Home > My Opinons > Being an Expat

Being an Expat

There are numerous ranters on the Web who moan and groan about the unjust treatment they receive while living abroad. Once the initial novelty wears off, they gradually become bitter, even hateful, and begin to despise their adopted country.
In a broad sense, in Japan at least, there are generally two types of responses among expatriates to these attitudes and behaviors: they tell whiners to go home if they can’t take it, or else they band together and try to fight inequality. Don’t get me wrong–I am against inequality, and I think the world would be a great place if we assumed that others want the same fair, considerate treatment that we ourselves want. But one person usually can’t change the world, and I think fighting against all of Japan is a losing battle.
The key components to surviving as an expat in Japan are a thick skin (ability to survive adversity), a good reason for being here (hint: you can make one if you don’t have one yet), and the ability to see the good in the people around you rather than focus on the flaws. And adjust your expectations before you even get on the plane.
But enough negative talk. Below are some things I think make the expat experience a positive and worthwhile one. There will always be hard times, but if you focus on positives such as these, you will realize that what you are doing is unique and worthwhile.

  • You get new perspectives on the world that most people don’t have
  • You learn more about yourself, including your limits and abilities
  • As a representative for your country, you can improve the image of your people
  • There’s no shortage of challenges to help you grow–you get more out of life by not simply taking a “safe” route
  • You can experience a fascinating culture with an even more fascinating history
  • As an expat in Japan, you are in a unique position to easily meet other expats and visitors from all corners of the earth
  • You have a chance to master a difficult language and become one of the few in the world from outside Japan who can speak it well
  • You will come to better understand the position of foreign nationals in your own country, and respect their strength
  • You can travel from Japan to many other countries very easily
  • You will have two places to call home
  • Sometimes, it’s just a lot of fun

There are numerous ranters on the Web who moan and groan about the unjust treatment they receive while living abroad. Once the initial novelty wears off, they gradually become bitter, even hateful, and begin to despise their adopted country.

In a broad sense, in Japan at least, there are generally two types of responses among expatriates to these attitudes and behaviors: they tell whiners to go home if they can’t take it, or else they band together and try to fight inequality. Don’t get me wrong–I am against inequality, and I think the world would be a great place if we assumed that others want the same fair, considerate treatment that we ourselves want. But one person usually can’t change the world, and I think fighting against all of Japan is a losing battle.

The key components to surviving as an expat in Japan are a thick skin (ability to survive adversity), a good reason for being here (hint: you can make one if you don’t have one yet), and the ability to see the good in the people around you rather than focus on the flaws. And adjust your expectations before you even get on the plane.

But enough negative talk. Below are some things I think make the expat experience a positive and worthwhile one. There will always be hard times, but if you focus on positives such as these, you will realize that what you are doing is unique and worthwhile.

You get new perspectives on the world that most people don’t have

You learn more about yourself, including your limits and abilities

As a representative for your country, you can improve the image of your people

There’s no shortage of challenges to help you grow–you get more out of life by not simply taking a “safe” route

You can experience a fascinating culture with an even more fascinating history

As an expat in Japan, you are in a unique position to easily meet other expats and visitors from all corners of the earth

You have a chance to master a difficult language and become one of the few in the world from outside Japan who can speak it well

You will come to better understand the position of foreign nationals in your own country, and respect their strength

You can travel from Japan to many other countries very easily

You will have two places to call home

Sometimes, it’s just a lot of fun

  1. May 17, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Nice post. I found a lot of the “whiner” type of people while living in Japan and even turned into one myself a few times but having now left Japan all I can think about is when I get to go back again!

    I think people tend to get complacent to all the cool and interesting things that surround them every day when living in a place like Japan and end up missing a lot of it because all they see is the negatives.

    As you say if people just opened their eyes and minds to what is around them a little more maybe they would enjoy the great experience that many other people would kill to be able to have.

  2. tadpoles
    May 19, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Nice post.

    Point well made.

  3. Rie
    May 27, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Great post.
    I was an expat in US for several years.
    I became more interested in Japan because people asked me tons of questions from culture to mentality of Japanese women.
    I realized how little I know about my own country and my own sense of value.

    Even though I couldn’t answer to all of them, I thank to people who challenged me with those hard-to-answer questions and stretched my perspectives into different shapes.

  4. Ken
    May 8, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    I think that the distinction between bitter and non-bitter expats is correlated to willingness to explore Japan, it’s language, and culture. This curiosity is clearly absent (or has become absent) in the bitter and negative expats. When you’re a stranger in a strange land, it’s easy to get stuck in the rut of living within the gaijin/expat subculture of Japan and feeling imprisoned/resentful/intimidated/ by the Japan outside this subculture.

    Fantastic Kansai blog, I’ve learned a lot from it.

  5. September 13, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Great post. I do agree about the whiners. We have a lot in China. I find with expats where I am is that they’re not open to living in a country where things don’t operate the way they in their own country.

  6. Nicholas Emery
    April 27, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    I have lived in several countries, the US, Barbados, China, Thailand. I love being an expat (I am British). If you can not adjust (mostly) to the everyday culture overseas, then it is not for you. If you want to explore the world and make some great friends, there is no better way than living and working abroad.

  1. April 27, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: