People come to live in Okinawa for various reasons: a military PCS, a new job, school, or maybe a relationship. The thing that brings you to the island can greatly influence your experience, and ultimately your attitude towards living here. Another important factor is pre-departure expectations; whether it’s hearing of another’s experience, receiving advice from fellow expats in Okinawa, or reading information online, it’s easy to start forming an image of what life in Okinawa will be like, long before arriving.
Information is a good thing, and being well-prepared for your transition to the Far East is wise. However, there’s a difference between planning for the essentials AND creating your entire experience before it happens. Being self-aware is key to avoiding the latter.
Easier said than done, right? Right!
Why is this?
Relocating to a foreign country is a huge transition that brings overwhelming uncertainty; the bigger the transition, the more uncertainty there is. With more uncertainty, comes more fear and stress.
What’s the most common reaction to a situation like this? To counterbalance the uncertainty with certainty.
This counterbalancing technique is helpful when it includes things like: “Where will I stay before finding an apartment?”; “How much cash do I need?”; “Where will my kids go to school?”; “How much Japanese do I need to learn?”
But, sometimes, we go too far: “Island life is going to be stress free!!”; “I’ve heard Okinawa is boring. It’s going to be a long 2 years!”
Notice, it’s not just a negative image of life in Okinawa we should be concerned of, but an overly positive one, as well. Thinking that all of our problems will be left behind is just as dangerous as anticipating a dreadful island existence.
So, how do we deal with the unnerving sense of uncertainty?
First, the goal should never be to eliminate the fear altogether. To do this would mean to lose the driving force that keeps us alive. We want to maintain a certain level of this fear, as it motivates us to plan for the things we really need to plan for.
At the same time, we don’t want the fear to be so strong that we are paralyzed, either.
The trick is to find a balance between the two.
So, when reading articles about Okinawa or talking to someone who has already been living here, try to ask yourself, “What’s my goal?” “Am I planning for an essential, or trying to predict the unpredictable.”
If planning turns into imagination and prejudgments, be sure to acknowledge it. Put words to what you’re mind is doing: “I’m trying to predetermine what my experience in Okinawa will be. Do I really know what it will be like? Does this friend already living in Okinawa know what my experience will be? Is this productive?” OR “There I go again, I’m trying to create imaginary certainty during a very uncertain phase in my life.”
Pay attention to the thoughts and emotions that come up. Don’t try to get rid of any or judge yourself for them either. Just watch them. They will come and go like they always do.
It’s not the existence of these thoughts you need to be concerned about; it’s not having awareness of their existence that’s of concern.
We are not responsible for the thoughts that pop up in our minds; we are only responsible for what we do with the thoughts.
Do we ignore them and try to act like they don’t exist? Do we not even see them because we are too caught up in them?
When we’re not even aware of being caught up in our prejudgments or wild, imaginative thoughts, we are the most vulnerable; thoughts have more control and take us where they want.
If our thoughts take control over us, it doesn’t matter where we are relocating to, it’s sure to be a confusing place.
So, what’s it like living in Okinawa?
For you? I don’t know. I just know what Okinawa is like for me; today.
Soak up the logistical information of settling here. And always be skeptical of the people who tell you what life will be like in Okinawa for you; this includes yourself.