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Tutor Zach McLaughlin 's Column

Living out of my comfort zone

Weekly Topic: Struggles you Experienced while Living Abroad

Montag, 3. Mai 2021, 04:59

I’ve lived most of my life in Ontario, Canada, but there certainly have been some adventures outside of my home province. The big struggle living in Lake Louise, Alberta was the -40°C winter weather (and the bear that sat beside the car for three hours one morning). I also lived briefly in the United States. The ‘struggles’ there were mostly wildlife-related, with cockroaches  in Louisiana and coyotes in Indiana. 


Although I haven’t lived in Japan, I did face some challenges during my two trips there. Somehow I managed to catch a cold both times I visited, but I blame the flight for that! 


I think the first big challenge was understanding the bathrooms! Bathrooms and toilets are very simple in Canada, but in Japan I struggled at first to figure out which button to push to flush the toilet. There were so many options! The first public restroom I used in Japan was at a Doutor cafe, and I think I spent almost five minutes trying to figure out all of the buttons! 


Later, the standard ‘home bathroom’ came as a shock when I realized that the whole room was a shower with a drain in the middle of the floor! It also took a while to get used to the ‘smart’ toilets that opened automatically and warmed up, as well as the seat-warmer stickers that some people put on their toilet seats. It was all very different from what I was used to in Canada!  


Another shock was when I bought happoshu by mistake thinking it was normal beer. I’d never seen or tasted anything like that! It doesn’t exist in Canada, and it was always a little difficult for me to identify which cans were happoshu, so I usually just bought the familiar brands to be sure I was getting ‘real’ beer. 


When walking around, I found that there were a lot of subtle elevation changes in Japan, and if I wasn’t careful, I would often trip on tiny steps or raised stones, especially in side-streets and in older areas. I guess that the elevations in Canada, such as sidewalks and steps, are very predictable and simple. It’s a tiny detail, but it literally tripped me up a few times!  


Finally, of course communication was a challenge. My Japanese is very basic, but one day when I was alone and wandering around Kabuki-za, I tried to talk to a vendor about the ‘kamon’ he was making. It turned out to be a complicated topic, and I had to give up because I couldn’t understand and I felt like I was wasting his time. 


Overall, I feel that my ‘struggles’ were not so bad, but rather interesting learning experiences, and now I have some funny stories to tell, too!


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