Who are you?
Hi! My name is Annabelle. I’m a 24 year old woman from Wellington, New Zealand. I write a blog about my experiences called Origami Kiwi.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I’ve always had an interest in languages, travel, and teaching. With that in mind, after graduating from university I applied to the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. In August 2013 I was accepted, and moved to Tochigi prefecture, Japan. I came here as an assistant language teacher, and I’m still here teaching English in a senior high school.
What challenges did you face during the move?The JET Programme takes care of a lot of the difficult stuff for you. They sort out your visa, employment, can forward your luggage, host an orientation with hundreds of other new expats so you can learn about living abroad and make friends. Because of that, most of my challenges were personal ones; I’d never lived by myself in my home country, let alone abroad. I wasn’t sure what it would be like living alone, what I needed to bring, what I needed to take care of when I got there, and so on. Luckily, I managed it fine in the end.
How did you find somewhere to live?
The school I work at had an apartment organised for me before I arrived. I just moved into the apartment which many English teachers before me have lived in. I could have asked my school to help me find a new apartment, but things like that tend to be seen as a hassle in Japan, and what’s more, my place is mostly fine. There are some unique aspects to finding a place to live in Japan, such as “key money” – basically a gift of at least one month’s rent, to thank the landlord for allowing you to rent the place – but it seems things like this are becoming antiquated, as I only had to pay the first and last month’s rent.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Certainly. I was fortunate to be given a job in the capital city of my prefecture. There are about five other JET teachers in the city, and plenty of other foreigners – not only from English-speaking countries, of course. The JET community in Tochigi is pretty active, so I see lots of expats fairly regularly.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I don’t speak Japanese well, so it’s a big challenge to make Japanese friends in my area. A lot of my coworkers speak English, and I get along well with them. I’ve also met some locals at international events who are really friendly and interested in meeting people from other countries and cultures. Overall, I think people here are nice and polite, but the language barrier definitely makes it difficult to make strong friendships with locals.
What do you like about life where you are?
Convenience! Trains, food, appliances…life in Japan is really easy.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Again, unfortunately, the language barrier. Being ignorant of a lot of the stuff that’s going on around me is tough.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
I think the biggest different for me is the work culture. You may have heard of the Japanese tendency to work very long hours, and that’s definitely true. On top of that, there’s definitely a feeling of workplace hierarchy that seems to be almost entirely based on age. The office just seems a lot more formal than anything I’d ever experienced back in NZ.
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
It’s miles better, and one of the things I absolutely love about living here! Food is cheaper. There’s much more range when it comes to household and clothing products here, because they have the sheer population to support it. I’m a big fan of Japanese street fashion, so I love having such easy access to really unique clothing and accessories.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
Most Japanese food is delicious! There’s nothing like having fresh, cheap sushi just around the corner. However, as a pescetarian (someone who eats only vegetables and seafood), it can be tough eating out sometimes. Alternative diets aren’t big in Japan, and I’d suggest people with allergies be very careful and specific, as Japanese people often have different ideas of things such as what qualifies as meat, at least compared to my Western ideas. Fruit is expensive here too, but you can make do by buying in-season.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Research! Find out as much as you can about everyday life and cultural differences – blogs and vlogs by real expats will be your best friend whilst preparing to move. Once you’re here, enjoy it! You can never be sure how long the opportunity to live abroad will last, so try to experience as much as possible.
What are your plans for the future?
That’s the million dollar question! It’s pretty up in the air right now, but I’ve got a lot of ideas. I want to go back to university for postgraduate study, and I’d like to live in China for about a year, but right now I’m living life one day at a time.
Annabelle shares more adventures of life in Japan through her blog www.origamikiwi.com.