In 2010 I wrote a post for the TV3 blog (the blog for the Catalans abroad, of the Catalan National TV station). This post was a confirmation about ‘me’ crossing the “no-return point”, a point that if you cross it, you cannot make a roll back. The article was called “the no-return point“, and it has proven to be a “prediction” for my own future. I was unaware, at that time, but what I wrote would echo into my head when returning to Europe again and again. I was aware, since the moment in which I took the plane that I would find some issues when being, again, in Europe. But I did not imagine that the shock would be that hard. I will blog more about this, and the identity issues that are related to it, but for the moment, I will translate that prophetical post that I wrote, back in 2010.
I spent a total of 8 years living in Tokyo, and when I wrote this article it was only 6 years that I was there, and I had noticed that I had crossed the no-return point. These are words of “wisdom”. At that time I had no idea that, two years afterwards, I would encounter the shock of the decade while returning back to Europe. I did not return directly to Spain. My best friend, invited me to spend a month at her house, in Vienna (Austria), and since I knew that returning directly to Spain would be like a nuclear bomb for me and my family, I accepted her invitation. And yes, my first shock was in Vienna. “Back in Europe, 8 years after”. Even after writing the post that you are about to read, and kwowing what I knew, I was not sufficiently prepared for it. However, I must say that, if I had not been aware of this, I would have ended up with a huge depression myself. These words of wisdom, this awareness helped me a lot while experiencing “home” as an alien. There is nothing harder as to feel a true foreigner at home. And there is nothing as helpful as awareness and art (at least for me) in order to find your identity, not attached to a land, but attached to your real self.
2010: the no-return point
I’ve been living in Japan for six years making friends and watching them go back to their homes. Six years watching a type of incurable illness that all of them have: the no-return point. I’ve always asked myself what they meant when, in their messages, they complained telling me “if I had realized about that before”, or “if I had returned back earlier”, as if their illness would have no cure once they’d been infected. “I feel so lonely”, “no one understands me”, “I am a weirdo”, “I need to make foreigner friends asap”, are just a small example of the common sentences that I find in my messages.
No one talks openly about this illness with people that would not understand. In fact, it is like a taboo. Basically, you arrive to the conclusion that friends, family and home cat will never understand you. Once you’ve crossed the no-return point, you’re done. Really? But, is it so creepy to cross this point and have a bigger view about the world? Is it so creepy to become a “geek” or “nerd” for the rest? It depends on how you stare at your own, let’s say, “uprooting”, you can end up with a deeper or lighter depression; or you can simply accept that there is no roll back and use your tools to make for yourself a good place into your own culture and society.
Last year, when I came back home during holidays, I found out that there was something that “was odd” with me. In fact, I wrote a post about my feelings and the “funny things” that I encountered. “Too much contact with the Japanese”. It might be so. But those holidays just told me one thing: “baby, you’ve just crossed the no-return point”. It is a point that makes you talk and criticize your own country, and do the same with the natives of the place because of their narrow minded opinions and behaviors when they talk to you or they criticize your ways. But, why? Let’s analyze the facts.
- I live in an asian country with a culture which is at odds from ours. Even though some stuff might be similar, if we compare that with the European cultures, the difference is huge, and this makes that the newcomers adapt to it and change during time in a particular way. I don’t think this only happens with Japan; in fact, Korea or China might provoke a similar effect. This makes you adapt certain “different” customs and habits and that you finally adopt them as of your own (like walking too quickly, not being bothered while on a queue, to bow when I say “I’m sorry” without knowing that I am doing it, to talk in a too-low voice, etc).
- I am in constant contact with foreigners that have the same feelings I have. It doesn’t matter if they’re chinese, americans or french: we feel that we are a big family. Europe is just a big country for us, and the differences between us are just small. It is like, in a way, the world has shrunk.
- I am a polyglot. I speak Japanese and English; but as the time passed, I also added: french, italian… and the last on the list is a developing german.
- My friends are polyglots. Even the Japanese that I know are, as a minimum, bilingual. Most of people here talk between three and five languages. You need them to make contacts, to work or to simply make friends.
I am sure there are more things, but we’ll just take these as examples. Through time, these facts make you add to your personality certain uses and customs that reproduced in other places might be seen as weird. In fact, reproduced in any other environment are weird.
The most important fact it’s not in this list. The most important fact is life experience. The fact that many of my friends are “ill” and would like to return to Japan asap because they don’t feel okay at home, it is because no one understands them, etc, it’s not because they’ve added certain behaviors and customs or that they talk about things that nobody knows, or that people stares at them as if they were aliens. I believe that the most important fact that makes you cross or not the no-return point is your life experiences. While people back at home is subject to a certain group of experiences during a longer or shorter period in which you are not there, yours are different. Those experiences that people back at home have, are not as “odd” as the ones you can have abroad.
The life experience that you get while living abroad is a treasure if you know how to use it and not fall in a type of depression when returning back home. Too much time abroad can provoke depressions while coming back, specially if “no one understands you”. In homely terms, you are “uprooted”. To roll back means to lose all this acquired knowledge while living abroad. And it is from here that the discomfort appears when returning back home, and the strong will of wanting to go back abroad again.
Paradoxically, while you are abroad you are the most national of nationals that you can ever imagine. I had never defended Catalonia as I do now. I had never celebrated my own customs with such a feverish zeal. I had never tried to teach catalan to everyone I find as I do now. It can seem a paradigm, but the fact of being abroad and being surrounded by such a cultural variety makes you want to defend your land at all costs, even knowing that you are not the same. The fact of maintaining and teaching your culture makes that you don’t lose the connection to your roots. But this does not mean that you haven’t changed and that people at home looks at you out of the corner of their eyes.
Furthermore, when you go back home you don’t see your home. Why? Because the idea that you have about “my home” is the one that you left when you went abroad. Three years are enough for the social changes back at home make you uncomfortable when you decide to put foot on your land again. Many people may stare at you as if you were “an old lady” even though they see a young girl. But the amount of times that you can complain saying “before, I remember that”, or “before, we did that”, makes people of your own age reject you. It’s like a type of weird and involuntary exile.
Okay then, the experience that you have surviving in an alien territory is a tool that can come in handy once back at “home”, only if you are aware that you’ll always be an “alien”. Yes, it can seem hard or even odd, but you will be an alien back at your own home. You might have been born there, you might have been raised there, you might have your friends from childhood there, you might have your family there, and provably you might like to be buried there too; but the path that you chose years ago taking a plane to live abroad makes of you an alien on your own land.
I don’t think that crossing this no-return point is bad or counter-productive, but the contrary: it enriches you. I am a catalan with good luck. I can see beyond and I’ve taken those things that I like from other cultures and I feel satisfied. I speak many languages and I’ve had the opportunity to have wonderful experiences. I can connect with different people and feel myself, as I am, wherever I go, without the need of needing to be on a certain geographical location to find personal fulfillment. I’ve also learnt how to survive in difficult situations. And I am still in the first war row, with many other friends, till the day arrives to go back “home” and bring back on my shoulders part of my experience.
As a friend of mine would say, “you’ve become wise”.
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