M.E. asks from Chicago, IL on April 29, 2007
Living in a Foreign Country
We are thinking about moving our family to Tokyo for 2 years. we have a third grader and incoming K. Work pays for an English speaking school and housing, but this will be a big transition. Has anyone moved to a foreign country with small children? We're concerned about feeling isolated because of the language barrier. We will both take Japanese, however, we will not tackle reading, which will make it hard to read signs, etc. Concerned that everyday will be a struggle.
J.M. answers from San Francisco on May 01, 2007
Hi, I have never lived in a foreign country, but I did recently visit Japan. Although I did not bring my son with me I thought I might be able to give you a little insight. I was in Osaka for 5 days. The people there are very friendly, and although there are not many that speak english, I found that they were eager to help the best they could. I learned a few key words like "hello", "bathroom" and "thank you". I carried around a cheat sheet in order to ask for specific things. If I needed directions people would always draw me a map. I did hear that if you really want to learn some Japanese that you should start at least 6 months before you go. There are also a lot of really good translation books out there.
As far as getting around the city, one day I decided to walk around by myself, Osaka is a big city like Tokyo, so I asked for directions to a store a few miles from my hotel. The girl at the desk gave me a map, all in Japanese of course (kanji), and she drew my course from the hotel to the store I needed to find. As I started out I thought that I was definately going to get lost, but as I walked I realized that as long as I stayed on the bigger streets I was OK. I also noticed that all I had to do to figure out which streets were which was to match the characters on the map to the street signs. Although I couldn't read the street names, it didn't matter because by matching the characters I new which street was which. Also a lot of the bigger street names are written in english letters, so that was helpful too.
Another thing about Osaka is that it is very flat, bicycle friendly and foot friendly. A lot of buses and underground subways, and I even heard about a bullet train that travels really fast! My point is that it is pretty easy to get around, especially the more you go out.
One thing I strongly suggest is familiarize yourself with Japanese food. I don't mean go out and eat at Japanese restaurants, I mean read books that can give you info. about traditional Japanese food, and what kinds of American foods are available. There are a lot of American fast food restaurants in Japan, and there are also a lot of American type convenience stores like am/pm. But I don't recommend living on that sort of food. There is a lot of really good authentic Japanese food, and some restaurants even will offer menues in English. If you're living there though I'm sure you're going to need to shop at grocery stores sometimes. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the food that they offer so that you can make the best of your experience there. I found a really good book, I think at Barnes and Noble or Borders, called "World Food Japan" by Lonely Planet. It even has really helpful phrases as well as a English-Japanese Glossary and a culinary dictionary in the back of the book. It's even a pretty small book, and only cost $13.99!
I'm sure you will still be nervous until you actually get there and realize it's not as scary as it seems. In regards to being isolated, it sounds like you will be able to meet other families that you will be able to communicate with. If the children will be in an english speaking school or program, then it sounds like you will have the opportunity to meet other families that you can relate to and may even be able to show you around. I think you will find that this will be an experience of a lifetime! I know I did! I hope this was helpful for you, good luck! The flight is long but well worth it!
S.H. answers from San Francisco on May 01, 2007
It may be hard but there will be engish on the signs. I have lived in Taiwan and been to China. My parents took me when I was 13. That was hard for me since I had alot of friends and things going on in school. But I got to learn alot where my parents are from. They enrolled me in a tutoring class to learn Chinese. It will be a BIG change but it will be fun. And I think your kids will be fine since they are younger. I recommend younger then older.
M. answers from Las Vegas on May 01, 2007
Hi M.! My husband's father was a commercial pilot and so he went wherever the job market took him. My husband lived in Saudi Arabia from 1 - 10 years old, then came back to the states for a year and then on to Singapore for high school. He went to American schools wherever he lived. His only regret is that he never really learned another language. Other than that he would recommend that lifestyle to anyone. He really wants our daughter to experience overseas living. Also, just to let you know, the whole family made friends from both countries that they lived in and after 10 and 20 years of leaving those countries, they are still in close contact with all of them. Go for it, you'll never regret it!
J.E. answers from Los Angeles on April 30, 2007
You should enroll your kids in a Japanese speaking school. Your girls will pick it up in months and will fit in just fine. At that age kids are less harsh on "the new kid" and they will learn from the experience.
good luck and konichiwa
V.G. answers from San Diego on May 01, 2007
I say go for it! You will be amazed at how quickly you will learn things especially when you don't intend to! It is an opputrunity for your children to learn about culture! Which I personally think is an amazing gift! It teaches them tolerance of other cultures which so few people have anymore! it will be hard at first, but bare in mind that you make it what it is. Make the best of it!
R.W. answers from Las Vegas on April 30, 2007
My husband moved to Spain when he was about 2 so his mom could do her masters degree in Spanish. They were going for 2 years and ended up there until he was about 11. He would love to do it again with our family and talks about it often. There are a lot of pluses. It lets you experience culture in ways you never would before. I would have them in schools that teach them Japanese. Kids can saturate themselves in a foreign language. You would be surprized how many people speak English. It seems in America we are lacking in second language skills, but in other countries most kids learn English side by side with their language, not all but it is more and more common. When I visited Asia it seems I could usually find someone who spoke English, and if not well you played the sharades game and hope t comes out right. Ordering food at a resteraunt it hardest but maybe stick to hotel resteraunts for a while and there you can learn a lot because they will always have English either on the menus or at least have people who can interpret! I would take the adventure and run with it. The kids arent babies. My husband is bilingual and was very glad for the experience. Just if you do go, don't isolate yourself becasue of the fears that would be no fun, make sure the kids get to experience as much as they can!! Hope that helps!! :)
J.A. answers from Los Angeles on April 30, 2007
How Awesome that you can have SUCH an experience. You said that they’ll pay for an English school; will they pay for an English tutor, so you can home-school? If so, you can “join” your kids in class for two years, allowing you to learn more about the culture hands on, and what GREAT memories to share for a life time! If you like the idea, I hope it works out for you. Enjoy this excellent expierince. I’M JEALOUS! :O) -J
C.N. answers from San Luis Obispo on April 30, 2007
Good Grief !! Then learn to read the signs, for heaven's sake. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the world and its people. Your children will benefit greatly. You know how to make friends here - you do it the same way over there, you show interest in them and try to learn as much Japanese as you can, they do speak English too. Have a great experience - I am sure that you will travel to other Asian nations too. The chance of a lifetime . Go For it. C. N.