10 Reasons Tokyo Expat Life Feels Like College


Welcome to the University of Tokyo

With a few kids thrown in for kicks.

I have a friend who tells me I live in the best dorm, because it is closest to the dining hall.  Interpretation:  My apartment is in a great location, because it is across the street from Anders’ school where parents convene every morning and afternoon, as part of the rhythm of life in Japan.

Oh yes, welcome to the University of Tokyo.  My friends and I often compare our lives here to our college life twenty years ago.  This move was a transition unlike any other, except when I entered university as a freshman.  When compared to that, the parallels are overwhelming.  Here’s why:

  1. Dorm Hall Buds - You become close friends with the other expats in your building.  They become the crew you watch The Bachelor with on Wednesday nights in your PJs with wine and popcorn.  (Last night, I literally feel asleep on my neighbors couch at 10:30pm watching The Women Tell All.)

  2. Fast Friendships - Friendships happen at an accelerated pace because you see each other several times a week.  If you like each other here, boom, you can hang every day.   In Minneapolis, I would be lucky if I could see my friends more than once a month.

  3. Breaks - You operate off of your kid’s school calendar so talk often sounds like 19-year-old you:  “How was your Winter Break?  Where are you going for Spring Break?  Are you sticking around this Summer or heading home?”

  4. Hey, Hi, What’s Up? - Remember how in college you would pass the same people each day as you would head from your 9:00am class to your 11:00am class?  Remember how you would hope not to run into your crush when you looked like crap or snap into a good mood catching up with people during quick on-the-street convos?  It happens here too.  It’s the weirdest thing. I love it.

  5. Cheers - Steve and I go out every Saturday night.  We have a standing babysitter.  Sometimes we do a date night.  Sometimes we do a double date night.  Sometimes we head to a party. But when we are with our friends, we are always amazed at how the expat community parties.  Like really parties.  Like all out, 2:00am, hangover from hell, parties.  It’s impressive.  

  6. Gossip - When everyone sees everyone all the time, your community quickly becomes small and news travels fast.  I try to live my life like I am on a reality show, and everyone will see the footage, so I don’t say anything I shouldn’t.  But even I have to catch myself from time to time, cause word spreads like wildfire. 

  7. Midday Hangs - Since most of the trailing spouses don’t work, we can hang out at 9:00am on a Tuesday or 1:30pm on a Thursday.  This unorthodox schedule is incredibly freeing yet quickly becomes filled with things that make old working me blush: coffee shops, museum trips and pilates classes.

  8. Team Spirit - Remember how you knew who went to your school because they had the mascot plastered on everything?  It happens here too, but in a different way.  Are they wearing yoga pants?  They go to your school.  Are they carrying their coffee cup?  They go to your school.  Are they walking a large dog?  They go to your school.  There are telltale signs.  One of the biggest being speaking English in a loud booming voice.  My head immediately turns, as they are my classmates. 

  9. Senior Mentors - The seniors show the freshman the ropes.  The minute I moved here, the folks that had already lived here for a few years took me under their wing showing me the best grocery stores, their favorite doctors and the most delicious restaurants.  As new people filter in, you immediately return the favor.  The unwritten mentorship program here is real.

  10. Dating - I have never been on the prowl more now, expect when I was in college.  I scan rooms, hit on people at parties and spark conversations at stores - looking for friends.  I often tell Steve that if I was this flirty in college, it would’ve been a whole different story.  

Just as my alma mater will always hold a place in my heart, this city will too.  I had NO idea this move would feel this way.  I thought I was moving to one of the biggest cities in the world, not the smallest liberal arts college that would feel so incredibly welcoming.  Incoming freshman, no fear - we’ve got you!