Moving to any culture outside of your own is a huge adjustment, and the amount you have to adjust only increases as you cross oceans and go from a Western country to an Eastern one (or visa versa). If you already know the language of your new country, it’s a HUGE advantage, but very few people move oversees that way. One of the fastest ways to adjust, although perhaps the most difficult way, is complete cultural immersion.
If you’re single and able to house with a native speaking family (a homestay or exchange program), it is by far the fastest way to learn a new language and culture. Growing up in America, my family often had exchange students living with us for 6 months at a time. It wasn’t easy for those students, since everything they knew was different. Often it wasn’t just their first time outside of their country, it was also their first time outside the home they grew up in! That’s a lot of stress, even if you like that sort of thing! But if you can handle it, it is by far the fastest way to adapt to a new country.
If you’re moving with a family, then the extent to which you can immerse yourself in a culture will be more limited. We opted for enrolling in language school — 3 hours a day of Japanese language and culture taught to us by locals. I did 2 years of this and I am very glad I did. The speed of your adaptation is up to you: being brave and asking for help from strangers and making friends goes a long ways towards learning faster. We have found the Japanese people to be very helpful in this regard.
Our kids are even more immersed — they get to do authentic Japanese school, although without the help of Japanese parents. They are adapting to Japan in such a natural way that it is astounding. We believe this will be a big advantage for them later in life, building bridges between our cultures and being able to feel at home in Japan or America, fluent in Eastern and Western cultures.
For us, we’ve had tremendous support from friends and family back in the States and — I can’t overstate this — from our church family here in Japan. Our Paz Church is an awesome international community and the loving relationships that are developed there have helped us immensely. It has been an anchor for us as we navigate the stresses and ups and downs of adjusting to a new country and culture. There are days that are so exciting. Then there are days when you just feel like moving back to the familiar. You need support in order to stay healthy and flourish.
We don’t want our kids to lose touch of their roots as they grow towards their God-given destinies. Our church family gives a strong foundation and identity for our family to build upon, and it makes our lives here in Japan that much more rich and fulfilling.