I’ve done a few programmes like JET now; stuff where you’re in an unfamiliar environment, working in exotic locales (or, at least, more exotic than where you’d normally be) and generally away from the life you knew for quite a long period of time. Inevitably, people get misty-eyed and want to return.
I always tell them that this is a bad idea.
There are some very obvious reasons for this: cost, disgusting airline food and diminishment of precious time off being among the more practical; increased homesickness, terrible nostalgia and seeing how well your friends are getting on without you constituting the more emotional. I’m not going to pretend there are no advantages at all (my parents have a bathtub I can actually sit down in) but on the whole I think it’s better to save yourself the heartache. Let sleeping dogs lie.
Which is, of course, to reveal that I went home. Twice. The first time, I returned to Melbourne, where I used to live; I thought this would be okay, as I wasn’t there for very long the first time, but the city felt so familiar and welcoming that almost immediately I realised I’d broken my own rule.
The second time, I went back to what would more classically be called my home, that is to say my parents’ house. This is definitely in defiance of the rule. In my defense, my sister was getting married, so I didn’t just jaunt back for the hell of it. I won’t talk about the wedding here, because that’s personal and probably pretty tedious to people who don’t know my sister, i.e. this magazine’s intended audience.
What I want to talk about is how this has affected my attitude towards my life in Japan. Going back to Melbourne definitely made me want to live there again. I have quite a few friends there, the city is eminently livable (as polls keep proving, time and again) and I feel a kind of synergy with the place- its vibe gels with mine.
Going back to England was different because I didn’t have as long and most of my friends there are much more spread out. I got to see fewer than half the people I would have liked and I spent almost the entire time travelling to see people, spending a couple of hours in their company and then heading somewhere else to see some other people. But I felt welcome and I had fun, and it certainly reminded me of the creature comforts of living in my mother country.
And now, back at work, I feel slightly like I’m watching my life through a telescope. I imagine this will fade eventually and I’ll get back into my routine but it certainly reinforces to me the idea that Hyogo doesn’t really feel like home (as lovely as it is) and that my life in Japan is temporary. To quote Belleville Rendezvous, “I won’t be an old man in Singapore, playing scrabble and eating petits-fours” (I am aware Singapore is not in Japan, honestly I just like the rhyme).
So, then, how long to stay? That is the question. I don’t want to let a few trips back sway my judgement- to holiday and to live are two drastically different things. I have to consider things like money, money and money. But I think that ultimately the decision will have to be an economic one.
I don’t want to romanticise life in Melbourne or in England, but that’s hard to do when trips there feel so warm and natural. Being away from home is difficult enough, without flying visits making you want to stay longer and so, dear readers, I implore you: don’t go home, it just makes things more difficult. Unless you’re unlike me and can deal with saudade.