When Ben and I were headed to Japan, the range of reactions we were met with was fairly narrow, especially within age ranges.
Children below the age of six, had no concept of what we were doing. Culture, language, and moving are difficult concepts at that age. Children were either pro airplanes, or against airplanes, and that was as deep as it got for them.
I don’t know what people between the ages of six and twenty’s reaction to it would have been, I had no one in that age range to talk it over with.
People between the ages of 20-28 were Ben and my peers. Many of our friends had either been off on their own adventure, or were planning one. They were supportive, and excited, but didn’t offer much advice (I think most people in that age range who have done this sort of adventure realize how much they did the hard way, and how unqualified they are to help even each other). The people who had not been on their own adventure, or were not interested, were the most confusing to me. Some of them found dozens of ways to ask why we would do it, implying they didn’t get the point. Others were open with the fact they were scared, but wished us luck.
People between the ages of 28-45 were the most helpful on this matter. They had excellent advice, amusing stories of their own adventures, or their friends adventures, and were very enthusiastic about the value of travel. They had many difficult questions, like Why Japan? How long? and What are you going to do when you get back? I still can’t answer Why Japan? Though I think it was an excellent choice, and will forever love this country. What are you going to do when you get back? Is the question that keeps me up at night, Ben and I have our life planned out for the next year, work at whatever job we can until August then move to Spain. After Spain, I really have no clue. Some people in this age group expressed regret for not traveling before having kids, others reminded me just how hard it is to travel with kids. This was the age group with the least resistance.
Ages 45 and up had the most trepidations. They asked legitimate questions like, Is this a good career move?, and Will you be safe?. They were also the ones who were to most afraid of the prospect of us getting homesick. I think this consensus was less due to age than what they were brought up with. Younger generations had the technological advantage of internet, moving to a new country no longer means expensive communication, or long periods between correspondences. I can also easily keep up what’s happening back home, watch American Television, and check what my friends have been up to on Facebook. The people of this age group often remarked how brave it was to move abroad. I think if they had done it at my age they would have been remarkably brave, but in the age of technology I think it is just adventurous. My mom tells me about going to New Zealand for six months when she was a little younger than me, all on her own. She was only able to make one phone call home during that time, which cost a lot of money. Her American credit card was useless over there, so she had to work for food and housing. She went about the country on her own. I’m not sure I could have gone abroad in her same situation, and certainly not alone.
Now here’s the thing, when you return from another country, it can be a shock to the system. On my shorter trips abroad, I felt that I had learned and grown into a nearly new person. I have been gone a year, to a country so different from home it seems weird to me that I adapted. My opinions on things I had no-idea I had opinions on have changed dramatically (living in a community driven society will change you). When you return from abroad, people tend to care for a day or so, even your best friends and family mostly want you to shut up after that.
When I was 15, I had the opportunity to go on a summer abroad through Rotary International. It was an amazing opportunity. I remember at training, they told us about the different stages of depression, and excitement associated with going abroad for a year (nearly everyone gets homesick about 2 months in). They told us that the emotional highs and lows don’t end with your immediate return, the first week or two, everything will be exciting again, and people will be excited to see you. After that, you are expected to slip back into a normal life, expected to get back to work, expected to “Just hang out”. People never think about what you might miss about the countries you’ve stayed abroad in, and forget that there was another place you called home.
I’m actually really afraid the post excitement period once we get home. I like who I am now, healthier, more active, more patient, and a hundred other things, I’m so afraid I’ll lose these traits that I respect in myself. I have lived in Japan, and become partially Japanese, I know that I will never be able to say that to people at home, as I am a born and raised Caucasian American, but I like the parts of me that have become Japanese and don’t want to let them go.