The latest article:I didn’t know how to take a real vacation. What I learned from a Belgian family on their “real vacation” for two weeks

I have just posted a new article on Business Insider, which you can read here. This article has already exceeded 36,000 PV in two days of publication (July 27). The theme of this article is about “Summer Vacation”.

The background of the article

f one were to describe the summer holiday culture in Japan, it would be ‘almost mandatory’ to take some time off. Yet, ironically, it’s quite challenging to fully engage in this practice. The average duration is about 3-5 days, with the thought of a two-week vacation often daunting and potentially guilt-ridden. This summer, I discovered that my concept of a holiday was indeed challenged and transformed by my experience in Belgium.

Article Summary

Living as an exchange student in Belgium for the past year, I’ve been constantly astounded by the stark cultural differences, especially when it comes to vacation time. The Belgians I’ve encountered eagerly anticipate their summer holidays from the start of the year, a stark contrast to my home country’s approach. I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation from a Belgian family to join them on their two-week summer vacation, a life-changing experience I wish to share.

The family embarked on an eight-hour drive from Belgium to a picturesque campsite near Geneva, France. The charming abode was our retreat for the next two weeks. The family of five, their large dog, and myself – all packed and buzzing with excitement, traversed national borders in two vehicles. In the backdrop of the mesmerizing Lake Geneva, where swans glided majestically, the beautiful landscapes of Switzerland were in view.

Our campsite was akin to a mini-village, equipped with parks, a restaurant, a supermarket, and event spaces for the evenings. Vacationers were as diverse as the facilities, with some residing in rented cottages like us, while others stayed in camping cars. We were amidst a multicultural mélange of French, Danish, Swiss, British, and Dutch vacationers.

In Japan, during my corporate stint, summer vacations were typically a week-long affair. On the contrary, Belgians anticipated their long summer vacation all year, a concept initially alien to me.

The rhythm of our vacation days was comfortably relaxed. Mornings began around 7-8 AM with light activities such as yoga, walks by the lake, or hiking in the surrounding mountains. Afternoons were spent swimming in the lake, and there were also optional activities like rafting or paragliding. We indulged in games like Uno, cards, or board games, enjoyed universally irrespective of language barriers or age.

Evenings, too, were filled with joy. Dressed up slightly, we’d go out for drinks and sway to the rhythm of the music. I still remember an elderly couple dancing together with all their heart and a middle-aged woman joyously twirling around with her dog.

Redefining the Concept of a Vacation: Reflections and Learnings

Throughout the vacation, there were instances when I’d open my laptop to work on articles or other tasks. This often evoked concerns from the family about my inability to disconnect from work, prompting inquiries if I was overworked. Under the circumstances, explaining my work-driven inclination was difficult, so I often responded with a light-hearted laugh.

Yet, the thought of not engaging in work for a full two weeks was daunting. The fear of an accumulated workload awaiting my return, coupled with a slight guilt towards my colleagues, lingered. But this mindset, I realized, is something I might need to reconsider.

Comparing the Japanese and European vacation cultures, the contrast is stark. Traditional Japanese short vacations often involve a whirlwind tour of numerous tourist sites, resulting in returning home more tired than when the vacation began. Upon reflection, I realized my past vacations were primarily spent ticking off places listed in guidebooks.

But the vacation I experienced this summer was a stark departure from my earlier notions. I hadn’t felt such profound relaxation since my elementary school days. My two weeks with the Belgian family imparted a lesson in the true essence of leisure.

As Japan gears up for its summer vacation season, embracing the concept of a ‘true break’ might be an essential learning for all of us. This summer’s experience underscored that taking time off work isn’t merely about a change in location, but a transformation in the pace and purpose of our daily routine – a chance to recharge and rejuvenate.

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