Discovering a New Me: My Struggles During Seven Years of Life Abroad キャリアを手放して、新しく見つけたもの 〜私の7年間の海外帯同生活〜

Published on: May 06, 2020


Moving overseas to accompany a spouse can feel like a “career blank” for many professional women, but their experiences of finding a new path always encourage us. Here is another story by Kanako Okubo about how she discovered a new “self” after years of challenges.  


By Kanako Okubo / Translated by Hanae Matsumura[日本語記事へ]  


I was brought up in a rural area in Japan where people believed “graduating from a good university and working in a good company led you to a good life.” That was part of my identity, and I was a devoted worker at a company in Tokyo until seven years ago when I got pregnant. 


At the time, my husband was studying at a graduate school in the USA. After many long days of pondering, I decided to move to the US to live as a family. That decision changed my whole life.   


Away from my career, I felt bare without a title to introduce myself with. When  asked: “What do you do?” I’d answer “housewife.” I had no income to spend on myself and dress as I wanted. The hardest thing was that I became nervous communicating with people, which I had prided myself on, all because of the language barrier. Living in a students’ dormitory with little opportunity to interact with Japanese people, I suffered from an inferiority complex. 


Even when I went to a children’s playgroup with my daughter, I could not talk with other parents, not even for a short while. I couldn’t sing English nursery rhymes, which everyone else could sing naturally, and I felt like I was a bad mother. I was even afraid of talking with my husband’s friends who came to celebrate the birth of our child and pretended to be sick and stayed in my bedroom. Then we moved to Nepal. There, too, I couldn’t find Japanese moms with little kids. There were no places to go and let my kid play. I spent many days without talking to anybody except the housemaid.   


Every day I was trying hard to survive. Sometimes, updates from my friends in Japan who were building a respectable career got to me, and sometimes I had visitors who were working moms and seemed to live bright lives. My heart was hurting and filled with frustration and anxiety. Our family moved back to the United States. In New York, my ambition was to get some qualifications for future job opportunities. However, in reality, I had no time to study as I was occupied with my little “kids” (we added another to the family!). 


The moment of change came after moving here to Bangkok. One day I was asked by a Japanese mom at my kids’ international kindergarten: “I’m struggling with my English. How did you learn it?” As I could thoroughly understand her feelings, I talked and talked for an hour or so over a cup of tea, saying, “I was the same as you.”  


After that, several similar opportunities came along. My husband, who knew my toils and efforts more than anyone else, suggested that I support those who are struggling with English. His words encouraged me to take on a new endeavor as a personal coach of English learning for the Japanese. Once the decision was made, my frustration was turned into the burst of energy in preparation. I started a coaching career six months later. Two years have passed since then, now my business is no longer limited to those living in Bangkok, but it extends to those who live in Japan or other Southeast Asian countries.  


I still face uneasy moments regarding languages, but I don’t get nervous by comparing it to others or feel anxious about my future any longer. I once felt like a “bad mother” who cannot even talk with others—this experience made me realize the pleasure of being needed by someone. I now realize that those days were by no means a “blank” as I had thought. I got rid of my old “working in a good company” belief, and now I feel that I am freer than ever.  


I’d like to share a message with those having a hard time away from your home country or if you feel anxious because of the halt in your career. Your present days will certainly lead you somewhere. Nobody can tell where that is. It may be beyond your expectations. But one thing is clear; someday you will realize the value of the difficulty you are facing now. As for me, I will continue living outside of Japan for a certain period. So I’d like to enjoy child-rearing in foreign countries as much as possible while taking care of myself.    








当時夫はアメリカの大学院に留学中だったのですが、夫の一時帰国中に妊娠。私は悩みに悩んで、日本で仕事を続けるのではなく、家族で一緒に暮らすことを選択しました。 そこから全てが変わりました。  
















About the Author

Kanako is a personal coach of English learning who provides both online and face-to-face sessions. She is mom to three kids (6, 4 and 1 years old) and has lived in Boston, Nepal, New York and Bangkok over the past 7 years.    


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