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Time Travel for Dr. D

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

When I first decided to move abroad, it wasn't a spur of the moment decision. It took years of planning, a lot of stress, and the support of my family and friends to get out here. My goal is to work my way through traveling the world. Now that I am finally out of the U.S., I want to figure out how I can stay out. My hope is to settle somewhere that is safe, somewhere that I might be able to afford a home one day, somewhere that I could go to the doctor without worrying about going into medical debt, and somewhere that I have the potential of retiring. So basically the complete opposite of what the U.S. has to offer. Does this mean that I don't miss the U.S.? Of course not! I often get food cravings, I miss my support group back home, and I miss the simplicity of daily tasks without a language barrier (that last one is completely on me and continues to be my biggest challenge in Japan). However, it has been a year and I can already attest that life outside of the U.S. is overall better, at least for me. I am grateful and recognize how privileged I am to be out here and truly enjoy this opportunity.


In June, I traveled back to the U.S. for the first time since I moved to Japan in September of 2021. Travel, especially international travel, has still been quite chaotic because of the coronavirus and I was an absolute MESS getting my life together for this trip. At the time of my trip, the U.S. required a negative COVID test to be taken within 24 hours of departure time. Unfortunately, my rural area in Japan doesn't have any testing sites that can guarantee a quick turn around for travel. So, the night before my trip, I flew into Tokyo's main national airport: Haneda and stayed the night in the airport hotel. The next morning, June 8, I woke up extremely early and took a monorail and two trains during commute time to Tokyo's main international airport: Narita. After taking my solo trip, this task didn't seem as daunting. However, one station was extremely busy and I bumped into several Japanese office workers with my suitcase while they were pushing their way through. Sorry, I am a foreigner! Once I made it to Narita, I got COVID tested and had to wait 3-4 hours for my results. While I was waiting, I found a quiet place where I could charge my phone. It was honestly quite eerie how desolate the airport was. Tokyo is the most populated city in the world, it seems like my experience in the airport should have been an absolute nightmare. I am assuming that the airport was pretty empty because travel is still heavily frowned upon in Japan and borders are still (mostly) closed off to foreign travelers (however, borders are set to open up on October 11! So things should change). Once I got my negative test results, I was able to quickly get through security and wait at my gate.


I flew back to the states on an airline called ZIPAIR. You may be thinking, "ZIPAIR?!" Well I will happily tell you all about it. ZIPAIR is a Japanese airline that is extremely low budget. They have a total of four Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircrafts and only fly to a total of six destinations: Tokyo, Seoul, Bangkok, Singapore, Honolulu, and of course Los Angeles. For my round trip ticket I only paid ¥99,921 (or about $690.38 - yes the value of the yen continues to drop to scary levels)! However, on long trips, it's not always worth it to go cheap. You really get what you paid for. There was absolutely no complimentary food or drinks. Also, there were no TVs or monitors anywhere! What's even the point of flying if you can't watch the animated plane flying over the map? So instead, I just listened to Harry Style's new album on repeat for the duration of my 10 hour flight.


I arrived in LAX the morning of June 8. It was like time-traveling since it was still the 8th (if time-travel consisted of a monorail, two trains, and a very boring flight). Upon landing I was immediately greeted by grumpy TSA agents who were actively bothering people that just landed in from El Salvador. Obviously, not a great way for anyone to be greeted while entering a country. I tried to connect to the airport's WiFi and instantly received two notifications from my cell provider. I am not 100% sure what the message said because it was in Japanese, but from what I could understand, I would have to pay $20 a day to use my phone in the United States. I managed to send the "I landed" message and quickly returned my phone to airplane mode (where it would remain for the entirety of my trip). Customs was surprisingly a lot less painful than I thought it would be. They took a quick scan of my passport, captured a picture of me without my mask, and the person who helped me even mustered a "welcome home". I exited the building into the chaotic LAX traffic with a phone that could no longer connect to the WiFi. I imagined being lost, scared, and alone forever in LAX (just kidding, kind of). But then, there she was, my knight in shining armor, driving her 2010 Toyota Corolla through all of the mayhem: my sister Sarah. She is the only reason I attempted my first international trip since moving to Japan.

The years I spent stumbling through my mid twenties, Sarah was enrolled in a PhD program at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). This past June, she defended her dissertation and walked in her graduation ceremony. In spite of my very stressful trip, I am so happy that I was able to be there to support her accomplishments as well as capture the "it" moment as seen below.

After earning her Bachelor's degree in Psychology (major) and Black Studies (minor) Sarah took a year off of school before entering her graduate school program. Originally, she wanted to be a counselor for marginalized youth, specifically those who have experience with the criminal justice system. However, once she took up her minor in Black Studies, Sarah quickly came to understand how her own whiteness would be implicated within the field of psychology. So she instead switched to Sociology and was accepted into UCSB, which continually ranks in the top 10% of the country for Sociology. Her new goal was to become a professor so that she could inspire "young people of marginalized backgrounds to serve as teachers, mentors, and counselors within their own communities".

Like many young people figuring out the world, her goals within Sociology continued to evolve, especially after having more exposure to Black Feminist Theory. Sarah continued to be interested in mental health in the contexts of race, gender, and class; but also began to focus on broader sociological concepts such as "power, status, and legitimacy" in regards to health: both physical and mental health. In simpler terms Sarah's interests focused more on "health and well being rather than on social control and punishment". For the last several years, Sarah has been dealing with the decline of her own mental and physical health. So, her new research interests were inspired by her own struggles.

Among the many adversities Sarah faced along the way, one of the most challenging was her low income status. California is expensive, and on top of that, Santa Barbara continues to be one of the most expensive areas in the state. Sarah often had to work multiple jobs and live in areas that were unsafe and/or unhealthy just to stay afloat (never forget the glorious geological hazard area, known as La Conchita, that she had to evacuate several times for fires and mudslides). Additionally, because she hasn't had the means, she hasn't been able to "adequately treat or manage [her] health problems" (and don't get me started on the bureaucracy that is student health...). Because of this, and before the pandemic, Sarah joined in the UC wide protest known as COLA. COLA stands for "cost of living adjustment" and the leaders of this movement are demanding better pay and living conditions for graduate student workers. However, once the pandemic hit, the movement lost a lot of traction and working conditions for graduate workers remain poor.

For the 2022-2023 school year, Sarah is working as a lecturer at UC Merced where she gets to teach about topics she is really interested in such as social inequalities and sociology of mental health (Go Bobcats!). Once the school year is over, Sarah hopes to transition into research full time. She would like to conduct community-based research projects that policymakers use to make the healthcare system better. Sarah is also interested in following the footsteps of her faculty mentor Professor George Lipsitz who often serves as an expert witness in court focusing on fair housing. Instead, Sarah would like to serve as an expert witness for health equity and disability accommodations (and hopefully she can do this somewhere on the California coastline?).

In her free time, and because of her existing health issues, Sarah partakes in activities that allow her to social distance (team masks for life!). She enjoys nature: spending time on the beach, swimming, and caring for her plant babies. She also wouldn't have made it this far without music and stand-up comedy.

I am so proud of Sarah's accomplishments. We are as close as siblings can be and have been through a lot of ups and downs together. And to Sarah: Thank you for letting me be a part of your special day and allowing me to write about you/share these photos of you! Love you.


My time in the U.S. was very short lived, I only stayed for one week. Once I was feeling adjusted to the time difference, it was time for me to head back home. Other than Sarah's graduation, this trip was mostly full of relaxation, playing a never ending game of bucketball on the beach (don't ask), and spending time with close friends.


Before returning to Japan, I had to get COVID tested. With my negative results, I was ready to go. Once again, I was reminded how much of a hassle getting through TSA can be.


Upon entering Japan, there was a lot of shuffling around with a lot of papers in hand. I found that flashing my residence card made the process a bit easier. Also, Japan no longer required COVID testing upon arrival. Now that travel restrictions are set to end on October 11, traveling between the two countries should be a lot easier and overall less stressful. I am looking forward to my next trip to the U.S. happening in February 2023 where I will again be able to see good friends and my family.

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