I love traveling and I love meeting new people. In fact, ever since I first jetted off to Egypt on my own, I was hooked. I still remember stepping off the plane for the first time and being hit with smells, sights and language that was so foreign to me. Everything was exciting and my senses were stimulated. I expanded my horizons.
When I had the chance to do teaching abroad with my university, I of course jumped at the chance! Teaching in Okayama for three months? I would be a fool to give up that opportunity! I worked hard and scored a scholarship to fund my travel. I hadn’t traveled in awhile and had started to feel anxious. I felt that adrenaline running through my veins once again. I felt alive again! Even though I was extremely busy in the months before my departure, I still had my itch to travel brewing.
Every experience I have traveling is worthwhile. I’m so grateful to meet people who are so different from me, yet still the same. One of the saddest parts of travel is having to leave those awesome new people you’ve met and the places you’ve come to love. If I stay a very long period, it is even sadder because I’ve fostered close relationships and settled down in my surroundings.
A temporary place is never home, but it sure feels like it sometimes. When I’m taking my walk after work or biking around Okayama, I think about how normal everything has become and how I take comfort in my surroundings. To some extent, this has become home for me. I established a routine and I rest my body in my apartment each night. I cooked my own food and lived as I usually do. I knew the people who worked in my local supermarkets and got used to waving to the neighbors when I saw them outside. Okayama was becoming my home.
My stay in Okayama has definitely been lonely at times. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Japanese is next to nothing and most Japanese people are very shy to speak English. Sometimes I felt totally isolated outside of work. One of the things that gave me strength each day was a little old lady who worked at the Hallows grocery store near my apartment. I would go there after work almost every night to check out the sale items and she would always be there. She did something that most people never did!
She tried to talk to me. In English? No. In Japanese! It didn’t matter to her that I spoke little to no Japanese or that she knew very little English. Every time I was in her line, she tried talking to me. They were short conversations with my broken Japanese, but they were sincere interactions. She made me feel less invisible. I looked forward to checking out in her line every day and felt sad when she wasn’t there.
When I left Okayama, I really wanted to visit the grocery store one last time and find her again. I wanted to tell her how much she helped me during my time here to feel less lonely. She may not even know how much of a comfort she was to me. Although we didn’t really know each other, I still felt close to her. I felt like I would miss her! When I went to that grocery store, she wasn’t there. I was devastated.
I still miss her. I wonder if she thought about me after that since she never saw me again coming into her store every night as usual. I still regret missing my last chance to tell her how much she helped me.