When Michelle Castro first arrived in Shimane Prefecture 2½ years ago, the California native says her schedule was jam-packed with activities. It took her nearly two months to introduce herself to each class at the seven schools she started teaching at, and she had other errands to get done as she adjusted to her new home. It was also her first trip outside the United States.

As things got under control, she started feeling homesick.

"It hit me during the holidays and again in the spring, when my father and grandmother's birthdays are celebrated," she says. "I'd never lived this far from my family before. It was hard with the time difference to have regular contact."