Category Archives: Japan

Life Abroad in the Military

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Let’s take a quick trip across the world to learn an interesting perspective about life abroad in the military. I asked my cousin, Michael Spoelstra, who is a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and based in Okinawa, Japan, to provide us with insights about living as an expat deployed in Japan. He provides a thoughtful and honest perspective about the challenges of living abroad. Thank you, MP (my nickname for him!), for writing for inspirNational!

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Photo Credit: Michael Spoelstra


 

It is difficult to put together the sentiments one feels. I think there are stages people experience in being removed from what they’ve been so accustomed to, so I’ll try to address the three stages which I’ve experienced – the Vacation, the Rut, and Reality.  Keep in mind this disclaimer; my experience is not the same of the typical traveler.  I had no choice where I ended up, due to military orders, nor any say in the duration of my tour.  I’m also writing this on a birthday, alone, on a grey, gloomy day – so some context may shed light on the tone of this post.

Stage one, in relocating to Okinawa, Japan is the Vacation phase.  I am approximately 7,307 miles, 14 hours in time zone, and thousands of years steeped in culture away from home.  Fighting through jet lag one is overwhelmed by the alien feeling of it all.  The sun feels different.  Flora and fauna are different.  The stars in the night sky seem rearranged.  And for once in my life – I am the one who is different.

Excitement courses through your veins – you want to try all the food, you want to see all the cultural sites, you want to engage these strange new people.  The deeper, more complex human needs are shelved while you figure out how to get places, what your routine is, how to stay out of trouble, who to go to for help…etc etc etc.  This phase lasts approximately 3-4 weeks, or as some say, long enough to break a habit.  Stage one is a “yes” stage, a stage overflowing with optimism, opportunity, and adventure.

A routine is developed, novelty erodes and a foreign national enters into the Rut phase, developing a deeper understanding of where they fit in this new culture, and what’s expected of them.  This second stage is highlighted (or low lighted) by the fact that a routine is developed.  Loved ones from home message less – the novelty has worn off that you are away and messaging is inconvenient and sporadic.  The time difference is most debilitating.  Everything familiar that you followed back home is on an opposite schedule.  The distance you feel isn’t just physical, it is a cultural and emotional distance – you hear about an epic football game with a close ending – the world could end for those poor fans on the losing end – yet it is inconsequential here.  You wonder whether those same people that stopped messaging you think of you often – if everything will be different when you come back.  Coping with this comes in the form of planning travel, understanding new people and melding with new social groups.  These friends aren’t just friends.  They replace your family, friends, and are the tie you have to what you have always known.  The uniqueness and cultural differences among the locals you once found humor in suddenly becomes obnoxious.  This stage persists for different amounts of time among different individuals, and sometimes the lines between the Rut and stage 3, Reality.

Reality is, I think, the most mature stage there is in being so far from home, a long term resident in a different part of the world.  A self-subsistent state occurs when you are alone or so long.  You become emotionally hardened, locked-up, and accept the world as you’ve observed it.  The differences between myself and the Japanese are nothing to be annoyed with.  Annoyance is a form of refusal or inability to understand why people do what they do.  The reality in being away from home here is the same it would be if you moved 80 miles down I-94.  Change is inevitable in life, and the attitude you bring to the table shows what substance will come from the heat of your crucible, whatever that may be.

I miss home.  There are great opportunities here that I cannot miss despite that. The experience of living in Japan has been humbling, it has been challenging, and it has been acculturating.  It tests your mettle, your mental fortitude, and the relationships you have had.  While this isn’t a ringing endorsement for relocating across the world, it isn’t a damnation either.  I am thankful to understand myself more.  I am thankful for the mental toughness I’ve developed.  I am thankful for my parents.  Mostly, I am thankful to have become the person I am through these experiences.  You can never know your country’s greatness until you have truly experienced another country.  On the flip side, you can never know your home’s faults until you have made another home.


Michael’s last point is what really “hit home” for me. I think it is so important for all of us to experience travelling (and ideally living) abroad to appreciate our home country and become open to other ways of living throughout the world.

 

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Try the World – From the Comfort of Your Own Kitchen!

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How many of you have heard of Plated, Try the World, and Home Chef? For those of us with limited time and an interest in learning new recipes from around the world, these companies provide great opportunities for us. Over the past couple months, I have enjoyed being able to “try the world” by purchasing ingredient kits or prepared meals online. While they may seem expensive and risky at first, they all have promotional rates. I encourage you try them to spice up your kitchen routine!

My experience began with a trial of Plated (fresh ingredients and recipes sent to my door), including the following:

  • Beef and Summer Squash Empanadas with a Tomato, Pesto, and Basil Salad: This absolutely delicious meal and easy-to-make recipe was a great way for me to get a taste of Latin America. All ingredients were sent to my door, and I just had to chop the vegetables, prepare the empanada dough, and bake the empanadas for 30 minutes. The only part I did not like was the tomatoes were under-ripe, which made the tomato salad not as flavorful as normal.
  • Garlicky Chicken with Capers, Anchovy, and Caramelized Summer Squash: I was impressed by the flavors in this meal which gave me a taste of Italy. Prep time took 20 minutes and cooking time took 20 minutes. Of all the Plated recipes I have tried, this was the easiest to prepare and had the most flavor. Sounds like an ideal cooking experience, right?

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  • Grilled Pork and Peach Skewers with Maple, Peach Mostarda, and Arugula: This recipe took the most prep time (40 minutes), but it was a great way to get a taste of the tropics. I could pretend I was in Hawaii again! I enjoyed the flavors, but would recommend cooking this recipe when you have leisurely time to actually enjoy the cooking process.

Then, on somewhat of a whim, and inspired by my multinational enterprise management class, I decided to Try the World. This was very expensive, but the trial made it affordable and I would recommend that you at least experience the trial!

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  • Taste of Japan: Uncharted territory in my personal travel map, Japan has always sparked my interest and I was eager to try Japanese flavors. I received an adorable box, which reminded me of a larger version of a Tiffany box, full of Japanese goodies. The box included Aoi Tea, Otafuku Foods kit (omelette-like pancake with variety of savory toppings), Morinaga (milk caramels), Takaokaya (seaweed snack), Akagi (soba noodles), Kasugai (gummy candies), and Wadakan (umami ponzu sauce). I was most curious to try the Takaokaya, as I had never tried seaweed as a snack before. The texture was a bit chewy, but the salty flavor was delicious. Also, as a kid at heart, I went straight for the Kasugai gummy candies, which had a delicious peach flavor. The box also included recommendations for how to use the ingredients, including hosting a tea party and having a romantic dinner date. I look forward trying the recipes and planning a Japanese dinner date.

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  • Taste of Paris: My second “Tiffany box” (lucky girl :)?), came with treats from France: Palais Des Thes (fine tea), La Mere Poulard (cookies), Domaine Des Vignes (mustard), Le Sunier De Camargue (finishing salt), La Maison Peltier (artisan honey), Maison D’Armoine (caramels), and Charles Antona (jam). The box also included a Paris culture guide, explaining the cultural background of each of the items in the box, how to prepare French meals, a recommendation of French cultural landmarks, French poetry and even a recommended French movie and music playlist! In my opinion, there is no better music for cooking than French music, so how perfect that they have a playlist prepared for you. It is very exciting to try the flavors of France again before living in Paris this winter. I particularly enjoy the Domaine Des Vignes mustard, which pairs well with a deli sandwich or as a dipping sauce for pretzels. La Mere Poulard cookies are also perfect when I have a sweet tooth, but am not looking for an overwhelmingly sweet taste. I may be a little biased too, because they are from Brittany, France, which is the origin of my first name! As I study French, I have enjoyed listening to French music. I also look forward to watching some French movies!

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Most recently, I decided to try Home Chef, to compare it to Plated. It was interested to read A Common Connoisseur‘s insights, who described Home Chef as a more affordable option, with more meal selections and lower calories options. I will receive my order next Wednesday. I look forward to trying the Apple Cider Brined Salmon and Parisian Bistro Steak. If you are interested, I will be sure to share my insights on this option as well!

After trying the world in my kitchen, I have realized that there are great benefits to trying these options:

Experience new flavors from different parts of the world: If you cannot travel on a regular basis, what better way to get a traveler experience than through food! And you can practice cooking at the same time.

Learn how to combine spices and different food groups: I find it easy to cook, but difficult to know which spices and flavors work well with different meats and sides. I think that is the difference between a cook and a chef. Ingredients sent to our door help us learn more about ingredient combinations.

Save time: Finally, these meals options make it possible and relatively affordable for us to have grocery shopping and meal planning done for us. We can focus our time on the actual meal preparation and enjoyment with our loved ones!

Fun date idea: I have enjoyed cooking these recipes with my boyfriend. We have both been learning to cook together, and this makes it fun to try new flavors and meal ideas.

Live in the present: Cooking requires us to be focused. With all the distractions out there, it is important for us to recenter and live in the moment. Enjoy great scents and tastes in the process!

I hope that you take the opportunity to try the world with all the exciting new meal preparation options. Happy cooking!