It’s late July as I haul my bags through Tokyo’s train system. Japan is experiencing a heat wave, the hottest in decades, and today is 36 degrees. I’m sweating an embarrassing amount as I bare the weight of my backpack and duffle bag — the rest of my luggage has already been stored at the airport, thank God.
I’ve gotten to know the trains over my three months living here, so the journey goes pretty smoothly. When I change at Shinjuku, a station that once terrified me, I feel proud of how we’ve somehow become friends. The craziness here is comforting for a moment; I know I’ll miss the anonymity of it.
It’s been almost two years since I lived in Canada. The decision to go home took a long time to come to. I made a great life for myself teaching English in Asia… in Vietnam, and then in Japan more briefly. I belonged to a community in both places full of people like myself: people who want to experience the world, people who can’t sit still very easily. I ate a ridiculous amount of incredible food. I immersed myself in two new cultures. I travelled often.
Yet, somehow, I wanted to go home.
My friends abroad didn’t really understand it. To many of them, this life was their new life and would be their life until further notice. I found this hard to grapple with: the fact that even though I loved my experiences so much, I wasn’t willing to commit to this lifestyle so fully as the others around me. This seemed to call my love for this lifestyle into question. It also made me feel like a bit of a quitter.
On the day that I left Tokyo, I kept noticing how numb I felt. I remember listening to sad songs, trying to evoke some kind of appropriate emotion. Where was my dramatic moment? I kept thinking, ‘any time now, it’ll sink in.’ Uncharacteristically for me, no tears were shed. Partly, this was due to how surreal the life change felt. But I think it was also because the change felt right. I was content with my decision.
There’s something addictive about putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Once you’ve overcome the challenge of a language barrier or a culture shock, you feel a unique sense of accomplishment. It’s not only a beam of pride, but also a taste of freedom — the feeling like, ‘if I can do that, I can do anything.’ To me, this was one of the most gratifying aspects of living abroad.
But it was also exhausting.
Moving home, I wondered if I’d notice a change in myself. I have. I take note of green space and clean air. I appreciate going to the grocery store and understanding everything there. I like being on the same time zone as parents. I realized that I really, really missed chatting with strangers. Travel can not only provide you with an incredible, eye-opening experience at the time, but it can also leave you with a new lens through which you see your home. This is something I’ve learned to embrace.
A question I often get is “are you home for good?” and I don’t know how to answer. I mean...no. I know I will continue to value travel and to prioritize it. Long term travel has changed the way I think about my life and career. I want to be a freelancer so that I can pick up and leave whenever I want to, because I know that at some point I’ll want to. But for now I’m soaking in everything I missed — from obscure Superstore chip flavours to old friends.