How I Survived Overseas With Nothing

My First Year As A Pro

I remember the day I left like it was yesterday.

August 19th, 2014 on my mom’s birthday, I boarded a plane from Dulles International Airport to Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan where I was supposed to spend the next 9 months of my life.

Months before, I had just graduated from college after playing 4 years of high level, competitive basketball and I was prepared to take the next step in my athletic career.

This was the moment that I had been waiting for my entire life. An opportunity to go to another country, experience a new culture and play a game I love. I had heard stories, both good and bad, but I was ready for whatever life threw at me next.

View from a bridge in Osaka, Japan

I was confident and I had unwavering faith in the process and my progress. The summer leading up to that moment, nothing but sweat and hard work had been put in so I knew I would be able to compete on the court. Off the court, I kept an open mind and welcomed living in a new environment. 

This was my first time ever leaving the country and I wasn’t just visiting, I was starting a life there. Though I was anxious and excited I was also determined and very focused. It helped a lot that I would be on the team with two other American players, who I knew pretty well.

As I landed in Osaka, I was met by the head coach of the team named Coach Tomas and the top assistant, Coach Colson. Colson was American coach who had several years of coaching experience at different school in the states. He would be instrumental in helping me during my time in Japan.

The team I was going to play for was called Ashiya Gauken, which was located in Ashiya in the Hyōgo Prefecture. Once I got there, the first thing I remember was being amazed at the fact that they drove on the opposite side of the road as us. I was in complete awe that this was going to be my home for almost a year.  

On the ride to our new home, it rained the entire way and took about an hour to get to get there from the airportBut as soon as we arrived at the apartments, I knew this wasn’t going to be what I expected it to be…

We Had Nothing…

Even before we had gotten to the apartments, we had been told that the General Manager of the team had fallen sick and was hospitalized about a week before we got there.

What they hadn’t told us was how critical this was because he was literally in charge of everything. From our checks to utilities for the apartments and even transportation.

The timing couldn’t have been worse because everything was scheduled to be set up the week we got there. I will never forget how the apartment looked when we walked in there.

It took 2 weeks for me to get a bed to sleep on and before that I slept on the floor

There were boxes everywhere, no beds, no A/C, no internet connection, barely any furniture and no food at all. The coaches were just as surprised as we were and didn’t know what to do next since they had barely had contact with anyone in the organization since the GM was sick.

None of us had ever lived in another country, nor did we know what to do in this situation. With Coach Tomas barely being able to speak English and Coach Colson being the only person who we could really turn to, we quickly realized that we had to get everything on our own.

All we really had was the clothes on our backs and other minor things that we brought from home. It was either we learn how to tough it out and survive or board the next plane back home. I had it set in my mind that I had come too far to go back home now.

How I Survived Overseas

  1. Be Resourceful- I immediately went into survival mode. I found everything I needed in order to make things work. I located things that I knew I needed such as the closest grocery store, McDonald’s, the convenience store, etc… As a young adult who had never been out of the country, I quickly had to adapt and become familiar with everything around me. I asked some of my Japanese teammates who understood English to teach me Japanese so that I would be able to communicate with people when I went out into the town. I then attempted to speak with those people at the stores and built relationships with them. Sometimes they were even kind enough to give me free food and other things that I could use in the apartment. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend, but I became creative and resourceful which helped me get by day by day.

    We often went to McDonald’s because it was one of the only restaurants within walking distance.

     

  2. Be Open-Minded- There was no way I would have been able to survive a day there if I didn’t keep an open mind to being in a new culture. I accepted the fact that Asian countries are extremely different. I realized that I wasn’t in an ideal situation but I was still open to discovering new things and learning more about the Japanese culture. Because I was willing to do this from day one, I was able to understand why the Japanese did certain things and what makes them unique and different from Americans. You have to always be open to new experiences and opportunities because you’ll never know what kind of possibilities could from them. It gives you a new perspective on things and helps you grow outside of what you already think life is about.
      
  3. Be Persistent- I was determined to make it work despite the inconveniences. I knew what I was there for and being a pro basketball player was what I wanted more than anything else in the world at that point in my life. Nothing was going to take that from me. Regardless of whether or not I had a bed or was able to talk to my family, I was going to make it happen because I was mentally tough. Once you have a vision or your mind is set on something that you really want, nothing can stand in your way. No matter how tough things might get you have to keep that vision at the forefront because that is going to be what pushes you through the tough days. Your vision is going to prevent you from giving up despite how many bad things happen to you. I thought about my vision all the time and how it allowed me to get through each day.

One of the main gyms that we played at in Osaka, Japan

Every Experience Is Valuable

The view from a hotel in downtown Ashiya

Things slowly started to come together after awhile, but the situation was by no means good. We would eventually end up leaving after about 2 months due to the team’s inability to pay us among other issues but that experience taught me so much about myself and what I was capable of.

I’m a believer that everything you go through happens for a reason and in every situation you’re either receiving a blessing, being taught a lesson or both.

For me, this experience was both. I learned how to get through being in a country on my own. I learned how to leverage my resources and that good things will come if I work hard and prepare for them.

Even though most of my learning came off of the court, I learned through basketball that you always have to play hard no matter if you think someone is paying attention or not.

As I said this experience was also a blessing because if I had not competed on the court then I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to come back to play in Tokyo the following year.

It just goes to show that everything works itself out in time if you’re patient enough to wait.

Every experience is valuable in life. Once you recognize the value then you begin to appreciate the obstacles.

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