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Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Next Step: Life After Japan

As I've mentioned before, I have decided to leave Japan and move towards the next phase of my life. I get asked a lot what exactly I plan on doing after leaving here, and since it is a handful of days away (my apartment is looking really bare...) I thought I would take a few minutes to give a short update as to what the next steps in my life are going to be and some different things I am working on.

Living in Orlando, Florida (with my parents!)

Yes, you read that right. I, a 26 year old girl who moved out of her parents house at 18, am moving back in with the folks. It's a temporary set-up, mainly so that I can adjust to life in America and save money so that I can buy grown up things like a car and an apartment. They've also remodeled the house since I have been gone and I am looking forward to taking advantage of the HUGE kitchen and huge bathroom-that-is-bigger-than-my-apartment.

Finding A Job

This one is a no brainer. I want to get a job and save some money. What type of job? I'm not too sure yet. I haven't really looked into any serious careers, as I am not sure I'm quite ready for that yet, but I have been applying to various theme park, photography, writing, event planning type gigs that may provide me with some cash. I'm not picky at this point, I just want it to suit my interests. Hopefully it won't involve a cubicle.

Planning a Trip to Europe

I really want to visit Europe in the next year, and right now I am aiming for a Spring 2016 trip. What exactly that trip will consist of I am not sure of quite yet. It all depends on how the whole securing a job thing goes, and how much time off I can get!

Giving the Blog Loads of Attention

Now that I am a NEET I have loads of time on my hands. And while a lot of it is spent trying to get myself out of this apartment and onto a plane bound for Orlando, a lot of it is also spent doing absolutely nothing. This is what happens when you give yourself a month lag between stopping work and leaving. So I've joined a number of Facebook groups geared towards helping bloggers network and I am slowly trying to get myself out there. I also want to get up to 3 posts a week if possible!

Doing Collaborative Work with Other Bloggers

Part of getting my blog out there is doing work with other bloggers. I have begun writing some guest posts for various travel blogs which I will let y'all know about once they are live, as well as started my own collaborative post venture, which I hope to launch in the next two weeks! If you'd like to get in contact with me about collaborative work, I've set up an email just for this blog! Please send a message if you're interested in working with me!

YouTube Videos!

I have wanted to do YouTube videos forever, I have had a few (failed) ideas and I think my move back to America will give me the perfect chance to really focus on this area. I love YouTube and watch videos on there constantly. Way more than any other video media. I am hoping to start a vlog type series on becoming an ex-expat and moving back in with the parents at 26. Have I mentioned that my parents also have a beautiful home that I can film in? Way better than my cramped Japanese apartment.

Photography and Writing

While I have been doing quite a bit of photography lately, I would like to do more of it. I would love to step into portrait or wedding photography (I've applied to some relevant work!) to go alongside my travel photography. I also wanna give my Instagram way more love! Hopefully when I get the new iPhone next month it'll help, because my iPhone 4 camera doesn't cut it anymore! Especially next to my DSLR photos! I also want to get back into my creative writing, which is my true dream. If I could be anything, it would be an author, so I am going to try and get back into that (hello, NaNoWriMo).


This is probably the one I am most excited about. I love cooking so much but my Japanese kitchen really limits what  I can do. Not to mention I can't really afford many ingredients in Japan. And cooking for one kinda stinks. So, living with my parents will give me the perfect setting to really develop my cooking skills. I'll probably post about it on here!

As you can see I have a lot planned once I get back in America, hopefully it will keep me busy! Also, all the distractions will be nice because I am sure I will miss my Japan friends so much. A lot of it is focused on this blog, so I hope you'll enjoy everything that I have planned!

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Monday, August 24, 2015

5 Ways Living in Japan Has Changed Me

This Saturday marked my four year Japanniversary. And today marks the official beginning of my "Last Week In Japan". I've been doing a lot of reflecting on my time here, and I have come to realize just how much I have changed in the four years I have lived in this country.

I'm not the same person I was when I came here. For starters very few people are the same person they were at 22. Your mid-20s change you a lot and going from the sheltered life of a full-time student to an adult with a real job and real bills and a real apartment to manage really shifts the focus in your life. But, deep down, I still feel that I am the same Kaley I have always been, just cleaned up around the edges and more sure of myself.

College was a rough time for me in general, because of my anxiety I didn't really go out and meet people, I stayed inside my apartment watching anime and sleeping too much. I gained a lot of weight and was overall just a really unhappy person. Also didn't help that I was in a pretty emotionally draining relationship. Japan was my chance to start over and remove all off the bad things in my life. So often people have told me that I am so brave for coming to Japan, but I really view it as running away from a life I felt that I had failed at.

I wanted to try really hard in Japan to become that person I was before college, before the anxiety and the depression and losing myself in another person. And I think I did just that.

1. I am more forgiving.

While this is still a part of my life that I feel like I need to work on, overall I think I am a more understanding and forgiving person. When living in a foreign country you're constantly surrounded by people who don't think like you, don't act like you, don't believe in what you do, and don't speak like you do. Because of this you really have to learn to work with people, and not against them. Any sort of conversation I have with a Japanese person is a lot of compromise between the two of us trying to mix our languages and cultures together in order to understand one another. And it's beautiful.

2. Equal Rights matter more to me.

I've always been pro-equal rights. I mean, what good person isn't? But living in Japan has made me understand just how frustrating it can be to be judged for things I have no control over. While I did choose to come to a country that is almost entirely one race, I didn't expect just how often I would be treated separately because I am not "one of them". As a straight, white, female from a nice American suburb these issues have often gone over my head because I just can't understand them, but now that I have (in a very minor way) experienced this frustration I can see why people are as passionate as they are towards receiving equal treatment for things they can't control.

3. I care way less about "things".

When you move across the world you have to be picky with what matters. When you then move across a country you have to be picky about what matters, And when you again move to a different city you have to be picky about what matters. Not to mention my shoebox Japanese apartment doesn't really allow for a lot of "stuff". Looking around my apartment now on the brink of another global move, I realize just how much of the crap that fills me apartment doesn't mean to me and I just want it all gone. Bye!

4. I appreciate simple foods.

I've posted before about my food issues prior to living in Japan, but aside from widening the variety of foods that I was able to stomach Japan has taught me that loads of salt and artificial flavorings don't really make things more delicious. When I first moved here the food tasted bland, but in just a few short months I found that I can no longer handle bags of American Cheetos or bags of Skittles without feeling sick. And my trips back to America have often left me praying to the porcelain god when I gorge myself too much on these heavily processed foods!

5. I realized I can do anything.

Honestly, moving to Japan wasn't that difficult. Compared to everything else I have been through since getting on that plane four years back, finding the job and packing to leave was really easy. It was interacting with people in a language I barely understood, surviving an assault, moving between three different cities (once across country!), and building a strong foundation of friends in a country where I knew zero people that were hard. Thinking about moving to America and all the things I have to do there like getting a cell phone and finding an apartment and even getting a job seem so easy now because, well, everyone speaks my native language! Nothing can stop me because I've done it all before, but in Japanese!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Milk Mura, Sapporo: Ice Cream and Liqueur Cafe in Japan

In all honesty, I don't really have the biggest sweet tooth. My family doesn't have the best history with sugar and I believe I am following their lead. I do, however, really enjoy alcohol. And every so often I like to stuff my face with ice cream. Ben and Jerry I am coming for you in September! Om nom nom.

Anyway, a few years back some friends mentioned this place where you get to eat ice cream with various liquors and I knew I just had to go there. I tried for months to go, but the odds were never in my favor. Once my friends even went a couple days after I went back to America for Christmas (thanks guys! D:). Eventually the stars aligned and I was able to go to this wonderful place, Milk Mura.

The reason it was so difficult to go here was because, well, it's really freakin' crowded on the weekends. So you basically have to go right when it opens or wait forever. So we usually end up only going here when we are off of work and free during the weekdays as it is nearly empty until evening.

And since it is summer vacation time in Japan, I was able to go to Milk Mura once again last week! This is the third time I have been here and every time I leave stuffed full of ice cream and slightly tipsy. What could be better? Nothing.

Located in the center of Susukino, right across from a giant Nikka Whiskey man and beside a really fancy looking sushi place, it's easy to pass by as it's on the sixth floor of some random building. But once you go in you are greeted with the most adorable front door ever.

I told you it was adorable. It opens from 1 o'clock in the afternoon and last order is at 11! It's a pretty small place, with only a few tables and a wrap around bar. Couples are the main source of business, along with young girls. I don't suggest bringing more than four people at a time because it is just really small, unless you go between 1 and 4 on a weekday, then you're likely to have the place to yourself!

The inside is adorable. The polka-dotted table cloths and the lights make it a perfect date spot, which is why so many couples go here. The walls are completely covered in so many different knick knacks that you can find new things hanging out every time you visit. There are also a number of interesting looking liqueur bottles around the shop lit up to give even more great atmosphere. The soundtrack is also French songs. Look at the little couples nook in the back wall!

Now for the menu. You can have a choice of three different sets, A, B, and C (though C has been unavailable I believe). A set gets you two liqueur choices and a few little baked goodies and some coffee. B set is three liqueurs plus a coffee and a cookie. I always get B set. They're all the same price and I would rather have booze than some baked things I don't care about. If you go with a group you can all share the booze. 

The liqueur list is huge. It's like pages and pages of the stuff. Maybe hundreds. It's in both Japanese and English so you can order with very little Japanese knowledge. They have any fruit liqueur you can dream about (though I suggest staying away from citrus because... milk and citrus? Bleck). A variety of whiskey and bourbon. All the standard liquors, plus some strange ones like coffee and acorn and cinnamon. They even have absinthe (which I enjoy for the novelty of it).

The liqueurs are served in these adorable little wine glasses, you get about half a shot of each. You then have this tiny spoon that you can use to pour the liqueur over your ice cream. Once you eat the ice cream down enough you can balance your spoon on the corner of the cup and pour the liquid like that, rather than holding the spoon in your hand and trying to not spill all over yourself.

Not that I have ever spilled any liquor on myself.

You can also get seconds on the ice cream! Once you finish your first glass they'll come and ask how full you want your second glass. The answer should always be "as full as possible".

Along with the liqueurs you order you are usually given two for free, oolong tea plus a random one. We had grape with actual pieces of grape in it. They also give you coffee powder to sprinkle on your ice cream which tastes good with pretty much ever liquor I have tried there. Especially the cinnamon. And the acorn is surprisingly wonderful. All the nutty ones are my favorite. Whiskey, acorn, coffee, absinthe...

The coffee you get is served in the cutest little mugs, and the cookies are adorable. Usually a dog or a koala or a circle. The mugs are a bit difficult to hold. I mean my handle is a penguin. But you really cares about that?

ミルク村 SAPPORO本店
北海道 札幌市中央区 南四条西 3-7-1 ニュー北星ビル 6F
New Hokusei Building 6th floor
South 4 West 3, Chuo-Ku, Sapporo
(map in the link above!)

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Beer Garden in Odori Park, Sapporo!

The summer season in Sapporo is always really enjoyable. The fact that such a huge portion of the year is spent indoors thanks to the months of heavy snowfall just make the desire to get out and enjoy being outside when you can.

And the best way, in my opinion, to do that is the beer garden that happens from mid-July to mid-August in Odori park. This year so far I've been three times, and I'll likely go once more before it ends this coming weekend. As an American, I love any chance to just drink outside in public and not be judged for having a good time with friends. It's probably the aspect about Japan I will most the most when I go back to the States! Grabbing a beer from the 7-eleven and sitting in a park eating lunch...

Anyway, the beer garden itself spans four blocks of Odori Park. Each block is home to one of Japan's most common beer brands, Suntory Premium, Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo! Honestly, there is very little difference between the three beer brands, as Japan seems to mainly enjoy producing pale lagers that all taste completely identical (oh goodness how I am looking forward to darker beers in America).

These beers are also perfect for hot summer days. Which you get in Sapporo. Because AC isn't really a thing up here because "we don't need it". Tell that to my apartment which likes to get up to 90 degrees (32 in the C). Any excuse to escape the sauna I live in is very needed.

Suntory is the least popular of the four brands, mainly because the beers are a bit more expensive. I personally like Suntory the best of the four because it has a bit more flavor, but I like being cheap more so in all the years I have been here I've never bothered going to their beer garden. Sorry!

 The most popular beer garden is easily Asahi. The block is covered in trees and just has a really cool feel. It fills up the quickest and is usually the loudest. This one is the one I enjoy going to the most, I think. Though the difficulty of finding a table makes it hard to bring larger groups unless you come at opening time!

Kirin is the third most popular and has the most interesting of the beer delivery systems: the beer tower. While the novelty of a meter tall tower of beer is nearly irresistible, the speed at which the beer warms in the heat of summer makes it a very "meh" experience once you get to the halfway mark. Or, I guess, you could just drink faster!

Sapporo Beer's garden is the one I have been to the most, two of my three visits have been spent here, and it may be my new favorite one to go because it is relatively easy to find a spot, not to mention they have upped their decoration game in the last couple of years and it now resembles a very Bavarian looking beer tent. Or at least what I picture one to look like because I've never been to one (next year??)!

The beers themselves aren't badly priced. You can get 500mL glasses for 550 yen. They also have larger sizes priced in the same value. Each area has their own version of a keg to share (like the toweres in Kirin) but I have found them to be over-priced when compared to the individual glasses (3,700 yen for 3L but 1,100 for a 1L glass). Yes, that's right. You can get a 1L glass of beer.

Even though it is called the "Handsome man" beer at the Sapporo tent I mainly see Japanese women guzzling these puppies down. Though maybe they are designed to attract handsome men? Who knows! If you find yourself in Sapporo in the middle of the Japanese summer, you definitely need to stop by the beer garden, you'll be sat at a table with the locals and they are generally really friendly. Last time I was there I was given a bunch of food by some older people seated next to us!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

City in Pictures: Hanoi, Vietnam

I've decided to start a new series, "Cities in Pictures". My goal in life is to travel to as many places around the world. During those travels I will take pictures to not only remember the places I've been, but capture their spirit. All pictures are taken by me, and I ask that none are used without permission. Please enjoy a look at the first City in Pictures, Hanoi, Vietnam!

From the top of my hostel I am able to see just how crowded the city is. City planning does not exist, and the same cheap materials make up most of the buildings. Even from this height the never ending cacophony of the streets surrounds us. 

There is a railroad which runs through town, is it in use? I don't think so. There's so safety barriers and the shops are all very close to the tracks. 

A visit to the Temple of Literature shows the dirt and grime with seems to coat the city. Opaque reflection pools of green, weathered monuments. 

Along the streets you see traditional sights, mainly that of women selling local foods. They can be pushy, yelling at you as you wait to cross the street and shoving bananas and pineapples into your hand and demanding money.

Traffic laws are something unknown in the city. Most streetlights don't work, and the streets are so busy that traffic moves at a slow pace. There aren't many sidewalks, and the ones that are there usually have tiny plastic chairs where locals sit crowding the walkway.

The streets are crammed with buildings and the power lines are a cross-crossing mess. It's very easy to get turned around and completely lose your way, but that also leads to great possibility for adventure and exploration.

The pho is fantastic. A light, crisp meal in a bowl that fills you up so you can continue going about your day. Walking along the road you'll see a small shop with people outside, just go in and grab a bowl. Hanoi doesn't really have restaurants, and I think that's fantastic.

Banh mi is a must. Vietnam is great at marrying flavorful meats with fresh vegetables in ways you can't get anywhere else. Not to mention the bread. The bread is just so, so good. It's a light lunch to pick up as you walk towards your night sight.

The center of town boasts a lake. Foreigners line the red bridge to see the Temple of the Jade Mountain. The lake is also home to endangered soft-shell turtles that lucky visitors may get a chance to see. 

The water puppet theater to the north of Hoan Kiem lake is an enjoyable way to spend an hour of your day, even if you can't understand Vietnamese. It's a unique production you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

Most of the streets themselves are covered in a canopy of bright green trees. It's amazing to see the branches appearing to emerge from the buildings themselves. The abundance of trees leads to nice, shady strolls through the tropical city.

Souvenir shops line most main streets, all housing the same goods packed into their stores, waiting to sell to unsuspecting tourists looking for something unique to bring home.

Remnants of the French occupation are still prevalent around the city, best shown by the dreary looking Notre Dame near the center of town. The gates which surround it give it a feel of an era long past.

At night the streets come alive with stalls selling anything you could think of. It's refreshing to not worry about traffic for once while walking along the roads, and the sound of car horns is replaced by the sound of music.

A food tour is a must in the city. Not only are you guided along by a local you get to try foods you never would have dreamed of. There are so many little set ups of all these different dishes lining the roads, it's hard to tell which are good and which are not-so-good. Hint: It's almost always good if there are people around!

Hope you enjoyed this first city in pictures! Please click on the images for better quality shots!

Monday, August 3, 2015

9 Reasons I Loved or Hated Being an English Teacher in Japan

As of Friday I am officially an ex-Assistant Language Teacher. It's a weird feeling to think about how I will never again walk the halls of a Japanese public high school, and maybe even never walk the halls of a school ever again. I was an ALT for four years, and in those four years I taught in three different locations at over 15 different schools. I have taught toddlers and I have taught teenagers. I've run classes by myself and stood in the back for 50 minutes doing nothing but trying to stay awake. I think I have a pretty well-rounded grasp of the process of being an English teacher overseas, so I wanted to share what I consider the best and worst parts of the job.

The Students Constantly Compliment You

I wasn't born with a huge ego, I don't think I am awesome, beautiful, or too witty. Most of my humor and jokes comes from the awkward moments that pepper my life and I have struggled with body image for most of my life. Being an ALT in Japan, however, has really, really given me a lot in terms of self-confidence.

When I started teaching at 22 I was always the youngest teacher around, and even at 26 I am still really young and often the youngest teacher in the school. Add this to the fact that I am extremely pale with blue eyes and curly hair and Japanese girls fawn all over me. The secretive whispers of "wow, look at how blue Kaley's eyes are" and "she's so white" definitely are nice ego boosts.

Confessions of love from boys is common, I change my usual hairstyle and it is met with choruses of "oh how cute!" all day long. I wear contacts after weeks of glasses and it's like I'm a supermodel. My name sounds very similar to Katy Perry, so I am often compared to the gorgeous singer since we're both similar in complexion and eyes.

X There's Often A Lot Of Downtime

Now, this one varies a lot based on your location and how many schools you have. The more schools you have, the less downtime you will have. But in my experience you generally have at least one or two hours a day with no classes scheduled, and once you get the hang of making lessons and preparing supplies for those lessons you realize how much free time you have. My ability to read over 50 books in a year is largely due to just how much I am not doing anything, at all, at work.

Elementary school is generally busier, as you're the full teacher 9 times out of 10 and there's just more elementary schools so you are likely to have more schools. And the lessons are usually very high energy and take a lot out of you. Junior high, on the other hand, is usually way more low-key. What you do is largely dependent on what the Japanese teacher who teaches the class wants you to do. You'll have teachers that want you to teacher full lessons, you'll have teachers who want you to do half, you'll have teachers that just want you to read from the textbook and stand in the back most of the class.

I personally prefer the more demanding and busy elementary school over the more relaxed junior high school. I don't enjoy having hours a day with nothing to do. I had schools where I was at 40 hours a week and only did 8 hours of actual demanding work a day (actively teaching or preparing lessons). The rest was spent sitting at my desk or twiddling my thumbs in class.

♡ You Get to Try Many New Foods

If you choose to eat school lunch (and you really should!) you'll be exposed to a lot of new foods that you likely wouldn't eat otherwise. I learned about so many new foods that I now love. I've posted before about my weird food anxiety, and Japanese school lunches really helped me in overcoming a lot of my anxiety issues.

While the lunches are generally very high in carbs, the dishes are usually interesting. Now, this largely depends on your school lunch centers. I've lived in places with VERY redundant menus (miso soup three days a week with fish!) and I've changed schools so often in a week that I've had four days of noodles in a row since Japanese school lunches are generally designed with one day of noodles, one day of bread, and three of rice in a week.

X Eating With Students in Junior High

Okay, I know I just said school lunch was awesome but the experience of eating with students is often very... depressing. Especially with junior high schoolers. In an effort to provide more interaction time with students the Board of Education has this great idea to make the ALTs eat with students. Students eat lunch in their classroom with the homeroom teacher, and the teachers without homerooms eat in the staff room. I've actually had a school or two where the extra teachers eat with classes, but usually the ALT is the only teacher forced to sit within a group of students and eat alongside them. 

Younger kids usually like this, but the older ones view your presence as an intrusion. If you're the type of person to just push through the awkward "what do I do with this foreigner sitting here?" vibes from students and force them to talk to you, this won't apply to you. I'm not this person. I've even had a boy I was supposed to sit next to refuse to sit next to me because I am foreign and sit at the front next to the homeroom teacher to get away from me, and the next time I was in the class and seated by him he forced a friend to eat next to me.

Usually it's just silence. I sit there and try to eat as much as I can in 15 minutes and the students try to convince each other to talk to me. If I eat in the staff room, which has happened at some schools, I get a relaxing thirty minutes to eat my lunch and relax. I much prefer the latter.

♡ Your Japanese Listening Skills Will Get Really Good

Since everyone at school speaks Japanese at a native level around you all day, you'll quickly learn how to listen to Japanese conversations really well. You can just sit at your desk and listen to conversations around you during your free time and learn a lot of very handy Japanese.

If you're doing nothing in a class and the teacher is explaining grammar, you can learn too! I did this often just standing in the back and paying attention to the grammar lesson, trying to make sense of the language from a backwards perspective. I'd even grab an extra worksheet the kids were doing and write along with it.

You can also learn kanji by just looking around the room and seeing what they are using, as it's usually pretty basic. 

X You're Often Not Taken Seriously

Since you're a teacher with very little responsibility it's very common for no one to really take you seriously. You'll be out of the loop for many things and you'll have very little control over how things are taught. You're told what to do and you do it how they ask. While some teachers may value your input as a foreigner with a different perspective, most will just want you to do what they ask of you.

This is also a good thing, because you'll have lower expectations for things and can easily feign ignorance in many situations. They don't expect a lot of you so your responsibilities are low. While this is great for a while it leads to the job not feeling very serious, as there's really very little motivation to be better at it unless it all comes from within yourself, and at times the job can be very unrewarding because you'll get very little praise or feedback on your performance. If you work for a contracting company the schools are literally prevented by law to give your company any sort of feedback on your performance at work. Yeah, they can complain about you but they can't actually say anything productive to what you do.

This fact leads to your job seeming very unimportant in the grand scheme of things to most people, I've found. Unless you have that great self-motivation to be good, you won't be. You have to want to make good lessons and that's what ultimately makes someone good at this job. And it just got to the point with me that I no longer had that motivation, which is why I quit!

♡ You Get to See the "Real" Japan

By being an ALT you are actually in a Japanese public school. Almost every Japanese person went through this system and you become very aware of a lot of things that make Japan what it is. You get to see Japanese people in their natural environment, and not out in public or in a specific setting geared towards foreigners.

I studied Japanese culture in college and I really enjoyed just being able to ask questions about certain things and learn about how a Japanese school works. It's very different from American schools and made a lot of aspects of Japanese culture make sense to me. I learned to appreciate things that had frustrated me in the beginning.

X You Will Just Be An "ALT"

In the staff room I rarely heard teachers refer to me by my name, usually I was just referred to as "ALT". "The ALT is leaving early today" or "The ALT is eating lunch with this class". My shoebox in the school entry is rarely labeled with my name, but just "ALT" whereas all the other teachers have a name there. 

On the program for the closing ceremony at my school nearly two weeks back it just said "ALT" next to the goodbye speech section whereas every other teacher had their name written. I'm sure this isn't meant as a slight to me, but it's insanely frustrating to be nothing but those three letters to people you work with on a daily basis. I was at these schools every day for months as well, so it wasn't like I wasn't a permanent fixture. 

X Teachers are Usually Afraid to Approach You

Since most teachers have very little grasp of English conversation they are nervous to talk to you. This is understandable. They don't not want to talk to you, and I've never been treated poorly by a teacher. Whenever I do add something to a conversation it is usually very encouraged, it's just hard because teachers often won't go out of their way to approach you.

On the other hand those teachers who do enjoy English will be all over you, but those are few and far between. Older ladies are generally the nicest, whereas older men want nothing to do with you. At least if you're a female. I imagine if you're a guy it's opposite.

This can often lead to you feeling lonely when everyone is talking and you're just sitting there hoping to understand Japanese to say something. Teachers are also often very busy so it may be hard to find the time to approach a teacher. Out of all the "bad" issues on this list, this is probably the least bad, but some people may not like the isolation of being the only person not included in things.