Before I moved to Japan I had never been out of the United States. In fact, for most of our marriage my husband and I lived on the least-exotic military base you could possibly imagine. Surrounded by fast food, gas stations advertising payday loans and car dealerships touting zero credit checks, life was virtually devoid of cultural stimulation, unless you counted the local strip club's annual Cinco de Mayo guacamole wrestling.
Finally, after almost five years in this wasteland, my husband got orders for Japan. I was ecstatic. As I packed our home into a storage unit (pack it, store it, burn it, I don't care just get me the hell out of here), I felt certain that this was going to be a life-changing experience on par with Lost in Translation or Eat Pray Love. I was going to go to museums, learn the language and meet new people. I would walk everywhere, become fluent in Japanese and eat nothing but fresh fish, local vegetables and sushi. Gwyneth Paltrow would come to me for advice on how to be thin, beautiful and healthy and I would give it to her. After three years abroad I would return to the states a new woman, filled with the confidence of someone who knows her true calling in life. Yes, this move was going to change everything.
And at first it really was idyllic. We got a house a few feet from the sea, I snorkeled for the first time in my life and everything was new and exciting, until it wasn't. A month after we arrived my husband left for training and the rain season began. One particularly bad day I got stuck in a downpour while walking home from the store. As I juggled my bulging bags and cursed my luck, I watched an old Japanese woman in a trucker hat cross the street on her bike, seemingly unfazed by the torrents of water hitting us both in the face. I started to slip on the slick pavement and as I steadied myself I squinted to read the woman's hat. There, emblazoned in red block letters: ASSHOLE. And suddenly, that's exactly what I felt like.
I moved here full of unrealistic expectations and hopes for what awaited me. I pinned all my dissatisfaction on a place, only to discover that a world away the feeling remained because it was within, not around me. Letting go of the fantasy life I had promised myself was a bitter pill to swallow, but ultimately freed me from living in a state of suspended animation. I had somehow become an observer of my own life, waiting in the wings for better things to come.
Living abroad is what you make of it: A new setting, a new experience and perhaps a new perspective, but the same you. Whether you're singing karaoke with Bill Murray, meditating with monks in India or standing in the checkout of a Piggly Wiggly, wherever you go, there you are. So be happy being you.