U.S., I still find myself practicing these habits (and more) that I picked up in Japan–and I’m glad I did. It always pays to be kind and considerate.
3. Improvise in Any Situation
When you travel frequently, you have to be quick on your toes. Trains to the airport booked solid? Try a taxi. Rainy day ruin your tour to the temple? Find a show or museum to go see in the city instead. Can’t read the medication you need to buy? Call a local friend, or use your dictionary and limited English to work with the pharmacist at hand.
My ability to improvise has proved to be a golden asset here in the states. I can usually handle any curve ball thrown at me, mostly because living in a foreign country was like being hit with twenty curve balls on a daily basis. Whether it’s going to the doctor, paying your phone bill, or finding a new apartment–everything is a challenge where improvisation is almost always needed.
4. Learn to be at Peace with Solitude
When I moved to middle-of-nowhere Japan at the tender age of 22, I lived alone in a large apartment surrounded by rice fields, spiders, cockroaches and crickets that roared (yes, roared) through the night.
It was my first time living alone, and I was deathly afraid.
The loneliness I endured in Japan was tough. I was the only foreigner in my village, with my closest western connection being a McDonalds that was 2 hours away by train. I came to Japan with no friends. I spent many nights and weekends with only myself for company.
Yet I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, because it made me one tough bitch. Once lonely and self-conscious Mary is now able to waltz into a bar solo, take a spot in front of the cute bartender and chat it up in Japanese. I’m now comfortable going to a restaurant alone, with nothing but myself and a book.
More importantly, I was able to travel solo and discover who I am, grow as a person, and become an independent and confident individual.
5. Be Open and Compassionate
Moving to a new country feels much like being a puppy lost on the streets of Manhattan. It’s a big world, there’s people out there to get you, and nothing is familiar. It’s pretty damn scary.
So now that I’m back in the states, I try to help out those from other countries so that they can settle into this big, scary place called America (cause god knows it still scares me).
I can’t even count the number of kind souls that helped me out in China, Japan, and all of my travels. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the experience alive.
While I don’t live in China and Japan anymore, or even travel half as frequently as I used to, the experiences from these places have forever changed me for the better.
How have you changed from living abroad?