Yesterday I exchanged emails with a friend from my high school years. The kind of close friend that is your trusted confidant. The kind of person you tell about your darkest fears, girlfriend problems or why you haven't thrown a touchdown pass in a couple games. The kind of friend that when they tell you that you are wrong; you might argue with but you know they are probably right.
We have only seen each face to face about five times since we went our respective ways after high school graduation. At one point we may have gone a full 15 years with no contact of any kind; yet despite not knowing details about the intervening years we connect just as if we saw each other the week before. The advent of email and then Facebook have made staying in touch easier but we still aren't posting on each other's wall regularly. I think the emails yesterday were the first exchange since mid 2011.
In her latest email my friend asked me about how being "home" was going and then she corrected herself; she said that I probably didn't feel like it was home so she changed the question. She went on to say several things about how she thought I might be feeling. She seemed to have read my mind (or my blog). I know she hasn't done the latter so I accepted the fact that she could always do the former.
I reflected on why she had the ability and then I realized that she was my first "culture" coach. She really got to know me by helping me work through my first major transition in life.
When I was 14, my mom and I moved to a town not too far from my hometown. Another small town in western NY with about the same population. The two small towns were seemingly indistinguishable small dots on a map of a rural area but they were light years apart in outlook, economy, religion, etc.
My 14 mile move as a high school freshman was similar in many respects to the move I made decades later to Japan.
Learning how to adapt to a new high school was in some ways more difficult than adjusting to working in a Japanese joint venture company. The curious stares on my first day in homeroom not so different than my first day in a Japanese office. One person is friendly, another not happy with a new face. Many shrugged and didn't care either way.
Despite all the thinking about my ex-pat life, I had never really thought about how similar it was to my first move. When my family was about to move overseas, the company I worked for spent a lot of money on testing my wife and I for "ex-pat ability". They shelled out thousands more for "pre assignment" training for the entire family. I didn't realize it time but I had already been through a similar process guided by a teen age girl with my best interests at heart.
Almost 40 years later, my friend closed her email by saying "can you believe we have gotten to the point where we are talking about retirement and bad knees?"
Honestly I really don't care about the subject; I am just glad we are still talking from time to time.