Finding Your Tribe

Since beginning a graduate program in Tokyo, I have gotten countless questions and comments that are some flavor of “how are you adjusting to Japan?” and “I would never pack up and move halfway around the world.” The truth, as always, is complicated. Going to new places where you don’t know anyone is always a challenge, and there is always an adjustment period. Whether that is a week, month, year, or decade depends on the specific factors of the country, your personality, language barriers, and whether you have found fulfillment in the new location.

In Japan, I sometimes talk to prospective undergraduate students who want to study in the US, and the same question comes up each time: do you have any advice for adjusting to America? Having gone through my own adjustment over the last year and a half, I found this question initially hilarious but absolutely true. Any big culture shift is going to be a challenge.

The most important bit of advice I could impart is FIND YOUR TRIBE.

This could mean finding local people who speak your language. It could be people who share a passion or sport. It could be people who like to sit together while reading in coffee shops. Take your time, try a variety of events and settings. These things do not usually come together overnight. When nothing seems to be fitting, try starting your own event or group. You may find that there is a need for community that you can fill, and you may find that the tribe was there all along.

One lesson I learned over and over was that the information was out there, but I hadn’t found it yet. Want a group that does machine learning together? There’s a group for that. Want to nerd out over beer? There’s a monthly event. Sometimes there are barriers in group dynamics – need for a promoter, need for a graphics designer, need for a photographer – so don’t be shy. You may be able to enable someone else to create something.

The new normal will be different and may require effort. It may take an hour each way to get there on very crowded trains, but when you find your tribe, you’ll know.