This is ALSO a post about our trip to Germany and England, but this is specific about ONE THING that happened while we were there, and not about just being out of the country in general.
It wasn’t so easy to see everyone, but it was definitely worth the effort.
I think that something that happens, too often, is that we get stuck in a routine, and surrounded by the same people. There is nothing wrong with routine or having good friends, but it can be good to step outside of that to get a different perspective on things.
We had to talk about ourselves a LOT while we were out there, because everyone just about always asks the same questions. And if you can make it past that point of small talk and into a normal conversation, then you might learn something. In our work, we don’t talk about ourselves very often, and we never really get that far into an actual conversation with our students. So it’s not so often that we actually talk about the things going on in our lives.
We’ve been here in Japan, working for 2 years. And we’ve gotten into the swing of our very busy, but lucrative (to a point) Japanese lifestyle. We have an odd schedule, and only take off Mondays and Tuesdays. The only people we can really see are other teachers whom we’ve met at work, who have similar schedules to our own.
This is where the echo chamber starts. Everyone we know who speaks English (aside from a few random friends) works for the same company as us. Which means they all have the same problems with their job, make about the same money, and work similar hours to us. Yeah, everyone is an individual snowflake and all that, but we are all in this ship together, and have a very similar experience of work in Japan.
So when we get together with said colleagues, we tend to talk about the same thing: work. It always devolves into coworkers, gossip and who is moving where next month, but it’s never really outside of that box.
And that’s ok. That’s our shared experience, and it’s the thing we have in common that we can talk about all night.
It’s also one of the major topics between Mark and I at home, since we share the same job and coworkers.
So all of our free time is spent bitching about not having enough free time, how to make or save more money, how to improve our situation, etc.
An issue here is that Mark and I are basically the same person. We think the same, feel the same, even come to the same random conclusions. So when we are talking or complaining about something, we generally come around to the same possible solutions. When you’re in the same job with the same coworkers and see it from the same perspective, of course it’s all going to be the same.
So imagine that most of our vacations are spent on our own, with no one to talk to but each other. The echo chamber just keeps going around and around.
I’m saying all of this to explain what happened when we got out of the new country and into our old ones. Especially in Germany, we got to talk to our friends who are also our ex-coworkers. While some of them have moved on to bigger and better (and in some cases, more dangerous) things, some are still working at the same company and doing the same things. Which is fine and great for them.
But when we got there, and started telling them about our jobs, their reactions were different. Maybe our parents don’t understand this job the way that our friends do. But since our friends are doing something similar, they spot the differences immediately. Differences (and issues) that our coworkers in Japan might not notice or even think about.
To be honest, I don’t even remember all of the ideas that got thrown out in our conversations. But being back there in Germany, the land of 24 days required-by-law vacation and no work on weekends, really helped me get my older perspective back.
When we moved to Japan, most of our time was spent trying to ‘get everything right’ and get into a schedule, a pattern, a way to live our lives. We weren’t so concerned about HOW MUCH MORE we were working than in Germany, because we expected that. But when you have to tell your friends that you work 10 hours each day, 5 days a week, and are totally exhausted on your days off so you just lay around all day, you realise just how shitty it all sounds.
And talking to my friends about their hopes for work in the future, what they want to do, really helped me too. One of my friends and I talked about ‘helping people’ and what that could turn into as a job. It reminded me that what I love most is to help others, and that’s ultimately why I’m a teacher now (still).
Talking to them about the things I COULD do, SHOULD do to regain my free time and be happier in my work was the best thing for me. It was so helpful for me to be able to bounce ideas off of them, and get their opinions.
At the same time, talking to them about THEIR work and what they want to do really inspired me to make the changes for myself as well.
So even though it was a trip to catch up with friends and see them again, it was also much-needed, in terms of remembering why I love what I do, what I want to do, and why we are all friends.
It’s so easy to get sucked into a cycle when everyone around you is doing the same thing. I would venture to say that this is one of the major reasons that the business culture in Japan IS what it currently is. It’s important to get out, get away, and get a fresh perspective once in a while. It helps us to think differently and maybe come up with some things we hadn’t thought of yet.
I’m so glad we made the trip down to Germany to see our friends. I think I really needed it, a lot more than I had initially thought.