10th Journey Update: The Snake Approaches and It Bites

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool,
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out to another is to risk involvement,
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return,
To live is to risk dying,
To hope is to risk despair,
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
But they cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live.
Chained by their servitude, they are a slave who has forfeited all freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.

Leo F. Buscaglia

August 2019

If I were a gambling woman, I’d be a very poor one at best, being that I assess risks primarily via intuition rather than logic and my poker face is basically non-existent; not the best combination when gambling. Nonetheless, I’ve made a few gambles in my lifetime, and as predicted, my most recent ones hadn’t exactly panned out in my favor.

First…

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s happened since 帰る [ka·e·ru] Domicile took wing:

  • August 2015: left Japan
  • February 2016: moved to Paris
  • July 2016: internship in Rome (Caffè Bar Ficini)
  • September 2016: first job in Paris (Direction Coffee)
  • February 2018: second job in Paris (McCafé)
  • April 2018: third job in Paris (Serpent à Plume)
  • September 2018: return to Canada

When I left Japan four years ago, I had this persistent itch in the back of my mind, one that could not be scratched. Expat life was a unique and invaluable experience of mine, yet, there was one constant gripe among the expat community: This isn’t like home. From the lack of bacon to the excess of ohashi jouzu, there was no denying that culture shock was a real and debilitating state of mind for Japan’s temporary residents.

This is a problem that can’t be solved outright because culture shock is a natural psychological reaction to being in any new environment, however, its side effects can be alleviated. And so, 帰る [ka·e·ru] Domicile was born.

Imagine being home, no matter where you are.

Ok so, how does one lessen feelings of alienation from thousands of traveling souls worldwide? With coffee, food, and conversation, of course! The aim of this aspiring coffee shop/ cafe & lifestyle inspired blog is to promote a sense of belonging among the expat community, whether past expats, current expats, or expats at heart, helping them return home through coffee, food, and conversation. 

Although, what did I know about making a good cup of joe? With a background in education and psychology, entering the cafe world was like sailing through uncharted waters. So, when I took the gamble to learn about the coffee world, naturally, I jumped in with both feet. And that’s how I nearly drowned!

Life’s Tough Lessons:

  1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
    • While working at Direction Coffee from Sept. 2016 – Aug. 2017 in Marché Rungis, I was promoted from barista to assistant manager after 4 months, and from there I envisioned a ladder of opportunity from managerial positions to eventual part-owner of the cafe. Oh, how cheeky I was! The owner of Direction Coffee agreed with this transition and helped me with the visa paperwork. We invested an exorbitant amount of time and money into this endeavor, nevertheless, when I returned to Canada at the end of August ’17 for an appointment with the French embassy, I learned that my visa application didn’t go through. It was very disappointing.

  2. Money never trumps a life.
    • Also in the summer of 2017, my dear friend’s mom fell gravely ill. She had stage 4 breast cancer and her health was rapidly deteriorating. Not an unheard story, my friend’s family needed help paying for her treatment because they were undocumented immigrants and didn’t have access to publicly funded medical insurance. They were like my second family whenever I visited, the least I could do was repay their kindness. After all, money is just money and I live with white privilege.

  3. Moving abroad for love isn’t always the best idea.
    • After the visa debacle of ’17, I didn’t want to move back to Paris. The smart move would have been to stay in Canada and invest in 帰る [ka·e·ru] Domicile’s future, but I had unfinished business there in the form of a doting Frenchman. Thus, I applied for a second working-holiday visa and returned to Paris in October 2017, even though I was eating into my dwindling savings and I couldn’t legally start working until January 2018. Of course, our 1-year relationship didn’t last into its second year. *eye-roll. Not my finest hour.

  4. Expect the unexpected.
    • While serving a short stint at a McCafé 40 minutes from Paris to pay the bills in Feb. 2018, a wonderful opportunity fell into my lap: a lead role at a soon-to-be-opened cafe & cocktail bar, Serpent à Plume. I very quickly realized that as interesting as being a barista is, honestly, I much preferred designing and implementing the coffee program. Networking, finding suppliers, making business deals, creating menus… Now, that’s exciting!

  5. Reverse culture shock is real and it bites HARD!
    • As my visa came to an end, I grew weary of the inevitable return to my old stomping grounds in Canada. At that point in Sept. 2018, I hadn’t been home for over 6 years, well, at least not long enough to consider changing my FB status. Things have changed. I’ve changed. But my bank account had run dry and all other visa options were depleted. It was time to face the dreaded snake that is reverse culture shock, just as Canada’s harsh winter months reared their ugly heads no less. And for 6 months thereafter, I fell into a deep depression, one I’ve never experienced before. Phew! It was bad! Mentally, I was grieving. In my mind, I thought I’d lost everything: my career, my independence, my relationships, my curiosity, my savings, myself. Yet even at ground zero, I had my family and a few close friends. Without them, I would have never gotten out of my pajamas during this episode of grief. For that I am eternally grateful.

My heart goes out to those who suffer from any spectrum of mental illnesses, whether it’s depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar, schizophrenia, dementia, or any other dissociative disorders. They are tough to deal with and unfortunately don’t illicit a whole lot of public sympathy because the symptoms are invisible and their causes are often misunderstood. My episode was only a sliver of what you wonderful people deal with on a regular basis. I’m proud of you, and you’re not alone!

It took some time to heal, reflect, and adjust, but eventually, I climbed out of my pit of despair and have been putting the pieces together to restart my international coffee journey. Since the beginning of 2019, I’ve been working online as a transcriber, however, the pay is terrible so, I’m constantly on the lookout for more prosperous opportunities, maybe in digital management!?! I’ve gotten back into running and exercising on a daily basis, which definitely helps with the depression and insomnia. Of course, I haven’t forgotten about my plan to participate in a triathlon; it will happen someday! I’ve been making business plans for 帰る [ka·e·ru] Domicile, including an entirely new concept, which I shall share with you soon. Stay tuned! Lastly, I’m planning my next adventure, which will hopefully be to Australia & New Zealand, but I need to save a helluva lot of pennies because, with the $500 working-holiday visa, airfare, medical insurance, and living expenses, it’s going to be a steep journey. On the bright side, my younger sister might be coming with me. Look out, my brotha’s from down unda’!

Looking back, I don’t regret what I’ve done thus far in life. Yes, there were plenty of financial and emotional set backs, but this is what the #internationalcoffeejourney is all about: learning through the good and not-so-good decisions. Thus, my friends, like Santiago from Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist, I must choose to be an adventurer in search of her true 生き甲斐 [i·ki·ga·i], ready to confront the dreaded culture-shock snake. It’s worth the risk!

As always, thank you for reading and joining me on this #internationalcoffeejourney

He realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure.

The Alchemist – Paolo Coelho

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