I understand that this article might not share a mutual interest with everyone at this school, as – to my initial surprise – roughly 30% of the students here have lived in Japan for the majority of their lives. Yet, being in an international school, many of us share a similar experience – a challenge that we’ve had to overcome: the move from the comfort of our homeland to the Land of the Rising Sun.

I experienced this….we’ll call it flummoxed excitement – a little over 3 years ago when my family abruptly moved to Japan from our hometown of Alexandria, Virginia (which, for those of you not well versed with US geography, is a ~ 30-minute car trip from Washington DC). I’m sure some of you have become accustomed to the prospect of spending a few years in a country and then moving on to the next place your parent’s job takes you. I, however, only have the memory of living in two houses in my life: that stoic, brick house back on Godfrey Avenue, and the concrete slab hidden within the suburbs of Shibuya, where my family currently resides. This transition for me was, to put it lightly, nightmarish, and frankly, why wouldn’t it be when you and your 5 siblings are thrust into an alien world. The shock of merely relocating to a different state would have been enough bewilderment for our oversized family, but, to put it into modern jargon, we went from 0 to 100 REAL quick. We were swept into the bustle of Tokyo, a virtual opposite of the tranquil Virginian suburbs we’d grown accustomed to over the past 11 years.

Being 13 at the time, I was brainwashed by the excitement of having 14 hours of airplane-movie-time, so I had trouble grasping the reality of my situation. I knew that I missed my friends, had forgotten my second favorite baseball hat at my house, and could currently watch Iron Man 40,000 feet above the ground so… Safe to say I wasn’t really aware of how much my life was about to change. It didn’t really hit me until we got on the 7 AM airport bus, going from Haneda airport to our interim hotel. I remember, vividly, looking out of the window, seeing the silhouette of Tokyo Tower, and thinking to myself, “Where am I?” My parents were continually encouraging us with excitement to “Look at the new city!”   

I couldn’t focus. All I was thinking was that I wanted to go back to that house on Godfrey Avenue. The only comfort I had was seeing a few signs with small bits of English hidden under the bizarre hieroglyphics.  

Many, if not most of you understand this feeling; the pure disorientation of moving to a place as frantic as Japan. I was compelled to write on this topic, not as an effort to gain sympathy, but rather to appeal to the many of (us) who have been put through similar experiences. For some, this transition may have been smoother, possibly having local relatives or prior knowledge of the language/culture, and for many, it may have been even more difficult. Our family, in particular, was saved by my dad’s ability to speak Japanese, which we more than took advantage of. This also served as a source of entertainment, as we often chuckled at the dumbfounded look on the local’s faces when a white guy with 6 kids was able to converse with them fluently. But I digress.

My point is all of us who’ve been put through and overcome this challenge have matured greatly, and, in the meantime, have merited a killer college essay topic. So, for the ones still fighting through this transition, you’ll get through it. Basking in a pool of self-pity is only going to drag you down and prevent you from capitalizing on all that Japan has to offer. I lived in the same neighborhood, with the same friends, and the same pastimes for 11 years, and now, after being in Japan for a little over 3 years, I’m not sure if I’d choose to move back.


“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

“All things are difficult before they are easy.”   Thomas Fuller


Article by Andrew Patton