It seems a bit crazy to think that exactly twenty years ago, I was ringing in a new century at the top of a sky scraper in India. I was spending a year in Japan teaching English as a participant of the JET Programme, and during the winter break, a friend of mine and I traveled in India for three weeks. Later, during spring break, I went with a group of people to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in the Philippines. I was twenty-eight years old.
When I returned home, I got a job in the International Affairs office of a local university. I remember reading a faculty member’s article about students studying abroad, which I never did — both my sojourns overseas were through work programs — but I remember reading that the memories of an experience like this stay more vivid than all the other memories in your life. This is because you are somewhere so different — literally everything in your daily life is different — so these images, feelings and experiences stay with you longer. It’s like a gift that keeps giving.
I can say that this is 100% true. I can remember many things about my year abroad, yet the years since then have blurred together. My husband will say, “Remember when we did this?” and I can’t remember! My memories from high school and college are also vague. Of course, I have many good memories from these times and other periods of my life, but they just aren’t as vivid as the memories from my time in Japan, India and the Philippines.
If you or your children ever get an opportunity to study abroad or work abroad, I would say that you shouldn’t pass up the chance. Actually living in a different culture — not just visiting it — can be an eye-opening experience. My year in Japan was a turning point in my life. I learned so much about myself, my culture, and the whole world, and what I learned still informs my decisions today. It made me wiser, more compassionate, more aware of other people’s sufferings, and I gained a tremendous amount of confidence. Though I think I was too shy and insecure to do my best while teaching and living in Japan, I was very surprised that when I returned home, I was a much more confident person, more outgoing, and less shy in my own culture. That was a surprising outcome for me.
At the New Year I usually reflect on our past year, and I see many people reflecting on this past decade. Indeed, so much has happened to me in this decade! But the other day I realized it has been twenty years since I lived in Japan, and I wanted to write about it. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. Maybe that’s because the memories remain in the forefront of my mind, or maybe it’s because living abroad was one dream I managed to make come true.
When I returned from Japan twenty years ago, I could have never predicted where I would be today. Where were you twenty years ago? Could you have predicted where your life would be today?
Twenty years ago, I did not even have a digital camera. The images you see here are scanned images of print photos. I took many photos on my journey. I guess I should scan them all someday!