Thank you!

It’s a classic for a reason. Hand-turkeys with my special education class. Here’s my turkey, because photos of students online is a cardinal taboo.

 

Expat Thanksgiving Survival Tips

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving when you live on the other side of the planet? When you’ve finished your dinner before your loved ones at home have even started cooking it? When most people around you don’t even know the word for “turkey” in their language? (Hint: shichimencho, or 7 faced bird, if you’re in Japan).

With such a family oriented holiday, it’s easy to get swept up in homesickness and forget all the things that we do have to be thankful living abroad. So, here are my tips for getting through Thanksgiving when you’re the only one celebrating it.

1. Start early! This past week has been completely Thanksgiving oriented, with Thanksgiving classes at school and a themed bulletin board. If you’re cooking, you’re going to have to start more than a week early, though. Start planning out the menu and looking for ingredients at least a month ahead because there’s a good chance you’ll have to be ordering some if you want to duplicate your home spread.

2. Spread the word! All of my students have been making hand turkeys and I’ve been talking it up with my friends and coworkers. Celebrating a holiday alone can be really lonely, so it’s important to make sure that people around you know about it, so at the very least they’ll understand why you’re leaving work a few minutes early to go get the turkey in the oven.

3. Get others involved! I like to bake an extra pumpkin pie a day early and bring it in for my coworkers. Most of them have never had traditional American pumpkin pie, and they enjoy trying it and sharing my culture with me. It also starts my holiday early and guarantees that I’ll be getting a lot of “Happy Thanksgivings!” throughout the work day.

4. Find the other expats! This one is pretty predictable, but even if you’re deeply immersed in your own community, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to connect with the other foreigners in your area. Besides, it’s much less work making one dish than ten!

So how am I celebrating? All my other JET Programme friends and I are heading out to a huge traditional Thanksgiving dinner! As a devoted food lover, I can tell you that I’ve been looking forward to this meal for at least a month. I’d promise pictures, but realistically the food will be in my stomach long before I remember to take my camera out!

Happy Thanksgiving!

4th of July in Okinawa

Living abroad has a lot of upsides. You get to grow familiar with a new culture, learn a new language, see the world. It’s an amazing experience, and if you have the opportunity, definitely go for it.

That being said, it can also be very isolating, and while social media has done a lot to shrink the world and make it easier to stay in touch with loved ones oceans away, it can also make things harder by barraging you every day of images of what you’re missing.

When I lived in the States, the 4th of July was always one of my favorite holidays. Barbecue, music, dancing, fireworks, and an amazing sense of community–what’s not to like? It’s also, obviously, a distinctly American holiday. It just isn’t celebrated anywhere else.

That’s why I was so happy this year to be invited to America for a 4th of July celebration. The U.S. Consulate in Naha, Okinawa, had a huge garden party, and because of my volunteer work, I was lucky enough to get an invitation!

A marine band kicked off the event, followed by the posting of the colors. Then the fun started, with a jazz trio, dancing, barbecue, dunking booth, and lawn games. It felt just like home, and was everything that my expat heart could have hoped for. Happy Birthday America!

 

Tokyo Tower

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Tokyo Tower on New Year’s Day!

Happy New Year

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(Chionin Temple, shortly after midnight)

Happy New Year!

The bells have been rung, the tangerines peeled and eaten. At midnight and the dark hours after, waves of people trek to their local shrines to pray for the new year. They toss coins in the temple donation boxes and buy omikuji, their fortune for the New Years. Bad luck gets tied to a tree or rope.

Venders set up stalls selling yakisoba, oden, karage, and other festival favorites. I waited in line to make my new year wishes, nibbling on a red bean paste taeyaki, while people watching with my little brother.

At midnight we surged forward, and the festivities began. This morning, while in a cab to Kyoto station to catch the Shinkansen to Tokyo, I could still see the lights from the stands. The streets were still crowded with celebrators.

And for the record, my luck is supposed to be relatively good next year, although my romantic relationships are expected to tank.