It's been three years since I left Japan to return to my home country of Canada. I lived in Japan for eleven years, more than a quarter of my life. That's a long time to live outside your home country. I got married in Japan, had a child in Japan, and had a job I loved in Japan. But why did I move back to Canada? There are several reasons, which I'll briefly touch, but it was a very difficult decision. It's a decision I still live with, and I've changed a lot as a person.
When you move to another country, you go through a period in your first year called "culture shock." There are different stages to culture shock:
1. The Honeymoon Stage
Most people call the first stage the honeymoon stage, because everything is new, you feel wonderful, a kind of euphoria. In my case, it felt like everything was surreal. It was like a dream. I was happy to discover all these new things. It was amazing.
2. The Crash
I like to call this stage the crash, because it feels like everything collapses around you. Others will call it the frustration, hostility, or irritation stage. I started to feel horrible. The biggest part of it was paranoia. I thought everyone was talking about me, as I didn't understand the language. I wanted to return to Canada. This happened about two months into my stay in Japan.
3. The Adjustment Stage
At this point, I started accepting my situation and tried to look for ways to feel better. I met new friends, I started going out and enjoying myself. I climbed Mt. Fuji. That was incredible. I was feeling much better. Not great, but better.
4. The Acceptance Stage
At this time, everything had become routine. My life. The remainder of my eleven years in Japan. In fact, Japan became home to me. I was a foreigner in the country, but I felt myself adapting to the culture. I even adopted Japanese mannerisms, such as bowing, and the grunt Japanese people use when they say "yes." When I visited Canada, people thought that behaviour was strange.
And here is where we were three years ago. In the video included in this article, I was one day from leaving Japan. I felt a lot of sadness. I didn't want to leave Japan. You see, returning to your home country after living abroad for so long has a profound effect on everything that you are. Japan was a country I was happy to spend the rest of my life in. But due to certain circumstances, my wife and I decided it was best that we raise our daughter in Canada. Mainly these had to do with cost of having children in Japan and the education system. We wanted our daughter to have an education that encouraged individuality and critical thinking. Japan's education system is focused on testing, rather than personal development. And so, we went to Canada, and I thought everything would be wonderful. It wasn't.
Moving back to your home country results in reverse culture shock. It's similar to culture shock, but reintegrating into your native culture is actually more difficult than moving to another country. Finding a job was difficult. Finding something I liked was difficult. Constant dissatisfaction with the culture I was born in was an issue. In fact, I'd been away from Canada for so long that my home country had changed significantly. It wasn't the same place I left. When I left Canada, food prices were fairly low, while it was expensive in Japan. When I left Japan, food was far more expensive in Canada than in Japan. Getting places was inconvenient. Having to deal with winter again was not something I looked forward to. The people had changed. Even housing was more expensive. The only things cheaper in Canada were education, health care, and gas. I was shocked.
It's now three years later. We recently had a trip to Japan where we had a wonderful time. It had me thinking about how I felt in both countries. What surprised me is that I found that I still haven't adjusted to life in Canada. The acceptance stage is elusive. In Japan, I felt at home. My mind is still adapted to life in Japan, not in Canada. Repatriation is probably the most difficult thing I've had to go through in my life. We plan on visiting Japan as often as possible, but I have a feeling that returning to Canada will continue to be difficult. At this stage, I don't know if I'll ever feel completely at home in Canada again.