Ten and a half months later

First post in almost a year, but let’s just jump right in, shall we? My pension refund came in over the weekend. Although pension contributions were taken out of all my paychecks while I lived in Japan, the government is kind enough to return that money to me once I prove that I have left the country and will not be growing old there and recouping those expenses. However, the refund was also taxed, which means I have to send in one last form in order to reclaim the taxed portion.

This means I have just dug up the forms and instruction packets from one year ago that I filled out in English and Japanese and dutifully copied and saved. Looking at the Japanese words in my handwriting brings back to me all the work that I did in figuring out this pension refund procedure. The most memorable part was a sunny bike ride (how I miss my bike!) to the tax office: my vice principal let me leave school to do it, and it felt for all the world like playing hooky (I’ll admit that I stopped for a pastry at the train station on the way back).

What made life in Japan so difficult is also what made it so amazing: I was completely on my own. Expat life presents a lot of problems and obstacles, and although what I focused on at the time were the failures (to assimilate, to befriend coworkers, to communicate perfectly), there were also a lot of successes. I paid bills. I bought food. I filed for a pension refund. And I overcame those obstacles, large and small, more or less by myself.

The concentration of problem-solving experiences in my life here in the United States is simply not as high as it was in Japan, and I think I’ve figured out that that is what I miss so deeply: the feeling of figuring things out by myself. And at the same time, I realize it’s good that I left when I did. I may never experience self-reliance quite as challenging and rewarding as that which came with living abroad. But I cannot recreate the exhilarating independence that I felt in Japan without also returning to the overwhelming isolation and disconnectedness.

I guess what I have to do, now that I’m back, is to set lofty, difficult goals to ensure that I have problems to solve and successes to rack up. Sure, I’m in my home country with a network of friends and family to support me, so the successes won’t be as dramatic. But I have to try, right? 🙂


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