Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Expatriate Holidays

Lately I keep thinking of my first holiday in Japan. I arrived mid-November 2002, and by the time Thanksgiving arrived I had been in my office for about a week. I was in shock because of the huge change I had gone through, and I was sad because my only American friend lived in a different city, my shipment of household goods was lost somewhere in the Sea of Japan, and I was living in Hotel Shit. It was a really rough time.

The day before Thanksgiving we were all running around at the banking center trying to get the work done early. Everyone had to run home to cook for big groups of people, so we wanted to wrap things up as quickly as possible. I remember that everyone was excited and there was a lot of laughing. I helped the staff get the reports done and then one by one they raced out of the door. I remember the door closing when the last person (the manager) left, and I can still feel what it was like to sit down at my desk and cry. I felt really alone. I was really alone. About two minutes later, I heard the bank door open and I quickly wiped my tears away and tried to pull it together. It was the bank manager (my employee), and she peeked into my office and said, "Someone invited you for dinner, right? You have an invitation for tomorrow, don't you?" It was so depressing. I just dismissed her saying, "Yes, of course." She said, "Good!" and flew back out of the bank.

It was a dumb question that she asked. And I felt even worse after she asked it. I had been in the city for about a week. Who would have invited me to dinner? I didn't have an invitation, and I remember that I spent the day alone in my office doing some required computer-based training. I wish I could say that Christmas was different, but it wasn't.

The holidays are depressing here and it's easy to get down. I don't generally get calls from friends and family because I'm a day ahead, so my Thanksgiving isn't their Thanksgiving. That isn't to say that I'm not loved -- I returned home from my TAD last night to a mail box overflowing with boxes and letters. It felt awesome. No one gets more happiness out of a letter than I do. But my job is different than some expatriates who have groups of peers around. My Division has 13 expats around the globe and none are in my area. It's isolating, and never more so than right now.

So the holidays here are hard. And they're not over yet.

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